By Bilham Kimati
The government has re-affirmed its commitment to get rid of the network of poachers and bring the culprits to justice, declaring that losing the battle against the illicit wildlife trade has never been an option.
"Statistics tell that despite the good progress in the antipoaching campaign, we have not won the war itself," the Prime Minister, Mr Mizengo Pinda, said in Dar es Salaam.
He said while closing a wildlife conference that was held under the theme "Stopping Wildlife Crime and Advancing Wildlife Conservation" that Tanzania was determined to stay the course until the war is won.
"Losing is not an option," Mr Pinda declared, noting that the threat posed by poaching and illegal ivory trade to the economy and heritage conservation endeavour was real.
Available statistics portray an alarming rate of ivory trade, with the number of elephants in Selous and Ruaha reportedly having dropped from 74,416 in 2009 to 33,084 in 2013. "By all account, this is alarming. We have responded by scaling up anti-poaching crusade.
Through various interventions the criminal network has been disclosed, arrested 2,085 poacher suspects and confiscated 1,721 weapons and several catches of ammunition used by poachers. We need to sustain the gains because the problem remains unsolved," the Premier Pinda told his audience.
He thanked development partners for continued support to the noble fight, insisting that it was not lack of political will but capacity challenges that faced the nation.
Insufficient workforce, financial constraints and lack of sophisticated anti-poaching equipment are some of the impediments the government faced.
UNDP Administrator and former three-term Prime Minister of New Zealand, Ms Helen Clark, called for governments around the world to intensify the fight against elephant poaching and illicit trade in wildlife products like ivory.
She said crimes like poaching and the ivory trade have enormous consequences for the most vulnerable people in developing countries by robbing nations of wealth, destroying natural resources for future generations.
Ms Clark further noted that poaching fuelled crime and corruption while undermining community and national security. Such criminal activities put women, children and others in poverty, hardship and at greater risk," Ms Clark observed.
The UN agency declared its commitment to support initiatives against wildlife trade by helping in governance, the rule of law, poverty eradication and protection of the environment.
"Strengthening governance is also critical to combating the illegal wildlife trade and law enforcement must be tackled on site and in strengthened national systems," the UNDP Administrator concluded.
The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Lazaro Nyalandu, said the country's ivory stockpile has been put beyond economic use as President Jakaya Kikwete made it clear during the London Anti-Poaching summit in March.
He called for strengthened regional cooperation to stop wildlife trade, announcing that in October, 2014 a regional summit scheduled for Arusha would bring together delegates from Kenya, Mozambique, the host Tanzania and development partner representatives.
Prof Markus Borner from Glasgow University who for 36 years has been closely affiliated to Tanzania wildlife fairing said a firm commitment in the fight by the government would persuade donor countries to extend support to Tanzania.
Dr Reginald Mengi advised on the importance to engage business companies in true conservation of the environment and protection of wildlife, saying that giving money alone was not enough.
The request was unreservedly received by Mr Yusuf Karimjee, Owner, Toyota Tanzania, who requested for proper coordination for effective support to the government to help advance wildlife conservation and intensify war against wildlife crime and illicit trade in ivory.
Meanwhile, China has reportedly made a step further in control of trade in wildlife products.
The Chinese Ambassador to Tanzania, Lu Youqing said his country has adopted stringent laws opposed to imported wildlife products (ivory) and there was no penalty option for convicted culprits apart from imprisonment. Wildlife conservation measures were also in place.
"China will continue to support Africa in the fight against poaching. Deliberate measures have been taken in China to discourage sources of demand (black markets).
Expertise leading to a success story in protection of the wild reindeers in Tibet can be shared with Tanzania," Ambassador Lu suggested.