By Deogratias Mushi
In 1989, Costas Christ who writes for National Geographic Traveller magazine did a stint as a wildlife researcher in Kenya.
While there, he witnessed a decade of unprecedented slaughter of elephants by poachers, out to profit from rising ivory demand in Asia's fast-growing economies.
His findings showed that by that year, more than 600,000 elephants had been killed -- half of Africa's entire population (Kenya alone lost 85 per cent of its herd), leading to a global ban shortly there-after on the trade and sale of ivory by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Following the ivory ban, things started to improve. The number of elephants killed illegally declined, and their populations also began to rebound in Kenya and Tanzania. But like a cancer that slows only to return and metastasize, the killing fields are now back in different parts of our country.
From Selous to Mikumi, and also from Tarangire to Serengeti. Recent reports say that dozens of elephants are currently being gunned down daily by high-tech poachers wielding AK-47s, part of highly organized international criminal networks.
President Jakaya Kikwete affirmed this in London recently, when he mentioned that there are 40 core poachers in the country, and their ring leader resides in Arusha. Available data say that an estimated 25,000 elephants were killed in 2011 alone in Africa (out of a population of about 500,000).
And since 2007, the illegal ivory trade has more than doubled. If the massacres do not stop, our children could be the last generation to see an elephant in the wild, and our economy that rely on tourism by 18 per cent could further dwindle and plunge the country into abject poverty.
According to me there are various means that we could deploy in making sure that our elephants are rightly protected from poachers. First, we should struggle to let the international community support an unequivocal and permanent ivory ban without any kind of hypocrisy.
The world ought to says something about this precious heritage. It is true that greedy business people with pockets of healthy herds have large stockpiles of ivory from culling operations and smuggler confiscations.
For example, countries such as South Africa and Botswana want controlled legal sales of their ivory stocks, with the income providing funding for conservation.
As a country, we should clearly show our stand on this matter. The argument has been that it would help drive down global prices and undercut the illegal black market trade. It has been close to impossible to implement this.
Some conservation groups have already tested the sale of ivory stockpiles, with the unfortunate result that ivory prices dramatically increased. Some conservationists point out that these legal ivory transactions sent mixed signals and reignited global demand, contributing to the current epidemic of "blood ivory."
It is arguable that ivory trade has never and can never be managed sustainably, nor without total dominance of corruption, which is why I support a complete moratorium on ivory sales and the destruction of existing and future stockpiles as suggested by a group of influential scientists, including Joyce Poole and Cynthia Moss.
Secondly, as a nation we ought to choose carefully tour operators that actively support elephant conservation, and since we have both local and foreign companies, this is the right time to make sure that we have companies that support the fight against poaching.
What can be managed sustainably is tourism, and in Tanzania, travellers can play a vital role. When a would-be traveller books a safari, he/she should ask if the tour visits community wildlife conservancies, which are one of the best hopes for saving our endangered elephants.
Thirdly, the world should establish a mechanism that bars people worldwide from buying ivory for any reason. It turns out that some religious groups are huge consumers of ivory -- used in icons and sold as tourist souvenirs. Fourthly, we should insist that all countries worldwide end use of ivory.
The future of the African elephant ultimately rests with one country in the east (name withheld) which is by far the world's largest market for ivory products. Ivory sales are surging right along with today's middle-class prosperity. While hoarding ivory to drive up prices, the government of that country is also sponsoring ivory-carving schools, licensing carving factories, and allowing more retail outlets to meet rising demand.
This country should be told to stop. Last year, basketball legend Yao Ming travelled to Kenya and returned shaken by the "harrowing experience" of witnessing how illegal ivory is obtained. His message was "Only elephants should own ivory."
Fifthly, Tanzania should join other elephant lovers. Many organizations work for wildlife conservation. Two that focus on protecting African elephants are Save the Elephants and the UKbased Tusk Trust. With the future of our elephants hanging by a thread, this is the moment for action.
Locally, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism should do the following to make sure that our elephants are protected. - Make a sustained campaign to make elephant a loved animal. Make them accessible to people so that people will know their value.
Love for anything is more powerful than any other worldly thing. Let us use banners, radio stations, TV stations, pamphlets, statues, and newspaper articles in bringing accross the message that elephants need our help to protect them.
- We should identify the section of the people who work as poaching workers and provide them alternate means of earning and protection from poaching masters. - We should find and shutdown the ivory transfer routes, borders, bank accounts, etc.
Let us make a pact with neighbouring countries and announce big rewards for the heads of poachers. If generations of men can learn the knack of successful poaching, is it difficult to train another bunch of men to go after those poachers and kill or capture them. -
If a premeditated murder of a human can warrant death sentence, it can be considered for killing an elephant also. The justice should be quick and almost instantaneous. - We should identify the destinations markets, workshops, dealers, auctioneers, etc, and work with those governments to shut them down effectively.
Try for international sanctions against those countries not curbing them effectively. - Finally, unless there is consumption there wouldn't be a market for Ivory and hence there won't be any poaching.
Whoever buys ivory products should be able to identify problems associated with this trade. What can be done today should not wait for tomorrow.