by Mark Gillies

China and Tanzania’s Elephants
“The current situation for Tanzania’s elephant population is dire in the extreme. The country has lost half of its elephants in the past five years and two-thirds since 2006. Available evidence indicates it has since lost more elephants to poaching than any other country in Africa and is the biggest source of illegal ivory seized around the world. Its once mighty herds are being devastated by remorseless criminal organisations.”

So begins the chapter on Tanzania in the recently published report, ‘Vanishing Point’ by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) in which the country is described as the source for the vast majority of the illegal ivory currently being traded between Africa and Asia. The EIA is an independent campaigning organisation whose carefully researched report (available to download in full at http://eia-international. org/wp-content/uploads/EIA-Vanishing-Point-lo-res1.pdf) has laid bare the extent of the threat to the natural resources of Tanzania.

The publication of the report created headlines, many of which focused on the link with China and the peak in the price of ivory in Mwenge Market, Dar es Salaam, when ships from the Chinese Navy were docked in harbour and when official delegations flew in.

‘Vanishing Point’ makes for sad, but impressive reading. As a report, it clearly documents, in great detail, the ‘epidemiology’ of the current poaching epidemic going back to its resurgence in the early years of the last decade following a period of recovering from the slaughter of the 1980’s. This in itself is a positive thing because, as any doctor will tell you, understanding a disease is the first step to curing the patient and, let there be no mistake, Tanzania is sick.

The current poaching crisis is linked to pervasive corruption through all levels of society, starting with the park ranger who divulges the details of a patrol for a few dollars, right up to the powerful individuals with connections to the highest levels of government who benefit the most from the trade in illegal ivory. Archaic and ineffective executive structures in the Ministry for Natural Resources & Tourism and other government bodies contribute to making law enforcement very difficult to achieve.

While this report deserved the extensive coverage it received, many of the articles it prompted did not clearly describe the context in which the report should be read. Much of what ‘Vanishing Point’ describes happened over the past 5 to 7 years. The authors make the point that since the end of 2013 (and the waves caused by Operation Tokomeza), life is not as easy for the poachers in Tanzania as it once was. President Kikwete and his government have stopped lobbying CITES to down-list the elephants of Tanzania and so legalise the trade in their ivory; the current Minister for Natural Resources & Tourism, Lazaro Nyalandu, has successfully secured $50 million worth of international anti-poaching assistance; and the revenue protection scheme has been re-instated for the Selous Game Reserve, a first step in providing adequate funding for sustained and effective anti-poaching operations.

As reported previously, 2013 was the first year in which more contraband ivory was seized inside Tanzania, rather than outside of the country. On 2 November, the Tanzania Daily News reported how Tanzania had been congratulated for the fact that 4 months had passed in the Selous without an elephant being poached ( Local sources are not keen to endorse this fact, but all agree that the numbers being lost have slowed.

On 24 October, the Daily News also reported the creation of a Rapid Response Team to combat poaching in the area of Ruaha National Park under the SPANEST Programme, Strengthening the Protected Areas Network in Southern Tanzania, a UNDP-funded project being operated by TANAPA, the Tanzania National Parks Authority.

With committed and concentrated action, and assistance from the international community, it should be within the capability of the Tanzanian Government to combat the disease of wildlife poaching once again, but they have to want to. Even if the land mass to protect is vast; ports and roads are few; the masterminds are even fewer in number. And it should be remembered, that if they fail, it is all Tanzanians that will suffer, not just the elephants. But the fight is a tough one that sadly has human casualties, such as those who lost their lives when a recently donated anti-poaching helicopter crashed in Dar es Salaam, as documented by Wolfgang T Home.

Those who deserve the blame in this sad story are not the Chinese masses who buy the ivory, hopefully they can be educated; nor the poor people at the bottom of the production pyramid, who risk all for a handful of dollars. Those who deserve blame – and punishment – are the few individuals who have used power and influence to pervert the course of justice, to gain (further) immense wealth, to destroy a shared birth right and to undermine the name of a nation.

Those who must be remembered and supported are the brave men and women who will not be corrupted and who risk their lives to protect the natural resources of Tanzania.

Tanzanian Government spokesman Assah Mwambene termed the EIA report ‘questionable’. The government accused the West of trying to spoil the good relationship between Tanzania and China and said that EIA had no proof.

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