Yesterday Tanzanian wildlife officials announced they would join a Zambian initiative to allow sales of elephant ivory by downgrading the elephant’s status as an endangered species.
The move is part of the important politicking that is occurring before the March meeting of CITES, the international conference on the trade in endangered species.
Kenya denounced the move and also appealed for a third time to the Obama administration to take a stand on the issue. For some reason the Obama administration is not acting on the Kenyan request. It’s almost unthinkable to believe that the Obama administration wouldn’t support Kenya on this. It was Kenya and the United States which wrote the first elephant ban in 1983.
That move at the time was supported by more than 180 countries. It stopped the rampant poaching of elephant at the time.
“We are convinced Tanzania has contravened the spirit of the (moratorium) agreement and Kenya is totally opposed to their proposal to sell ivory,” said Mr Patrick Omondi, a KWS senior assistant director.
However, Tanzania’s director of Wildlife Erasmus Tarimo disagrees.
“We’re doing what is best for our elephant population,” he said in a phone interview to Africa 2000, adding that revenues from the sale would go towards elephant conservation.
Ironically, Tarimo was in the news just last week commenting on a Dar-es-Salaam police action against suspected poaching. Four people were arrested in possession of over 30 elephant tusks.
According to sources within the wildlife industry, the ivory weighs more than 100 kilos and is believed to have come from at least 18 poached elephants killed within the vast Selous Game Reserve.
Other sources within the police force have described the latest seizure of poached elephant tusks in Dar es Salaam as further proof that the city is now a major transit point for ivory smuggling.
This latest development comes just days after THISDAY, one of Tanzania’s more aggressive newspapers, published a detailed expose on how the world-famous Selous has been turned into a veritable killing field where hundreds of jumbos are regularly slaughtered for their ivory.
The report actually suggested the poaching is once again going corporate. “This looks like a chain network of poachers and ivory smugglers at work,” THISDAY reported. The paper further claimed that some disgruntled game scouts are believed to be either turning a blind eye to illegal hunting activities or themselves taking part in killing the same animals they were hired to protect.
”An average of 50 elephants are being killed in the Selous each month…and that is a conservative estimate,” an official working in the Selous told THISDAY.
As I’ve explained in earlier blogs, poaching goes on the rise when the economy tanks. Tanzania’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism used to pay game scouts a working allowance of between $250 – $300 a month in addition to the salary to cover the expenses of fuel and food for extensive patrols in The Selous. But due to budgetary constraints that allowance has been suspended.
Sources have described finding heaps of jumbo carcases minus tusks left lying on the mud roads within the Selous.
Tarimo has denied the increased poaching.
“A recent aerial count found 41 carcases of elephants,” he admitted. “But 41 dead elephants is minimal compared to the total Selous elephant population of around 40,000,” he said, adding that some elephants had died of natural causes.