NO RESPITE FOR ELEPHANTS AS TANZANIAN OFFICIALS INSIST HUNTING MUST CONTINUE
Reports presented to the Tanzanian parliament a few weeks ago, that up to 30 elephant a day are being killed by poachers due to rising demand in China and other Asian countries for ivory, made stark reading and put the continued survival of the last great herds of elephant in doubt.
Tanzania presently estimates to have about 110.000 elephant in the main national parks, with the largest concentration in the Selous Game Reserve, thought to be in the 45.000 range. The Ruaha National Park, like the Selous also not receiving too many visitors compared with the Northern circuit parks of Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Manyara, Tarangire and Arusha, is said to hold as many as 35.000 elephant at present.
Yet, in particular the Selous, a sprawling game reserve, often in the bad news of late over government plans for a hydro electric power plant and the hugely controversial plan to mine Uranium, is often cited as an area where poachers roam almost at will and where most of the elephant killings are taking place.
The tourism trade, depending on an intact wildlife viewing experience, has as a result of the parliamentary report on poaching demanded that hunting permits for elephant be suspended, but from information received overnight it appears that officials reacted angrily over claims the animals might become endangered and stubbornly insisted that hunting must continue, so as to protect the revenue stream generated by the controversial activity.
Following the recent sackings and suspensions on the top of the Wildlife Department, this was reported here as news broke, an acting wildlife official, a Mr. Paul Sarakikya, was named as the one who refused considering the request from the tourism fraternity, reportedly saying: At the moment Tanzania has more than 110.000 elephant, clearly implying that this figure will last for a while and permit continuous hunting of the species, in clear disregard of the fact that the parliamentary report puts the figure of elephant poached annually to nearly 10.000 alone. He was also quoted to have argued that if poaching would be controlled, it would leave enough elephant for hunting, again in total ignorance of the fact that Tanzania was for sure not winning the battle against poaching if not outright losing it.
Tourism stakeholders accused the wildlife department of not having learned a lesson from the sackings over illegal wildlife exports last year, first exposed in the media, then denied and only eventually and grudgingly admitted to when parliament tabled whistleblower reports which eventually brought down the Minister for Natural Resources and top officials in the ministry as a result. These officials only care about the fees they get from hunting. Do they even care about the animals? If the report in parliament is right, we are losing about 30 jumbos a day to poachers. Besides lipservice little is seen to happen. The president last year offered the support from the army to stop poaching, what has happened to this offer. Whenever we hear poachers have been arrested, it is a local event as if one part of those gangs hangs out rivals to dry and tips off authorities to get rid of competition. In 2011 the largest ever quantities of blood ivory were confiscated around the world. And international reports claim as much as half of that comes from Tanzania? This menace must be stopped in the markets in the Far East by those governments where their citizens are fueling poaching. Most of those arrested in Africa with ivory on them are Chinese. So what is China doing about that we wonder? And our own government has to step up and take decisive steps in fighting poachers. How many wardens and security personnel are in the Selous, how many in Ruaha? They know where poaching takes place and it seems they are not bothered. If government is not seen to play their part, they fail conservation, but then as you always point out, they fail on a big scale really was the reaction to questions posed yesterday from a regular source in Arusha, himself a leading member of the tourism fraternity. Meanwhile have other regular sources pointed at weak laws, besides weak enforcement which was cited as a major problem in the region. Not doing much is one thing but then, those who get nabbed, get out on bail almost immediately. Poaching for the tourism sector is a huge crime but by law the fines are little and jail time minimal. Most pay the fine laughing and get back to poaching there and then. The fines must reflect the level of economic sabotage poaching inflicts on us in East Africa, not just Tanzania. You in Uganda have the same problem, Kenya has the same problem. The laws need updating now, not next year or later. Our lawmakers are in part to blame for these delays and the cost it inflicts on us. Our reputation is at stake as conservation and tourism countries and this must be dealt with on both sides, enforcement and legal provision said another regular source from Tanzania, also declining to go on record for fear of repercussions. .
Time will tell how this pans out, but by the look of it, there is not much time left. Watch this space.