A new report exposed continued large-scale illegal ivory trading in Tanzania and Zambia on the eve of the opening of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Qatar in late March. However, the governments of the two countries proposed to CITES that they should be allowed to sell $15 million worth of tusks.

The report, ‘The Burgeoning Illegal Ivory Trade in Tanzania and Zambia’, by the ‘Environmental Investigation Agency’ (EIA), a non-profit group based in Washington, DC and London, quoted in This Day, said that undercover investigators had found evidence of a flourishing trade in illegal ivory in both countries. It said that Tanzania’s elephant population had declined by more than 30,000 elephants between 2006 and 2009, primarily from poaching to supply black-market ivory to Asia. This was said to be concentrated around the Selous Game Reserve, where 40% of the country’s elephants are found.

A seemingly innocent proposal by the government to sell 90 tonnes of its ivory stockpiles worth $15 million to provide much needed revenue came under severe criticism. There was strong opposition from the tourist business in Tanzania. Chairman of the Zanzibar Association of Tourism Investors (ZATI) Mohammed Simai said that the campaign would impede Tanzania’s efforts to promote tourism, including game viewing in prominent national reserves like Selous, Serengeti and Ngorongoro. He urged President Kikwete to intervene and stop the proposed sale and added that the $15 million was a drop in the sea compared to potential losses from tourism. Tanzania earned Shs 1.6 trillion in 2008 from 640,000 tourists accounting for some 17% of GDP. Zanzibar would lose heavily because 30% of foreigners who came to Zanzibar had been game viewing tourists on the mainland.

Next, there was a visit to Tanzania by a delegation from CITES to assess if the country deserved a stockpile trade window. The government argued that its elephant population was safe and on the rise.

However, at the CITES conference in Qatar, issues of poaching were high on the agenda and Tanzania’s proposal attracted opposition from East Africa Community partners Kenya and Rwanda, and angered several other western countries and conservation groups. Britain’s Environmental Secretary Hilary Benn declared that the UK would vote no. The London Times had declared that Tanzania had established itself as the leading country for the illegal slaughter and export of ivory. Up to 50 elephants were killed every month at Selous it wrote and the authorities were torching the carcasses as a cover up. Other countries that called for a 20-year included Mali, Benin, Chad, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Government of Southern Sudan. Zambia was the only African country to support Tanzania.

Tanzania’s proposal was eventually rejected by CITES.

And in the Philippines
In the Philippines, a wildlife officer has been suspected of stealing at least part of 700 kilos of elephant tusks worth $2 million which had been smuggled into the country from Tanzania. According to the Director the country’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, the ivory – valued at $65,000 – had been part of a 4,000-kilo shipment of tusks impounded at Manila airport in July 2009. The seals on some of the boxes had been broken and some of the original tusks had been replaced by replicas made of PVC pipes covered with plaster. She went on: “This is really embarrassing because we should be among the proactive countries protecting such internationally-important species.

In a related development, 23 African countries told the European Union to support protection of the continent’s elephants and that, in return, they would help the EU to protect bluefin tuna. However, if the EU did not back their case, they threatened to oppose Europe’s proposal to ban trade in the giant fish. At the CITES meeting in March the proposed ban on fishing for blue tuna was overwhelmingly defeated after considerable lobbying by Japan which consumes large quantities.

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