BY DANIEL SEMBERYA, The Guardian
1st December 2014
Poaching of elephants is a serious issue in southern Tanzania as well as other districts where elephants are free to stray outside the national park surveillance.
Findings show that the number of elephants in two wildlife sanctuaries in Tanzania indicated a sharp fall by more than 40 percent in just three years, as poachers increasingly killed the animals for their tusks.
Given the estimated total elephant population in Tanzania as being between 110,000 and 140,000; it was feared that with such a large drop in numbers over such a short period of time this may wipe out the country’s elephant population within 7 years.
Speaking to some selected media when handing over anti-poaching banners to the Julius Nyerere International Airport authority in Dar es Salaam last week, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)’s country Director Bell’Aube Houinato said in order for Tanzania to win the war against elephant poaching it needs to sensitise and raise awareness to the public.
Various reports cite Tanzania as the largest supplier of poached ivory and illegal wildlife trade.
“Evidence shows that in areas where people have been empowered and sensitised to appreciate and value what they have for the future generation, incidences of poaching have significantly dropped,” he explained.
He said poachers have been succeeding in their missions because they usually get cooperation from the local people around because of poverty among them.
He said the twenty banners they have given to JNIA have message written in Chinese language because China is the largest importer of poached ivory. Chinese prize ivory for decorative and medicinal value.
He said WWF has also established their office to China, which is the demand side to sensitise them on the impact of continuing involving in that illegal wildlife trade.
Meanwhile, WWF has trained JNIA’s Airport personnel from different units on how they can easily detect and identify products that are made of ivory.
“The trade is real and is happening in front of them.
“He said the training offered by WWF to Julius Nyerere International Airport staff is meant to empower them with skills that will enable them identify ivory products that have been passing in front of them unknowingly,” he noted.
“We are coming in as a civil society organisation and an international organisation to support airport staff through training, education, materials, raising awareness and ensuring they are able to curb the trade.”
WWF boss said that his organisation has started with JNIA, but they have plans in future to provide similar support to other airports and seaports in the country, because the borders are open,
Houinato said since Tanzania was a source, transit and consumer of ivory products, there should be effective measures at the ground so as to stop wildlife products on transit through its airports.
He said his organisation has been educating the local community on how to manage wildlife and eventually benefit out of them through the partnership with the government.
Speaking when receiving the banners offered by WWF, Julius Nyerere International Airport, (JNIA)’s Director Moses Malaki said the banners have been written in Chinese language to convey the message to the Chinese.
“We don’t oppress them, but it is a reality that the Chinese are the great dealers in this illegal ivory trade adding that of recent a Chinese national was apprehended after body check and found that he had rounded his whole body with beads,” he explained.
He said after the checking was intensified to detect and identify products made of ivory at the airport, many of these Chinese business people are now taking ivory products being turned into the form of beads and bracelets. And worse enough they make big holes in some carvings and insert some ivory made products.
“Previously checking at the airport had focused mainly at detecting weapons, knives and other sharp instruments that hijackers could easily use to hijack aircraft, as a result many business people used that loop hole to transit ivory products and drugs through the airport unnoticed,” he revealed.
He said this new crime of taking outside national trophy is the one that forced the airport authority to request WWF who knows and can easily identify all products made of wildlife products to come and train their personnel on how to detect ivory products that have been passing through the airport undetected.
“We are joining hands with the government to wage war against poaching, that why this training involves the police, airport staff, people dealing cargos, security people and other government machinery.”
These personnel are being trained to detect and identify things that are made of ivory and stop their transit through the airport.
“The objective of the training is to empower them with important knowledge that will enable them identify the various items that have been prohibited by the government.”
He said, “Previously we lacked this knowledge because when we detected foreign thing in one of the bags of passengers we had to wait for officials from wildlife section, and sometimes we had to delay the journey of that passenger. But with this training these trained officials will no longer wait for officials from the wildlife section to come and identify the unknown thing.”
Other key stakeholders in the sector are of the opinion that if concerted efforts are not taken by the government, elephant extinction in Tanzania would bring serious consequences in the tourism industry.
Presently, the estimated number of African elephants is about 0.5 million in the entire African range states.
Tanzania recently has lost more elephants to poaching than any other country. In 2013, it lost 10,000 – or 27 a day.
The country had 142,000 elephants in 2005; the agency predicted that, at the current death rate, the number would fall to about 55,000 in 2015. The elephant population at the Selous reserve alone fell from 70,000 in 2006 to just 13,000 in 2013.
Because of its scarcity, ivory also is an investment commodity.
Report show that Tanzania is the biggest source of illegal ivory seized around the world.
Elephants are slaughtered at the parks – Selous, a reserve in southern Tanzania, is one of the hardest hit.
The ivory is collected in villages and brought to the port in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s capital. It is loaded into freighters and shipped to destinations in Asia, including Hong Kong, Manila and Haiphong, Vietnam, before ending up in China, where it is cut, carved and sold as decoration or used in medicine.
None of this would be possible without the cooperation of Tanzanian authorities, said Shruti Suresh, an EIA wildlife campaigner.
“Seeing that there are several tonnes of ivory going through government posts, past government officials, it is clear that this corruption permeates through the highest levels of government,” Suresh said.
The insatiable demand for ivory, mostly from Asia, has had devastating consequences for elephant populations.
The environmental agency said Tanzania had lost two-thirds of its elephants in less than a decade, mostly to poachers.