By Sarah Morrison
Grandfather Andrea Ganyilika knows Tanzania’s poaching crisis inside out. The 85-year-old grew up inside what is now the country's largest national park and as soon as he was old enough, he would set traps with his father to catch the wildlife. Every animal that fell in — from buffalos to baby elephants — would be eaten by him and his family.
Back then, he insists, no one thought twice about the morals of poaching the country’s precious wildlife. From the age of 15, he would dig huge holes and wait for animals to walk in. Then he would use spears to kill them and ropes to drag them out. It was a subsistence lifestyle, he says. Neighbours would share what they had caught when times were hard.
Things could not be more different now. Tanzania is recognised to be at the centre of the world’s battle for ivory and there is nothing sustainable about it. Syndicates of poachers have massacred its elephants to meet the needs of the booming market, particularly in Asia. It is local communities that often pay the biggest price.
Tanzania’s elephant population has declined from an estimated 109,000 in 2009 to less than 70,000 in 2012, according to the Tanzania Elephant Protection Society. Around 30 are killed for their ivory every day — that’s almost 11,000 each year. Tanzania has lost half its elephants since 2007 and it is thought they could be wiped out in seven years. The crisis is deemed even more serious than the wave of poaching in the Seventies and Eighties.
Ganyilika gave up poaching in 1963, shortly before Ruaha National Park was established. He realised how important wildlife was to the future of his country when rangers came in to protect the animals. During his two decades as chairman of Tungamalenga village, only 22 miles from the park, he put all his efforts into saving the elephants. He raised awareness about their plight and even ran a gun amnesty in the Nineties; people gave up to eight different illegal rifles to him and promised to quit poaching.
But now, he says, things have changed. “I used to educate people on the bad things about poaching, by summoning them and asking them to stop. But now, I’m too afraid. The poachers are powerful people. They could kill me. It’s 10 times worse than when I was chair [from 1973 to 1995]. The bad thing is that now even the leaders are involved.” Ganyilika’s village is one of around 20 that not only surround Ruaha National Park — one of the last great strongholds of elephants in Tanzania — but also comprise the local Wildlife Management Area. There are 33 WMAs in Tanzania, covering almost 18,000 square miles. Like Kenya’s conservation areas, they aim to give communities some control over the use of wildlife resources on their land.
But Josephat Kisanyage, secretary of the WMA, says the community does not have the resources to protect the elephants. “Poaching has gone up quite drastically,” says Kisanyage.
“The capacity for the local community to manage the poachers is very low. We know local villages are working with poachers from outside. They give them money and food. For one piece of ivory, you might get 200,000 Tanzanian shillings (£76). These are poor people, who depend on their crops — that is a good alternative for them.”
The WMA spans almost 500 square miles, but it only has 28 village scouts to patrol it. They do not have guns, vehicles, radios, or even binoculars, Kisanyage adds. They are paid only expenses, making it easy for them to be persuaded to help the very same poachers they are meant to be chasing.
This is why Space for Giants, a charity determined to protect African elephants, hopes to work with local partners in southern Tanzania to roll out the rapid response training system for rangers that has been so successful in Laikipia in Kenya. Rangers there work with the community — often taking them on patrols and sharing resources.
Ganyilika says efforts must be stepped up: “Elephants are important for our country and heritage. They are a national symbol and a source of pride.”