By Alvar Mwakyusa
Shortage of personnel and modern equipment is holding back Tanzania's efforts to curb poaching of its wildlife and thus a need for assistance from the international community to curb the crime which is threatening survival of wild animals.
Tanzania is a vast country in which 36 per cent of its territory has been allocated to wildlife conservation under direct control of state owned institutions or community based organizations.
According to President Jakaya Kikwete, the country currently has 1,088 wildlife management personnel (game wardens and park rangers), out of the total requirement of 4,788, translating to a shortfall of 3,700 workers.
Against this backdrop, the government has taken deliberate efforts to protect the country's flora and fauna by employing more workers each year to curb poaching and encroachment in protected areas.
"The government has put in place an ambitious programme to increase employment of these cadres. Last year we allocated funds to employ 459 game rangers and wardens while this year we will employ additional 500 personnel," President Kikwete said.
The President made the remarks when addressing delegates at the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade held at the Lancaster House on February 13, this year. It was co-hosted by the government of UK and Prince Charles, heir to the British throne.
The Head of State went on to note that the country seeks to meet the total requirements of 4,788 wildlife management personnel by the year 2016 from the current rate of 1,088 staff.
Apart from the shortage of workers, lack of modern and advanced equipment is also another factor that makes it hard for wardens and rangers to tackle poachers who, in most cases are very well equipped.
The President thus urged the international community to support Tanzania and other developing countries through training of game rangers and wardens and empower them with better and modern equipment so they can effectively perform their duties.
"They need vehicles, surveillance and modern communication equipment. Unfortunately, we are falling short of these needs. Much more needs to be done and support from the international community is more than important," he observed.
He said Tanzania is determined to intensify the fight against poaching and illegal ivory trade through employment of more wildlife management personnel to patrol and protect its wildlife but held back by shortage of funds.
"It is because of this that we appeal to the developed nations to support African countries by training anti-poaching personnel as well as providing the countries with technology and equipment to fight poaching," Mr Kikwete noted.
President Kikwete also asked the developed countries to support countries affected by poaching to build more capacity on inspection at ports and points of exit to ensure that no cargo containing ivory, rhino horns or other contraband goods would cross borders without being detected.
"Inspection is constrained by lack of adequate financial resources to acquire requisite technology. Support in this regard would be highly appreciated," he noted. Describing the London conference as a historic opportunity to take a landmark decision to save elephants and rhinos, the Head of State said he was optimistic the international community would pronounce itself on supporting developing nations in the war against poaching and illegal wildlife trade.
"Trade of ivory and rhino horns, whether legal or illegal, threatens the survival of elephants and rhinos to unprecedented proportion and Tanzania is a living example of the menace of the trade," he told delegates from over 50 countries that attended the meeting.
Despite the challenges the country faces in the fight against the vice, he noted, however, that there are some achievements which have been recorded through various operations mounted jointly by the police, the army and game wardens and rangers.
He cited a task force formed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism which managed to tame poaching of wildlife in the northern part of the country, adding that the task force has been directed to replicate the efforts in southern and western Tanzania.
In an interview he granted to famous CCN television host Christiane Amanpour he confirmed to the world about the magnitude of wildlife poaching describing the situation as 'madness.' "At independence Tanzania had 350,000 elephants but by 1987 there were only 55,000 elephants left.
This is madness now, it is just impossible... it's a serious matter," Mr Kikwete said. Incidents of poaching are on the rise fuelled by a growing demand for ivory and rhino horns in Asia. There are also concerns that poaching is helping to fund violent groups in the region.
When it comes to destroying ivory stockpiles, as countries like the United States and China have done in the past, President Kikwete says his country is considering doing the same thing to show it is an unacceptable trade. "We have about 112 tonnes of ivory... we used to have the idea of asking permission to sell, but we don't think, these are not the times".
It's not the right time, he says, because it was the relaxation of laws that opened the door to more poaching in the first place. When addressing delegates at the London meeting, he cited a ban on ivory trade in the year 1989 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which played a crucial role in stopping the trade.
"When CITES banned ivory trade in 1989 it helped the recovery of elephant population. I believe if the trade is banned today the effect will be the same and many lives of elephants and rhinos will be saved," Mr Kikwete said.
At the same meeting, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark said addressing short and long term poaching and illegal wildlife trade requires cooperation between governments and international partners.
"UNDP is pleased to favourably respond to the government of Tanzania's request for the organization to coordinate donor responses and support implementation of the national strategy," Ms Clark pledged.
The UN organ has in the past assisted Tanzania with formulation of a national strategy aimed at eradicating elephant poaching and ivory trafficking from the country.
Among important elements of the strategy are measures to improve law enforcement at all levels, building on national efforts to promote good governance and capacity building for the judiciary, police and customs.
Others include improvement of livelihoods of affected communities and strengthening international dialogue to change attitudes towards wildlife crime and reduction in ivory demand.
If the international community helps to stop trade of ivory and rhino horns as well as supporting developing countries with technology and training to check poaching and illegal wildlife trade, then our wildlife will be safe and there will be no cause for alarm.