By Pius Rugonzibwa
Two suspects are being questioned in connection with the failed attempt to smuggle out of the country 81 elephant tusks weighing 303 kilogrammes, according to a statement issued by the spokesman of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Chikambi Rumisha.
The statement said names of the two suspects involved in the scam could not be made public at the moment because investigations were still going on.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism in collaboration with the Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) and other state security organs on Thursday intercepted 81 elephant tusks weighing 303 kg and 120 pangolin scales and other ocean species which were about to be smuggled out of the country.
While TPA has said it was unable to release any official information on the seizure, sources have it that the tusks might be part of the recent incident involving the slaughtering of 60 elephants soon after the temporary suspension of 'Operation Tokomeza' by the government.
TPA Board Chairman Prof. Joseph Msambichaka said at a press conference yesterday that he was aware of the seizure of the consignment but he was not in a position to release any meaningful details on the same.
The Chairman had earlier called a press conference over other issues within the Authority before he was forced to speak on the attempt to smuggle the tusks outside the country through the Port.
"I am aware as a Tanzanian that some elephant tusks were seized at the Dar es Salaam Port but as a Board Chairman, I have not been furnished any official information on what really happened," he said triggering more questions from the pressmen.
Pledging for the Authority to give official statement as soon as the 'matter' is fully worked out by relevant authorities currently handling it, the Prof. Msambichaka pleaded for patience as he avoided to deliver half cooked information.
"Please understand my position in this matter and believe me I don't intend to hide anything out of what I already know. Yes, tusks were seized but relevant authorities are dealing with the issue," he said.
According to Mr Rumisha's statement, the consignment was seized on Thursday morning after the Port security officers were tipped about the presence of the contraband by 'good citizens'.
According to the statement, the seized tusks are still new by the look of it and that could probably indicate they were part of the elephants that were killed about two months ago taking the advantage of the suspension of 'Operation Tokomeza'.
The Ministry's statement comes shortly after the Deputy Minister Mr Lazaro Nyalandu told reporters recently 60 elephants were killed shortly after the suspension of 'Operation Tokomeza' which means 120 tusks were hidden somewhere waiting for the right chance to be smuggled.
Although the Ministry statement didn't confirm that the seized 81 tusks were part of the 120 of the slaughtered elephants as reported by the Deputy Minister, seizing them now leaves a lot to be desired.
Apart from the intensifying operations following halting 'Operation Tokomeza', Mr Nyalandu also announced a number of measures and strategies that will be deployed to make sure the country's natural resources are secure as the second phase of 'Operation Tokomeza' is in the pipeline.