By Wolfgang H. Thome
The Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO) was at the forefront of the 5-kilometer march against poaching last Friday, which took place in Arusha, East Africa’s self-proclaimed safari capital.
TATO members and other tourism stakeholders were joined by the Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, Amb. Khamis Kagesheki, who used the opportunity to speak on the challenges his ministry faced vis-a-vis poaching and the legal mechanism available at this time, pointed out that fines permitted were as low as 30.000 Tanzania Shillings for killing an elephant, the same as if one would kill a goat on the road. Tanzania, like other countries in East Africa, have been struggling to come to terms with commercial scale poaching and in the view of many conservationists failed to amend their wildlife laws in a timely fashion to respond to this threat to their tourism industry.
“Like in Kenya we need to improve our laws. Financial fines should no longer be an option but be handed down alongside long prison terms. The fines should also be very high because otherwise the poachers will just laugh and pay. Those caught poaching and all those involved in the illegal trade and shipment of our ivory should go to prison for at least 10 years, and in severe cases twice as long. Let the minister not shed crocodile tears, it is up to him to bring an amendment to parliament and have stricter laws passed. Meanwhile however his field staff needs to be given new terms of reference when coming across poachers. Rules of engagement have to change, these guys carry automatic weapons and rangers should be allowed to shoot to kill before they get shot themselves,” wrote a regular source from Arusha over the weekend, while passing the details of the march and contents of the speeches made.
With much of the seized ivory over the past years apparently being shipped from Tanzania, and originating largely from inside Tanzania though there are also quantities of ivory being smuggled through the port of Dar es Salaam from third countries, pressure has increased to pull out all stops to reverse the trend. However, lack of adequate numbers of rangers and lack of equipment and funds to run large scale counter operations have hampered the fight against poaching in particular in areas like the sprawling Selous Game Reserve or the Ruaha National Park, though poaching is now effectively taking place literally anywhere across the country.