The government’s search for the whereabouts of 116 live wild animals and 16 birds alleged to have been smuggled out of the country in November 2010 is gaining momentum as a team of government officials is set to visit Qatar, in the United Arab Emirates, for the purpose.
The team’s mission is to establish where the animals are being kept and propose measures to be taken to ensure the animals are returned to the country.
This development comes following Tanzania’s receipt of a response from the Qatari office of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which confirmed that the said 116 animals and birds were indeed in the emirate. Both Tanzania and Qatar have signed and ratified the convention, which has been in place since 1975.
Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Khamis Kagasheki told The Guardian on Sunday in an exclusive interview that the team would be made up of officials from different government departments.
“It will be a multisectoral team incorporating people from the ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, the Attorney General’s Chambers and Tanzania Intelligence and Security Services (TISS)” noted the newly-appointed minister.
“We’ll also need to include Tanzania’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, where Qatar is represented as we do not have a mission in Doha. The team will, among other things, meet pilots of the aircraft which ferried the animals to get a clear picture on the matter,” he added.
The minister said the team would have been sent to Qatar earlier were it not for delays in receiving a reply from the Qatari CITES office, which the government received two months ago. He said Tanzania had written to CITES seeking key information about the whereabouts of the live animals and birds alleged to have been smuggled to Qatar through the Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA).
On May 29, 2011 The Guardian on Sunday reported about a syndicate in live wild animals trade having conspired and successfully smuggled the animals out of the country aboard a Qatar Air Force plane.
The report said that the aircraft had been cleared to land there, and then in the wee hours of November 26, 2010, it took off for Doha bearing a live wildlife cargo comprising 14 species, all valued at $113,715 (Sh170 million).
Now Kagasheki says that the government team to Qatar, apart from talking to the pilots, would seek to look at the permits used to allow the live animals out of the country owing to the reason that some of the animals alleged to have been exported are banned from being traded under CITES rules and guidelines.
“It is true that some of the animals are not tradable under the international convention, including giraffes. However, I cannot rule out the possibility that the exported giraffes might have had exit permits due to the rot in my ministry,” affirmed the Tourism minister.
The cargo alleged to have been smuggled in 2010 included four giraffes. Under CITES rules giraffes can only be exported if offered as a present by a head of state to his counterpart or issued for approved purposes, such as research.
The certificate of valuation of the smuggled animals issued by game officer Oscar Julius Lipili indicates that they included four giraffes, an animal cherished in the collective context as the country’s national symbol. Others were six oryx, 68 Thomson’s gazelle, two impalas,10 dik dik, three elands, 20 Grant’s gazelle, seven kori bustard, four ground hornbill, and Lapet-faced vultures and sual cats.
Others on the list were one secretary bird, five spring hares and two black verreoux eagles, according to the certificate dated March 11, 2011, produced in the course of criminal case No. KIA/IR/31/2011. The police said the smuggled cargo also included several sacks of dried wild meat.
In August 2011 members of Parliament pressured the government to return the smuggled live animals and birds, resulting in the government slapping a one-year ban on the export of live animals. Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda also said that measures would be taken to plug loopholes in the illegal export of live animals.
Due to the pressure mounted by the parliamentarians, then Natural Resources and Tourism minister Ezekiel Maige suspended Wildlife director Obeid Mbangwa to pave way for investigations into the smuggling scam.
According to a preliminary police report on the matter, the deal involved six masterminds comprising unscrupulous government officials, international traders, airport security personnel and airport ground handlers.
The new development on the search for the 132 animals and birds comes amid reports from Islamabad, Pakistan, that a hunt for smugglers of four elephants reportedly from Tanzania in 2009 under an alleged agreement with the now-defunct city district government of Karachi had been launched.
The scandal pertaining to the four elephants is contained in an April report by the parliamentary Committee on Lands, Natural Resources and Environment, led by James Lembeli (Kahama- CCM), which culminated in the sacking of then minister Ezekiel Maige in a cabinet reshuffle announced on May 4.
Five other senior cabinet ministers and two deputies were also sacked due to various allegations, including abuse of office.