By Amina Yahya
The new elephant census released yesterday shows that the population of the large mammals is going down across the country, and the government is accusing unnamed international traders for abetting illegal trade in ivory.
Poaching and grazing near wildlife reserves are the major reasons behind the alarming depletion of the jumbos.
Statistics show the endangered species now face possible extinction.
The report “The Elephant populations status in Selous-Mikumi and Ruaha-Rungwa Ecosystems; Census Results of 2013’ launched in Dar es Salaam yesterday cites increased demand for ivory, particularly in the Far East, and lucrative prices as catalysts for recent incidents of widespread elephant poaching in Tanzania.
The report shows that there are only 13,084 elephants left in the Mikumi-Selous ecosystems and 29,090 in Ruaha-Rungwa in year 2013 – a 66 percent decrease from the 2009 population of 38,975 elephants.
In the meantime, the Ruaha- Rungwa ecosystem has experienced a 36.5 percent decline from 31,625 elephants recorded in 2009.
Speaking during the launch of the census, deputy minister for Natural Resources and Wildlife Lazaro Nyalandu said the decrease in elephant population was verified by the number of carcasses that were counted during the census during which some 6,516 and 3,496 carcasses were counted in the Selous-Mikumi and Ruaha- Rungwa ecosystems.
He noted that a large number of elephant deaths were non-natural, saying that only about seven to eight per cent of the animals are estimated to have died naturally, either through disease or old age.
Nyalandu said the census results were clear evidence that poaching of elephants had reached alarming proportions, and released figures showing elephant tusks weighing 32,987kg were seized within and outside the country between 2008 and September, 2013.
He also blamed increased of livestock grazing in protected areas and wildlife corridors as one of the reasons for the decrease of elephants across the country.
He cited the Kilombero Game Controlled Area -- part of the Selous-Mikumi ecosystems – which was home to some 2,080 elephants in the 2002 census but none were recorded in the just-ended census
“In response to this … the ministry is determined to intensify the protection of wildlife in collaboration with other stakeholders including defence and security forces and regional and international conservation systems,” he said.
He called upon wildlife managers to work with integrity and stop assisting poachers, warning that the government would have ‘zero tolerance’ for those involved in poaching.
The ministry spent some $160,000 during the latest census – from government and the donor funds.
Other statistics indicate that in 1976 the Selous-Mikumi ecosystem had 109,419 elephants – which dropped to a mere 22,208 in 19991 following a wave of poaching between 1984 and 1989.
However, the population rose to an impressive 70,406 in 2006 following a countrywide Operation Uhai between 1989 and 1990 along with international conservation efforts which included termination of the ivory trade.
Last year, the government again launched a countrywide anti-poaching campaign (Operation Tokomeza), which President Jakaya Kikwete suspended after establishing that it was conducted unethically -- focusing on civilians and their property – literally setting the poachers free to further decimate the elephants.
The president subsequently sacked four ministers for failing to effectively manage the infamous Operesheni Tokomeza Ujangili - a government anti-poaching campaign which remains suspended indefinitely due to claims of abuses against civilians such as torture, extortion and murder.
Khamis Kagasheki, the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism; David Mathayo, Livestock Development and Fisheries; Emmanuel Nchimbi, Home Affairs; and and Shamsi Vuai Nahodha, Defence and National Service were all fired following a day of contentious Bunge debates and increasing public outcry over their failure to rein-in inept, trigger-happy subordinates.
Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda admitted the way Operesheni Tokomeza Ujangili was run was appalling, and that many of the things committed by those tasked with protecting Tanzania’s dwindling wildlife were simply “unacceptable.”
“We started out with the best of intentions,” Mr Pinda told a packed House. “However, it's clear there were major problems with how the [anti-poaching\ programme was managed.”
In a televised, all-day session that touched the hearts of lawmakers and observers alike, Members of Parliament shared horrid tales of how Operesheni Tokomeza was used to systematically break down, torture and murder innocent civilians.
The dismissals of the four ministers came after a parliamentary inquiry uncovered the murder of 13 civilians, arrests of over 1,000 people and other abuses by the army, policemen, game rangers and forestry officials.
Last year, the president also sacked six ministers, including holders of the finance and energy portfolios, due to growing public and opposition discontent over graft allegations.
Investors have also gone on record that graft was one of the main reasons for the high cost of doing business in Tanzania, which has since struck huge reserves of natural gas off its southern coast.
The president’s latest intervention against officials seen to be abusing their positions could further strengthen his hand ahead of a parliamentary and presidential elections in 2015.
Analysts said Kikwete was expected to announce a wider cabinet reshuffle in the coming days following growing criticism of the performance of other key members of his government, with more ministers likely to lose their jobs.
A report authored by Tanzania Elephant Protection Society (TEPS) last year clearly stated that investment relations between China and Tanzania were behind the rise in elephant poaching across the country
The report observed that though the Chinese investments were key to the country’s economy and development, they shouldn’t compromise natural wildlife conservation efforts.
The report -- which stated clearly the current rate of 30 elephants killed every day and 850 elephants shot every month -- posed unprecedented risk of the country’s elephant population perishing within the next seven years “China is the number one investor in Tanzania … but the majority of tusks exported illegally from Tanzania end up in China due to the huge demand for Ivory in China,” the document stated in part.
It affirmed: “Tanzania’s partnership with China is of great benefit to the country’s economy and development but it must not be at the expense of Tanzania’s vital natural resources and tourist industry … this requires political will and strong leadership.”
In another development, the natural resources ministry has sacked 21 of its officials following abuses of office, with others being implicated in poaching activities in the game parks
The document cited some of the most affected areas in poaching as Moyowosi in Kigoma region, Ugalla ecosystem which had less than 500 elephants left by then; Katavi -- Ruangwa in the Ruaha; the Selous Game Reserve where elephants were reportedly almost gone, Kilombero Valley, Southern Selous and the Selous Niassa corridor which were under threat.
On April 30, last year, the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee for lands, natural resources and environment, James Lembeli, told the House that poaching activities had reached alarming proportions, and that it should be declared a national disaster.
In Kenya, similar findings were made last September after a UN report pointed an accusing finger on Chinese expatriates working in the region with regard to the rise in poaching in the EAC member states.
The document that dwelt on drugs and human trafficking made it clear that Thailand and China remained two of the most important destinations for ivory.
“Expatriate Chinese residents in Eastern Africa comprise some of the most important middlemen. Although they have taken measures to address the illicit trade, Thailand and China remain two of the most important destinations,” the document stated in part.
The report titled Transnational Organised Crime in Eastern Africa: a Threat Assessment was launched Nairobi by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Apart from ivory, the report focused on migrant smuggling from Somalia and Ethiopia, heroin trafficking from South-West Asia to Eastern Africa and Somalia maritime piracy.
The report said demand for ivory in Asia fuelled poaching in the region, undermining sustainability of local elephant population with Kenya and Tanzania as the main transit points of the ivory and act as sources.
The document stated that between 2009 and 2011, Tanzania accounted for 37 per cent of global recovered ivory; Kenya had 27 per cent, Uganda three per cent, South Africa 10 per cent and West Africa four per cent.
The report said between 5,600 and 15,400 elephants were poached in the region annually, producing between 54 and 154 metric tonnes of the illicit ivory.