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    Photo credit by Sabi Sabi Game Reseve, Kruger National Park, South Africa

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    Amakhala Game Reserve, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Elephant poaching in Tanzania: Is the government playing the role of a playboy?

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TANZANIA (eTN) – The recent seizure of elephant tusks at Zurich Airport in Switzerland whose origin was Tanzania, raised a concern with several media houses in Tanzania questioning the authenticity of the outgoing government over its seriousness on conservation and protection of wildlife for tourism gains and heritage for future generations.

The seizure of 262 kilograms of ivory worth US$413,000 was smuggled out through Dar es Salaam airport last month, indicating that little effort is carried out to protect the African jumbos in Tanzania.

Wildlife conservationists are bitter over the widespread elephant killing, citing the past 10 years as the worst, during which time 99,000 elephants were gunned down by poachers.

This number of elephant killings has made Tanzania be known as “Africa’s elephant slaughter house,” and has been attributed to rampant corruption in government authorities and poverty among local communities where elephants roam.

Through a message issued by the Tanzania Country Office to the government of Tanzania, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), also known as the World Wildlife Fund in the US and Canada, the global wildlife watchdog, warned over the looming threat to elephants in this African country.

The WWF Tanzania Country Office message that was issued last weekend with a message “Conserve and protect the elephant from the numerous threats it faces,” the global wildlife and nature protection and conservation body said the world is presently witnessing brutality and annihilation of the African elephant at a shocking rate in all of human history.

The WWF further said in its message to the Tanzanian government that poaching, habitat loss, and other cruelty are alarming.

“Tanzania being a treasure of elephants in Africa has recently revealed its catastrophe. The recent elephant census conducted in the main elephant ecosystems for seven months consecutively from May to November 2014, indicates a significant decline of [the] current elephant population in Tanzania from 2009 to 2014 survey by 60 percent,” the message said.

During independence from Britain in 1961, there were 350,000 elephants, and in 2009 there were 110,000; by 2014, the number dwindled to about 43,521, the WWF message said.

“The increase in elephant poaching is highly linked to an increase of ivory prices and illegal markets in the Far East and Southeast Asia,” said Dr. Amani Ngusaru, WWF Tanzania Country Director, on marking World Elephant Day, August 12, 2015, in Tanzania’s capital city of Dar es Salaam.

Elephant poaching and trafficking of wildlife has increased dramatically in recent years, threatening the three pillars of life on Earth: sustainable development, peace, and human rights, he said.

“It is now more urgent and important to come up with interventions that address the root causes of elephant poaching through more and improved international cooperation in source, transit, and consumer countries, as well as to identify and address any gaps in the current anti-poaching strategies for better protection of wild elephants,” Dr. Ngusaru added.

The WWF Tanzania Country Office said there is also a need for improving enforcement policies to prevent the illegal poaching and trade of ivory, conserving elephant habitats, better treatment for captive elephants, and when appropriate, reintroducing captive elephants into natural and protected sanctuaries. These are the goals that elephant conservation organizations are focusing on around the world.

Due to poaching between the 1970s and 1980s, the elephant population in Tanzania declined to 55,000 but then the international ban on the sale of ivory and other elephant products, together with highly-effective, anti-poaching operations through Operation Uhai in Tanzania, resulted in the elephant population recovering from 55,000 in 1989 to an estimated 130,000 in 2005 and 110,000 in 2009, according to past censuses.

However, by 2011 there was an increase in commercial poaching targeting elephants, because the price of ivory went up tremendously in the Far East and Southeast Asian market.

“WWF is backing the government of Tanzania[‘s] efforts and contribut[ing] to combating poaching at the grass root[s] level while working with local communities in implementing government-inclusive management policies,” said the message.

The relevant policy approaches include Community Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) through the Wildlife Management Areas (WMA), Community Based Forest Management (CBFM), Participatory Forest Management (PFM), and Joint Forest Management (JFM). In some areas, even Beach Management Units (BMUs) as well as the Water Users Associations (WUAs) are useful in dealing with anti-poaching activities.

WWF Tanzania’s focus at local levels provides an important opportunity for engaging in protection of elephants and other natural resources by integrating conventional anti-poaching methods (boots on the ground) and community participation in the fight against all forms of illegal natural resources utilization including elephant poaching.

“In commemoration of the elephant day, WWF Tanzania calls the nation to wake up and deal effectively with this shame! Elephant poaching and trafficking should now be dealt [with] as a ‘serious crime’ that needs special national attention,” the message added.

“It needs to be addressed through applying the full extent of the criminal laws in conjunction with the Wildlife Act and other laws pertaining to Tanzania Revenue Authority (customs and excise) money – laundering – and to categorize illegal wildlife trade as a predicate offense to be investigated with related financial crimes,” the WWF warned.

The message further said it is equally important to strengthen the judiciary sector to ensure that prosecutions for wildlife crimes are conducted effectively and transparently, with the full extent of the law and using the strongest penalties available. Tanzania should also use the available legislative instruments to seize the assets used to commit poaching and illegal wildlife trade and other profit acquired through this trade.

It is also important to take urgent measures to ensure that the frontline staffs in fighting against poaching are professionally trained and equipped, have access to adequate welfare and support systems, and are legally supported to respond to threats to wildlife and themselves.

It is of urgency to support the development of Tanzania and implementation of the transportation sector protocols and/or guidelines to strengthen due diligence and other measures to eliminate illegal trade in wildlife.

“WWF Tanzania calls for government-led national campaigns that are well researched, aimed at behavior change, and demand reduction. It is important also to consider increasing the capacity of local communities to pursue sustainable and alternative livelihoods as well as enhancing local communities’ rights and capacity to manage and benefit from wildlife, and enable them to live in more equitable socio-economic conditions,” the message emphasized.

If successfully conducted, the integrated approach will provide a network of sympathizers at the grass roots level that would feed into the national anti-poaching intelligence network more efficiently and with less investment costs, it said.

Reacting to the WWF message, a section of wildlife experts said the government of Tanzania has been playing the role of a playboy on wildlife conservation and protection tasks, while taking politics as a tool for conservation.

Source: Apolinari Tairo, eTN Tanzania correspondent

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