By Lawi Joel,Tanzania Daily News
POACHING of the wildlife in the country has become a runaway evil that allegedly enriches politicians and civil servants in the corridors of power.
Despite people’s hollers — that population of the rare and endangered species like rhinos, leopards and the elephants are declining fast, national efforts to curb the illegal trade have not made a dent in the vice as more ivory is seized almost every too often.
For some reason, ivory and rhino horn trade has recently spiralled, prompting the government and stakeholders to step up the fight against poaching. But the fight is proving futile as poaching apparently escalates.
President Kikwete told Parliament recently that at independence, the country had an elephant population of 350,000, but hardly twenty years later, the number declined to 55,000.
Quite a drastic fall! Evidently, attempts to check poaching have failed as by 2009, only 10,000 elephants remained in the country. Sometime last year, the government reacted with Operation Tokomeza, an exercise to check poaching and unearth illegal foreigners to bolster security in the country.
But the operation made merely a slight impact on poaching and was seriously mal-implemented by various authorities. The government responded by stopping the operation.
Seemingly, poachers waited for the government’s fury to abate and no sooner had the operation stopped, they killed more than 60 elephants.
The arrest of three Chinese nationals in Dar es Salaam last November with a stockpile of 797 tusks proved that poaching was a free-for-all illegal business.
However, it was a bitter truth for the nation’s economy because that entire trophy meant 400 elephants had been killed. Poachers apparently took advantage of the government’s laxity in fighting the crime.
Critics would have it no other way more than the accusation that the state organs are not being responsible enough.
Whatever reasons given, poaching of the country’s wildlife has alarmingly increased, posing a bleak future for various endangered species. Events have shown that when the authorities are keen in their work of preventing poaching, the elephant population and those of other species threatened with disappearance, increase.
In 1987, when the government launched a major anti-poaching operation, the slaughter of elephants in the country declined sharply and the numbers increased from 55,000 in 1989 to 110,000 in 2009.
Evidence shows that a ban on ivory trade favours increase of elephants. When in the mid-20th century the number of tuskers declined to about 600, 000 from millions by the end of the 1980s, the International trade in ivory was banned in 1989.
The sudden, drastic fall in elephants’ population in 2009 shows that something is seriously amiss with the relevant authorities. Various reasons are advanced for the escalation of ivory trade.
Its market in China and elsewhere in the Far East is alleged to have grown. But the government does not have the wherewithal to adequately check poaching, not only in its biggest national game reserve– Selous, with the size of 232,535 square kilometres — the size of United Kingdom, but in other reserves and game parks as well.
“A new census at the Selous- Mikumi ecosystem has revealed that the elephant population had plummeted to just 13,084 from 38,975 in 2009, representing a 66-per cent decline,” he said in the report.
Endorsing the government’s fear — that it was fighting a losing battle — was a seizure of 20 tonnes of ivory within a period of only three years – from 2010 to 2013. Game Rangers to fight poaching in game reserves are small in number and are overwhelmed by the huge patrolling task of the wild land.
Poachers have taken the government’s inadequacies and wreaked havoc on the wildlife, decimating populations of endangered species to significant numbers. Late last year, the president gave at the State House in Dar es Salaam a report that portrayed the enormity of the problem.
In this scenario, Tanzania obviously needs assistance to fight poaching. Nations which stand well to provide that assistance are its big political and economical friends like China, America and the UK.
The states can help eradicate market for ivory and other wildlife trophies within them. In that regard, Kikwete has roundly stated: “We need technical assistance, funding and technology to … enable us to employ more game rangers and to give us modern technology to tackle poachers.”
However, allegation that stalwart politicians and other government officials in position of power participate in poaching of wildlife, shows that fighting the evil is both a complicated and difficult war.
Rangers have been implicated in poaching and recently some of them were fired for involvement in the illicit business. Even more tarnishing to the government is allegation that police officers too, take part in the dirty and disastrous activity.
The undertone here is that corruption is the major obstacle in the whole in the fight against poaching. One thing is certain here.
With the apparent laxity and the present reign of greed for fast riches, the elephant is certainly on its way out into oblivion, and if any friend can and must help, it is China.