By Polycarp Machira
A global wildlife protection lobby group has accused Tanzania and other African countries of condoning corruption within their ranks, fueling the raging poaching menace.
A newly commissioned study by US lobby group ‘Born Free’ claims that corrupt government officials were behind intensive and organized illegal hunting in Tanzania’s protected areas.
The report dubbed “Ivory’s Curse: The Militarization and Professionalization of Poaching in Africa” says control of hunting concessions by Tanzanian and foreign elites had enabled organized hunting by small groups in concentrated areas.
The report prepared by C4ADS, a non-profit organization dedicated to reporting of conflict and security issues worldwide, calls for political goodwill from world leaders where all security operations were fully engaged in the anti-poaching war to stop poaching across Africa.
“The elephant poaching crisis has reached historic levels and shockingly, some elephant populations face extinction in my lifetime,” says the organization’s chief executive officer Adam Roberts.
According to the report, poaching and transnational trafficking networks may align given Dar es Salaam port’s role as the second busiest ivory trafficking hub on the continent.
It says Tanzania once had a strong reputation in conservation as home to one of Africa’s largest elephant populations and as a strong backer of the 1989 CITES regulation that rendered the international trade in ivory largely illegal.
“In recent years, however, this reputation has been thrown into disarray with elephant populations currently being devastated by intensive poaching,” the report reads in part.
In 1976, the Selous-Mikumi ecosystem was home to 109,419 elephants which dropped to 38,975 in 2009; and today, an aerial survey and estimates by the Frankfurt Zoological Society in late 2013 put the remaining jumbo population at a mere 13,084.
This represents a 66 percent decline over the last four years and a decline of nearly 90 per cent from the 1970s, the report says.
Even as poaching intensifies, Tanzania is reassuming its historic role as one of the continent’s largest trafficking hub, the report further claims.
From 2008 to 2013, over 20 tons of ivory were seized either in, in transit to, or originating from Dar es Salaam, according to C4ADS’s database of reported ivory seizures, making it second only to Mombasa as a trafficking hub.
This is not counting the immense stockpile Tanzania has accrued over years of seizures, which by some accounts totals more than 90 metric tons.
Tanzania’s role as an export hub is not extensively explored in this report, but it states that several factors make it suitable for use as a port of exit for ivory.
“It is relatively well-developed infrastructure, systemic corruption, proximity to large elephant populations, and established routes to transshipment ports.” reads the report in part.
Control of wildlife preserves in Tanzania falls, in part, to private individuals, it elaborates, saying Tanzania has a unique system of private management of hunting blocks within parks.
These blocks are distributed via an administrative process every five years to Tanzanian and foreign operators.
“All wildlife in Tanzania is, legally, the property of the state, but owning a hunting concession gives a tourism operator legal ownership over animals hunted in the area, provided the right fees are paid.”
The report further alleges, “Tanzania’s system of wildlife management creates the conditions for abuse of otherwise legal hunting.”
The real and potential negative externalities of increased organized criminal penetration into Tanzania are significant, given the profits at stake, and the destabilizing effects on East Africa’s second largest economy are nontrivial.
Finally, increased presence of transnational organized crime in Tanzania would continue to have negative effects on elephant and human populations in neighbouring Mozambique and Kenya
It's a lucrative business; a kilo of ivory is worth some $850 (650 Euros) in Asia, with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), suggesting ivory smuggled to Asia from Eastern Africa was worth over $31 million (23 million Euros) in 2011.
But such short-term and finite profits generated by the spate of killings are threatening the far more valuable tourism industry, which is the second largest foreign exchange earner -- after agriculture -- in Kenya and Tanzania.
"The African elephant is not currently deemed 'endangered' as a species, but its decimation in Eastern Africa could be devastating," the UNODC report says in part.
"In addition to the reduction in genetic diversity, its loss could seriously undermine local tourist revenues, a key source of foreign exchange for many of the countries of the region," the reports points out.
But the region's two large container ports -- Mombasa in Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania -- are also notorious trafficking hubs, funneling more elephant tusks to Asia than all of central, southern and West African nations combined.
The two nations made up almost two-thirds of all large shipments of ivory seized across the entire continent from 2009-2011, according to the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), a tracking database run by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.
Seizures of containers crammed with tusks -- often hidden under foul-smelling fish or dried chili peppers in a bid to confuse sniffer dogs or discourage detailed searches -- are regularly found.
Much of the ivory smuggled is destined for China, whose rapidly growing economy has encouraged those enjoying disposable income to splash out on an ivory trinket as a sign of financial success.
"Growing affluence in China, where possession of elephant ivory remains a status symbol, appears to have rendered China the world's leading destination for illicit ivory," the UNODC report adds.
The smuggling of rhino horns is a bigger problem for Southern Africa, which has far more of the endangered animals. It is often done by air, due to the value of the horn and its smaller size.
But scores of East African rhinos are also being killed despite wildlife rangers often risking their lives to protect them.