Selous elephants at the verge of extinction


(Posted 01st January 2014)

To be honest, some of us here thought you had gone plain mad when you suggested a few weeks ago that Tokomeza was deliberately mismanaged to bring it to a halt. Now I think I owe you an apology because the latest figures show just how true that must have been. Kagesheki sacrificed also confirms what you have been saying, that there are very very powerful people involved in the elephant slaughter which no where in the world is now so bad like in Tanzania. Our country is turning a blind eye to poaching to please the Chinese friends of our leaders but this got to stop and got to stop now or we will have no elephant left. Here is the report I promised which gives evidence how bad it has become’ wrote a source overnight when passing on Dr. Rolf Baldus’ update on the latest survey data. Dr. Baldus was from 1987 to 1993 the coordinator of the Selous Conservation Programme and between 1998 and 2006 an advisor to the Tanzanian government on wildlife and community based conservation. Presently Dr. Baldus serves as Advisor to the President of the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation, in other words an expert with not just good standing but also enough local insight to be a trusted source. Dr. Baldus writes in the report availed and parts of it are shown below:

Start quote:

The elephant population in one of Africa’s most important elephant ranges, the 50,000-square-kilometer Selous Game Reserve in Southern Tanzania, is down to an estimated 13,000 animals. This figure is the result of an aerial survey conducted this past October. Apart from Tanzanian experts, a number of NGOs and international specialists were involved in the survey, and we can assume that this is an objective result. In 2005 the figure from similar counts stood at 65,000 to 70,000 elephants, and the population was increasing.

The lowest figure ever recorded before was less than 30,000 elephants in 1991.

Thereafter a Tanzanian-German project, called the "Selous Conservation Programme," rehabilitated the Selous infrastructure and management, and poaching was reduced from approximately 5,000 animals killed per year to fewer than 100. One reason behind the success was a so-called "retention scheme," allowing the reserve’s administration to keep half of all income for management.

The income in the Selous was, and still is, mainly from hunting. The Selous Conservation Programme ended in 2003 and some years later the government terminated the retention scheme despite an existing agreement with the German Government. The result of this decision is seen today.

Such counts are notoriously difficult to interpret. Aerial surveys of the Selous in recent years already indicated declines, but figures were never published, and there were doubts about the quality of the counts. More important than an absolute number is the trend shown by consecutive counts.

In any case there was considerable poaching, and it must be assumed now that the population is at an historic low due to that and to inefficient management in recent years.

Whatever the true figure is, there is an urgent need for a vigorous anti-poaching campaign and, once again, a rehabilitation of the reserve’s structures and management.

Germany will come to the rescue of the Selous once again. Major projects are in the pipeline and preparations ongoing. The ecosystem is still intact, and provided that proper management can be introduced again, the recovery of the elephant population is only a matter of time. This was proven once, and the former project can be used as a blueprint. However, if nothing is done against the existing corruption, which is one of the major drivers of poaching in the country, there will be no success. The names of those involved with the poachers are known. What is lacking is the political stamina to take action. Informed sources in Tanzania connect the poaching of elephants in the country with the increasing presence of Chinese nationals. A recent report authored by the Tanzania Elephant Protection Society said rising economic relations between China

and Tanzania fuel elephant killings, and call for proper government intervention. Several uncovered hauls of ivory seem to verify the Chinese connection. On November 2nd, for example, about 706 pieces of ivory, weighing more than 1.8 tons and representing more than 200 tuskers killed, were found in Dar es Salaam at the residence of Chinese nationals.

On direct orders by the President of Tanzania a countrywide anti-poaching operation was started in October. The so-called "Operation Tokomeza" (wipe out) was terminated, however, after human rights violations, including homicide, rape and humiliation mainly inflicted by the army, became public. Victims were seminomadic pastoralists who illegally but habitually use national parks and reserves for grazing. On December 20th four cabinet ministers, including Natural Resources and Tourism Minister, Ambassador Khamis Kagasheki, had to resign. The systematic violation of human rights was substantiated by a report, prepared under the chairmanship of James Lembeli, MP. Lembeli is the former PR chief of the

"Tanzanian National Parks" organization and is known for his pro-conservation stand. It must be assumed that the allegations are genuine. Kagasheki assumed the political responsibility for misdoings of the army, for which he was not responsible.

