If a poacher guns down any wildlife animal there is a chance the gunshot will be heard by game warden, and that places him at risk of being traced.
Now, a new poaching strategy has been crafted - poisoning. This strategy is meant to kill an animal without seeking to use the meat.
Wiping out elephants in Tanzania’s wildlife reserves is back in full swing as poachers have been killing close to two dozen jumbos for their tusks each month through poisoning.
Reports say the suspects were nabbed at Mbulumbulu Village in Karatu District while allegedly plotting to kill elephants through poisonous pumpkins and watermelons, a short distance from the conservation area.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) acting conservator Shaddy Kyambile, said the suspects had intended to use poisoned watermelons and pumpkins to kill elephants. “Game rangers on patrol set a trap and arrested the suspect at Sahata River,” he told reporters in Ngorongoro on Tuesday. “This is the third incident involving suspected poachers using poison to kill animals,” he stated.
According to Kyambile, it takes about five hours for a poisoned elephant to die after eating the pumpkins or watermelons laced with chemicals.
Another official, Amiyo Amiyo, said an elephant suspected to have been poisoned, collapsed and died at the NCAA gate late last month.
Recently, 14 elephants were found dead near Lake Manyara National Park and it was suspected that the jumbos were poisoned.
In April, poachers poisoned eight rare elephants near Tarangire national park in western Arusha, raising the death toll of jumbos to 87 in four months. Wildlife officials say for about four years a well-organized group of poachers has run amock in various national parks, slaughtering elephants for ivory to sell in markets in the Far East.
Ms Nebo Mwina, Acting Director of Wildlife, says between 2008 and 2012 poachers have killed a total of 776 elephants in various national parks. Ms Mwina says that way back in 2008 poachers killed 104 elephants, while in 2009 and 2010 they slaughtered 127 and 259 jumbos respectively.
In 2011 poachers were responsible for killing 276 and 2012 up to mid April they have decimated 87 elephants.
“This trend is caused by a sharp rise in the appetite for wildlife trophies, particularly elephant ivory in Vietnam and China,” Mwina explained. It is understood that the country spends $75,000 annually to secure its stockpile of 12,131 tusks – weighing 89,848.74 kg worth $12 million in the Asian markets.
The price for raw elephant tusk in China for instance has tripled in the past year from around $270 a pound to $900 a pound.
Ivory has long been a status symbol in China, but Grace Gabriel of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, who grew up in Beijing, says China's growing purchasing power is driving demand for everything from elephant ivory to rhino horn.
The price of rhino horn is around $55 000 a kg, making it far more expensive than gold, according to the International Rhino Foundation.
The elephants seem to be slowly replacing rhinos as one of the most endangered wildlife species.
"This is a stark reminder of the 1970s deadly elephant poaching, where well-armed poachers with sophisticated weapons decimated jumbo populations, often with impunity," says African Wildlife Foundation executive director Saleh John. He says it is high time for the surrounding communities to partake in wildlife protection and war against poaching.
Natural Resources and Tourism minister, Khamis Kagasheki is on record as saying that poaching has reached deadly proportions mainly because of limited resources on the part of the government.
“We need around $77 million in budget funds per year to be able to ensure that our all national parks are foolproof, but to the contrary the current budget stands at $38 million annually,” an expert with Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) said on condition of anonymity.
Tumaini University Makumira’s dean of the Faculty of Law, Elifuraha Laltaika doesn’t think so.
An Environmental Law lecturer, he says state thinking is to militarize wildlife protection against poaching, which is far more expensive and short term.
“If the community in and around wildlife protected areas meaningfully benefits from the resources, I believe, they will fight poaching at a cheaper and more sustainable manner,” Laltaika says.
Leading researcher on lions in Africa, Prof. Craig Packer has a different version, saying with the current wave of the elephant killings, the authority needs to fence some of the national reserves.
The menace has grown into a national malady that last year warranted President Jakaya Kikwete to sanction the deployment of army units to check poaching in game reserves.
"It appears poachers have overwhelmed game rangers. We need to deploy the army to curb the trend in all game reserves," Kikwete said.
The military was successfully used in the 1980s, resulting in the arrest of hundreds of poachers and the impounding of scores of weapons. "We are going to do the same," the president vowed.