Blood ivory seizure in Dar brings tourism minister to the scene


(Posted 04th November 2013)

Tanzania’s Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Amb. Khamis Kagesheki, was swift to visit the residence of three Chinese living in Dar es Salaam, after some 1.9 tons of blood ivory was discovered there, seized and the two suspects arrested. It is suspected that over 200 elephant were butchered for this, going by the number of intact tusks and cut up pieces of ivory found during the operation. From reports received is appears that the ivory pieces were submerged in a mixture of pieces of snail shells mixed with some strong smelling potion containing garlic to mask the presence of ivory in the packages. More Chinese are now sought by the Tanzanian police after the three suspects reportedly started spilling the beans on others involved in the ivory trade and during the course of the week more arrests are expected as well as additional ivory seizures.

Kagesheki also dismissed suggestions that the ongoing anti poaching operation would be halted over allegation made in parliament last week in Dodoma, that a range of human right abuses had taken place and the focus of the operation was misguided towards pastoralists as well as concentrating on the wrong areas of the country.

Chinese citizens have been making up the bulk of arrests of foreigners in Africa found either smuggling ivory through airports like Nairobi, when in transit from other African countries where they bought it on the black market but China itself is under growing pressure to tighten their own legislation to more effectively deal with the demand side for blood ivory. Most major finds over the past two years were from shipments destined for China or already heading into Chinese territory from among other ports in Hong Kong, but also in Singapore and Malaysia, giving a clear picture of the trend where Africa’s elephant tusks are headed for.

China’s involvement with Africa has both a good and a very ugly side. For one they help create infrastructure and have made big investments on the continent but the downside is, wherever they are poaching has gone up. They get arrested for ivory smuggling or for even found eating our wildlife as if it were a food source. Perhaps for them it is but their embassies need to sensitize them that our wildlife has no place on their menu and that our elephant are to be left alone. Too much blood ivory is heading to China and there they hand a death penalty to anyone poaching a Panda but it seems killing our elephant for ivory is almost ok with them.

They really must step up now and make ivory imports, processing and even possession a criminal offense. Our elephant are worth as much as their Pandas and if they are at all concerned about their reputation in the world, this is a case in point where they can show they are adhering to common norms of law and civility’ wrote a regular Nairobi based source yesterday evening after briefly discussing this latest development in Tanzania.

A parliamentary report last year in Tanzania pegged the daily poaching rate of elephant to at least 30, although other conservation groups suggested at the time that the true figure could be twice as high, with the sprawling Selous and Ruaha National Parks the most notorious for commercial style poaching, mostly due to lack of aerial surveillance capacity, rapid deployment units and generally lack of manpower and resources dedicated to the fight against poaching. Stung by rising global pressure and threats to massively decampaign the tourism industry vital to the Tanzanian economy, there seems finally some movement vis a vis a more concerted effort to combat poaching but there is also growing suspicion that involvement by well connected figures of politics and business in the lucrative blood ivory business would swiftly interfere in the operation and keep it away from areas where the main activities take place. Added another regular source from Arusha on the issue: ‘Our government must get its act together. When you see how they treated people in Western Tanzania they expelled brutally a few weeks ago and how property was looted from them, the present anti poaching operation is very much conducted along similar lines. There are allegations that anti poaching is used to clear pastoralists off disputed areas where government may be planning to have more hunting concessions or take land over for what they say is adding a buffer to protected areas. But the truth is, let those anti poaching operations go to the Selous and concentrate on armed gangs and not innocent and helpless cattle herders and take their livestock from them. That is what happened and I firmly believe this has been orchestrated to discredit anti poaching, raise people’s sentiments against it and then let business as usual continue until our elephant have all been killed’ harsh words but by no means a lonely opinion as many other texted and social media messages can attest to.

While Minister Kagesheki has found some much needed success story, he surely also knows that this will be short lived and that major challenges remain, from resources to the political will to unmask those high up in the country’s hierarchy involved in the trade. Watch this space.

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