In any case, this development is extremely threatening for conservation in Tanzania, as there are strong political and business forces in Parliament and elsewhere that are either involved in local poaching or protect it. Operation Tokomeza was criticized at an early stage, alleging its focus on pastoralists was misguided as it spared the VIPs and political heavyweights actually masterminding the poaching. It cannot be ruled out that the ill-fated operation was purposely misdirected by some important god-fathers of poaching. Minister Kagasheki, who had acquired an extremely good reputation for determination and professionalism since he took office, might have been caught in a trap purposely prepared for him and those who want to combat the rampant poaching. Tanzania has more than a quarter of its land under protective status, including

hunting reserves. Conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources increasingly conflicts with exploration and infrastructural projects. A small portion of the Selous, for example, was de-gazetted in order to allow uranium mining. Presently a major dam is being prepared at Stiegler’s Gorge on the Rufiji River. This

project will completely change the heartland of the reserve, which is a recognized

World Heritage Site.

Regrettably, the planned aerial survey of the neighboring Niassa National Reserve and the Quirimbas National Park in Mozambique was canceled as a result of delays in securing the necessary aviation gasoline. According

to reliable sources, elephant poaching in these protected areas is "out of control".

End quote

This is the starkest news yet on the extent of poaching in Tanzania and suggests not only years of deliberate inaction but a cover up of the available data in a systematic and deliberate fashion. ‘This report puts a question mark over the commitment of our government but also of our top political leaders right to the president. They surely knew, they surely were in the picture and for sure they are now exposed as accomplices to this industrial scale butchering of elephant. Tanzania needs change, this leadership has failed our country and it has failed me. I am a member of CCM [Chama Cha Mapinduzi – the Kiswahili name of the ruling
party] and remember how our political father Mwalimu Nyerere made it a policy to protect our environment and our wildlife. I read your publications and for long thought you just have an anti Tanzania agenda for reasons I never understood. I am sorry to say that now it seems you were right all along when you wrote about the Serengeti highway and all those other plans you keep mentioning. Maybe there is a grand strategy to wipe wildlife out from the Selous and then turn it into a mining belt. What can one believe now when it comes from government?’ wrote another source, wording slightly altered.

It is expected that once again howls of self righteous outrage will be uttered from government mouthpieces upon publication of this article but the sad fact remains, and Dr. Baldus’ report provides enough circumstantial as well as real evidence, that the government in Tanzania has failed its mandate to protect the nation’s wildlife heritage and unless a 180 degree turnaround in policy and enforcement can be seen within days, it can only be concluded that key figures are financially benefitting and have indeed deliberately perverted operation Tokomeza to bring it to a crashing halt while their foot soldiers continue to wipe out the remaining elephant in the Selous and other parts of Tanzania. It is clear that inspite of major seizures of blood ivory at the ports of Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, and shipments confiscated abroad, enroute to China, when looking at the sheer magnitude of poaching, going by the drop in elephant numbers from between 65- to 70 thousand to a mere 13.000 in only 8 years, most of the blood ivory got away and reached its destination in China, Vietnam and other countries where their governments too are complicit in halting the illegal trade to please their nouvelle riche.

A very sad start to the new year 2014, which it has now become clear, will be the watershed year for either coming to the rescue of Africa’s remaining large elephant populations or else to condemn them to extinction by the hand of mankind driven mad by their greed for ivory. Watch this space.

3 Responses

  1. My wife and I just canceled a planned trip to Tanzania due to this “mismanagement” and are going to Zambia instead. Yes, Zambia also has issues, but nothing like this. I will not support this government, and pray for these remaining elephants, who haunt my psyche , both when I’m awake and asleep. -Mike , USA

  2. When the people of Tanzania see their elephants as part of their lives, then and only then will the populations become stable and increase to their natural ecological carrying capacity

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