By Karen Walker
Poaching is threatening the future of two of Tanzania’s most magnificent animals, the rhino and elephant.
I work for Yellow Zebra Safaris, a British travel company operating in East and Southern Africa, and we have become increasingly concerned as each year they are brought closer to extinction.
In 2006 Tanzania’s total elephant population was officially 139,000, yet by 2009 it had dropped to 110,000. Sadly, numbers have shrunk even more drastically since then due to the sharp rise in poaching.
Between 2010 and September 2013, 14 tonnes of elephant tusks were seized by police and wildlife officials in this country, while a further 18 tonnes of tusk originating from Tanzania were intercepted by customs authorities abroad!
If this level of poaching is allowed to continue, there will soon be no elephant left. A contact told us recently that he believed that elephant numbers in Tanzania are now as low as 60,000. If that is correct, we don’t have long to act to save them.
How can one stop poaching and save Africa’s elephant and rhino?
Poaching nowadays is big business and is usually funded by large crime syndicates. It is much more sophisticated than in days gone past when poachers were usually local inhabitants trying to make easy money.
Today, it is not unusual for poachers to have low-flying helicopters with GPS, night goggles and AK 47s. However, much extra security is introduced, it would be impossible to stop them all.
Corruption is also a major problem. Poaching would not succeed without middlemen to assist and organise the distribution of illegal ivory and its safe passage out of the country.
Officials from the police force, army and government are often involved, either by turning a blind eye or by actively helping.
The government has tried to tackle this by introducing higher penalties to discourage those involved with poaching, as in “Operation Tokomeza” which was introduced recently.
Unfortunately, high penalties alone will not solve the problem. Last year the street price for ivory in Beijing reached $1000 per pound, so there is plenty of money to pay off everyone along the chain. With rewards so high, there will always be people willing to take the risk.
n Yellow Zebra’s view, there appears to be only one effective solution to the poaching problem, although initially it seems rather drastic. We have to remove the market so that there is no value in poaching. A total ban has to be enforced on all ivory trading. The middle road of selling ivory that has been legally obtained simply doesn’t work. Selling small amounts of ivory or rhino horn actually stimulates demand. This can be seen by looking back over the last 15 years.
In 1998 when an international ban was enforced on all ivory trading, elephant populations grew throughout Africa. Gradually a stockpile of ivory was built up from elephant that died of natural mortality.
This was supplemented by some countries, like South Africa, which started to cull their population.
Before long, many governments wanted to sell their stocks of ivory to generate revenue, supposedly for conservation.
As a result, in 2006 CITES (Conference for International Trade on Endangered Species) allowed 50 tons to be sold to Japan and in 2007 China was authorised as a buyer. This was absolutely disastrous. Almost immediately, demand was stimulated and poaching increased.
The problem is that the market for ivory in China is so enormous that legally traded ivory will never satisfy demand, so illegal ivory is used to supplement it. It is estimated that 90 per cent of the ivory sold in officially recognised shops in China has illegal origins.
Poaching will continue while trading in ivory and rhino horn remains legal, and all too soon the world will lose two of its most magnificent species. Governments need to unite and force the end of trading in either commodity.