London — TANZANIA has dropped its plan to ask the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to allow it to sell its stockpile of 112 tonnes of elephant tusks in order to reduce the demand for ivory in the market, it has been confirmed.
Instead, the country has initiated a debate on what to do with the stockpile which will involve various stakeholders including the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Environment.
Tanzania has, for the past few years, unsuccessfully asked to be allowed to sell off a stockpile of impounded elephant tusks and use the generated money for conservation purposes.
The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Lazaro Nyalandu, told the 'Daily News' in an exclusive interview here that the country was determined to protect its dwindling elephant population from extinction.
"The debate will guide us on whether to destroy or preserve the stockpile. Initial plans to ask CITES to allow us to sell the ivory have been dropped for now," Mr Nyalandu told this paper here on the sidelines of the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade.
Mr Nyalandu pointed out that the new development follows the signing by President Jakaya Kikwete last year of the Clinton Global Initiative on anti-poaching in the US. The initiative sets up a ten-year moratorium for countries to stop the killing, trafficking and demand of ivory.
The move is tailored to check the dwindling population of elephants. According to the minister, a census carried out in the Selous Game Reserve and Mikumi National Park shows that the two wildlife sanctuaries have a combined population of 13,084 elephants. Ruaha National Park has 20,000 elephants.
"The population of elephants in Ruaha National Park alone equals the number of such animals in all national parks in Kenya," he said.
Mr Nyalandu admitted, however, that Tanzania's elephant population, particularly in the Selous Game Reserve, decreased by more than 60 per cent between 2009 and 2013.
"The Selous Game Reserve had 43,000 elephants in 2009 but the number has now dropped by 66 per cent," the minister said, noting further that the country will conduct a further census in other national parks whose results will be made available to the public.
He vowed, however, that the government will continue its battle against poaching of the wild animals by eliminating the syndicate involved in poaching and illegal trade of elephant tusks.
As of December last year the country apprehended 320 suspects in connection with poaching and illegal trade in wildlife.
The suspects included Europeans, Chinese and Tanzanians who are now facing judicial procedures.
"During the period we managed to impound 12.2 tonnes of elephant tusks. At the same time we lost 25 game warders who got killed while battling poachers," he said.
Furthermore, of all the 19.7 tonnes of ivory impounded globally over the past three years, 12.2 tonnes were impounded by Tanzanian authorities.
The minister also took a swipe at the so-called wildlife activists for exaggerating the number of elephants which are slaughtered for their tusks each year in Tanzania.
"I can assure you that Tanzania's national parks are the most secure in the African continent. In the Serengeti National Park we managed to reduce the number of slaughtered elephants to zero from six per month over the years," Mr Nyalandu said.
The minister issued a stern warning to poachers and all people involved in the illegal wildlife products trade noting that the government will make sure that all suspected criminals face the wrath of the law.