By Mboneko Munyaga
Heavily armed, well organised and well informed poachers are killing an estimated 70 elephants a day in Tanzania. At that rate, experts say, there will be no elephant left in the country in just the next six years!
Without a doubt, Tanzania is the only country in the world where large herds of elephants and other wild animals still roam the wildness freely.
The sad news coming out of the country, therefore, is not about loss by one society only but the entire world. That is how tragic the story about elephant and rhino slaughtering in the East African country is.
We have all heard who the main culprits behind the illegal trade are. The blame goes largely to Far East countries, especially China and Vietnam, which are believed to operate well organised gangs of poachers sent to Africa to decimate the continent’s wildlife.
The Chinese are said to have wiped out elephants in parts of West Africa where they were embraced as comrades.
President Jakaya Kikwete told a recent anti-poaching summit in London that the war against poaching was made especially difficult because the demand side for elephant tusks and rhino horns lay in overseas countries.
He appealed to those governments to plug their side of the trade in order to save elephants in Tanzania and other parts of Africa.
He also said the country had about 40 large scale poachers whom he declined to mention. But the reasons are clear. The 40 notorious poachers must be heavyweights in government, business and politics. No foreigners can succeed in any venture without local collaborators.
Just like in the days of the slave trade, those behind the massive slaughter of already endangered wildlife in Tanzania are actually our own brothers and sisters.
In my opinion, therefore, it is useless to blame foreigners in this heinous crime and trade. If for some reason we cannot get the 40 men behind bars (corruption makes some people to be above the law), then the country should at least take measures to neutralise them. By that I mean the country should ban commercial hunting and all trade in live wildlife for the next 50 years.
A rhino matures and breeds at least once only in 15 years. In other words, 50 years is enough only to produce three more rhinos. Reversely, killing just three rhinos means taking their population 50 years back according to their reproduction cycle. That is how serious and worrisome the war against poaching is.
Rhinos and elephants, believed to be cousins of pre-historic animals, have survived for millennia often against serious odds but they now face extinction because of man’s careless actions and behaviour.
Commercial hunting appears to be the thicket in which commercial poachers hide. The country stands to lose nothing by banning the trade.
However, subsistence hunting should be allowed in order to carter for man’s needs for food. Regulated hunting for food poses no threat to the survival of animals because that is how life has been for millennia.
The problem is commercial poaching and hunting which go to satisfy man’s idiosyncrasies. I fail to understand how chopsticks made of ivory can neutralise poison in food, as the Chinese believe.
Or, how concoctions made with rhino horn powder make very potent aphrodisiac syrup, as the Chinese and the Vietnamese believe. Does it follow that once there are no more rhino horns to help rave up passion, the Chinese and Vietnamese will also have it tough reproducing? Then they have by far more reasons to worry about the population of the animals in the wild!
We have heard before also that poaching should be a crime punishable by death. I say all poachers should be treated like enemy combatants. The army should be deployed in national parks and game reserves and any poacher should simply be shot on sight. Kenya no longer has commercial hunting.
Perhaps time has come also for East Africa to adopt a common approach to wildlife and environmental conservation and protection.