Ivory Jubilee!

Ivory Jubilee!

Officials from CITES were in Dar last week to inventory the ivory stockpile that Tanzania wants to sell. It looks more and more likely that Tanzania will prevail in Doha next month.

The only hope that the momentum for the sale will be derailed is with Tanzania’s tourism minister, Ms. Sharmsa Mwangung.

It’s not that Ms. Mwangung is against the sale, quite to the contrary. But her recent remarks to local journalists might just reveal Tanzania’s true reason for wanting the sale, and it isn’t a nice one.

In one of the most remarkably ridiculous arguments any conservation official could make for selling confiscated ivory Ms. Mwangung, told the East African, that Kenya’s argument that a one-off sale of Tanzania’s stockpile of ivory would increase poaching “does not hold water, because the number of elephants in the country has increased.”

That mind twister defies gravity.. There it goes!

Now being generous and retrieving that argument from the stratosphere before it finds a black hole, it could be that what she means is that poaching is OK for Tanzania, because they’ve got more elephants than they need. So that it doesn’t really matter if poaching increases, because the elephant population is growing fast enough to sustain the illegal culling.

Well… let’s try to tackle that one.

First, she’s right about the numbers. The elephant population has increased considerably in East Africa over the last decade. It’s still below what it was before the rampant poaching of the 1970s, but most would agree it’s pretty healthy. That doesn’t mean it’s too many, though.

But second, she’s wrong about the conclusion. Doing anything to encourage poaching – of anything, not just elephants – is madness. You’re basically telling criminals to get on with it! Support your country! Get us more ivory, there’s plenty of elephants!

Third, she’s ignoring the region as a whole for the selfish interests of Tanzania. That’s bad but understandable, (since it’s what South Africa does practically every day, anyway). Kenya is seriously going to suffer major increased poaching if Tanzania encourages the market.

This is mainly because Kenya shares a 500-mile long porous border with Somali and Ethiopia, easy conduits for the market of illegal ivory.

If Tanzania truly felt it had too many elephants, then like South Africa, Tanzania would officially cull elephants and argue for the sale of that specifically culled stockpiled ivory, not the sale of criminals’ successes!

But unfortunately perhaps, I doubt Ms. Mwangung is really that mercenary. It’s really probably much simpler.

Tanzania’s tourism minister has absolutely no idea what does or doesn’t cause poaching, and similarly, she probably has only one idea of why they should sell ivory: to get money.

And we can take it pretty easily from there. To get money for what? Whether it is gold in Mwanza or unnecessary radar equipment for the capital or unused trash trucks in Dar, large blocks of money tend to never show up in Tanzania where they’re supposed to.

So if we can just have Ms. Mwangung giving a few more press conferences, there’s hope!