Elephants in one of Tanzania’s game reserves. The country is leading in Africa in terms of having the largest population of tuskers. (File photo)
The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) on Monday lauded the government's recent decision to withdraw its proposal to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to sell some of its ivory stockpile.
In a statement issued in Nairobi, the conservation group said the decision was an important step in the right direction that will help in anti-poaching efforts.
"By withdrawing this controversial proposal, Tanzania has reaffirmed its commitment to protect a species integral to natural ecosystems and one that the tourism industry depends on," AWF chief executive officer Patrick Bergin said in a statement issued in Nairobi.
The government's decision to withdraw the proposal comes in the midst of an elephant–poaching crisis stemming from a growing demand for ivory.
"The decision is an important step in the right direction to curb demand and stop the killing, but the issue of illegal ivory trafficking in Tanzania remains of great concern as elephants are still being killed at an alarming rate," Bergin said.
He said AWF will continue to collaborate with wildlife authorities and local partners across the continent to maximise anti–poaching efforts that combat the illegal wildlife trade.
Rampant poaching in Kenya has forced Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to step up anti-poaching measures after experiencing a loss of 19 elephants since the beginning of 2012.
KWS Director William Kiprono said the price of ivory and rhino horns continues to rise and this is fueling the illegal trade.
"In order to respond to these challenges, KWS has developed strategies aimed at enhancing elephant and rhino security to protect them from armed gangs while at the same time dismantling international criminal syndicates," Kiprono told a news conference in Nairobi on Jan. 16.
According to Kiprono, KWS efforts have also resulted in notable recovery of illegal wildlife trophies and firearms, including 80 rifles, 2,777 rounds of ammunition and several magazines which have been recovered since January last year.
In Tanzania already there a countrywide campaign to hunt for the killers of the jumbo and traffickers of its parts whereby a number of culprits have been arrested and all their hauls impounded.
Among those arrested include a police officer caught in the commercial city of Dar es Salaam and an army man nabbed in Kagera Region recently.
According to the government, the decision by the CITIES to allow southern African countries in 2007 the one-off sale of ivory continues to haunt wildlife conservation efforts.
The KWS announcement comes in the wake of Jan 15's seizure of 638 pieces of ivory worth 1.16 million US dollars at the port of Mombasa which were destined for Indonesia from Tanzania while disguised as ornamental stones.
Tanzania holds one of the largest elephant populations in Africa. CITES is the international agreement that regulates the trade of endangered plants and wildlife; more than 176 countries are signatories.
CITES allowed ivory sales by other African countries in 1997 and 2008 but rejected a similar proposal submitted by Tanzania in 2010.
AWF has worked in Tanzania for more than two decades, not only building the capacity of wildlife authorities and game scouts, but also supporting the establishment of wildlife management areas and other projects that make conservation worthwhile for local communities.
Manyara Ranch Conservancy, a 44,000-acre migration corridor connecting Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks, has become a model of conservation success in east Africa, one that includes eco-tourism enterprise that engages local people in protecting animals and their habitat.
More recently, AWF said it has implemented an anti-poaching task force in partnership with Tanzania National Parks, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority, the Tanzania Police Force, and the State Attorney's Office to improve the apprehension rates of suspected poachers and strengthen the sentences of those found guilty.
Under the new initiative, the task force has already apprehended six individuals suspected of poaching crimes in northern Tanzania.
Upon withdrawal of its proposal, the Tanzanian government stated that it had planned to use the profits to fund elephant conservation projects.