By Kevin Heath
The recent article we published about Britain stepping in to help Tanzania to store and preserve its vast ivory and tusk stockpile has generated a lot of traffic and discussion. We even had a tweet from the Africa Minister, Mark Simmons, highlighting that the UK is against illegal wildlife trading and our article was wrong to suggest that Britain is supporting poaching with its aid to Tanzania.
Let’s start with the timeline and stance of the ministers involved in what happens to the ivory in the country. There’s no better place to start than at the top and President Jakaya Kikwete
Just before departing to the London Conference on wildlife crime in February 2014 the President launched an anti-poaching advertising campaign in Dar es Salaam. At the press conference he stated that Tanzania’s ivory stockpile is to be destroyed and that burning the ivory would be a strong message to poachers that Tanzania is serious about tackling the trade.
He repeated that Tanzania was considering the burning of the ivory stockpile during an interview with CNN that took place during the London Conference.
There were also reports that during the London Conference President Kikwete offered to burn the ivory stockpile – thought to amount to 34,000 tusks – in exchange for aid totally £30 million to help fund the anti-poaching drive through an Elephant Conservation Fund. This offer was turned down by the developed nations because the value of the tusks had been over-estimated.
The £30 million fund needs to be put into perspective with current aid funding. The UK aid budget to Tanzania amounts to over £165 million a year. A small increase in that budget would pay for the destruction of the ivory.
This willingness to burn the ivory in exchange for aid was supported by an interview with the previous Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Khamis Kagasheki While Kagasheki was fired because of the human rights abuses that occurred under Operation Tokomeza it is widely accepted that this was just a cover. There real reason for getting rid of Kagasheki was he was getting too close to revealing the names of government officials, business people, party officials and politicians who are at the top controlling the poaching operations in Tanzania. The files produced by Kagasheki are thought to name the top 50 key players in the elephant poaching operation.
But even if the destruction of Tanzania’s ivory stockpile had financial condition attached the movement towards the destruction had clearly begun after years of hard campaigning and actions by local pressure groups and businesses. Tanzania also gave public commitments that its ivory stockpile if not destroyed would be placed beyond economic value and called for a complete ban on ivory trading for at least 10 years.
The current conditions that Tanzania keeps its ivory stockpiles ensures that the ivory losses its value over time as natural deterioration takes place. The stockpiles in Tanzania are so great that there are reports that secret pits have had to be dug to store the tusks in. The conditions are not good and many of the tusks currently in the stock pile will have no real economic value after the 10 years ban on applying for auctions.
If you watch the full interview for CNN above you will see that Tanzania is asking for help with funding for elephant conservation and the training, recruitment and equipping of rangers to undertake anti-poaching patrols. At no point has Tanzania ever requested skills and technology transfer to help them to preserve elephant tusks in storage to maintain their economic value. More....