A report tabled in the National Assembly in Dodoma on the sidelines of deliberations of the 2012/2013 Budget Session made stark reading. It confirmed what had been rumoured for long, which is that the rate of poaching in the country was a lot higher than commonly thought and admitted in government circles.
The report was the work of the Parliamentary Committee on Land, Natural Resources and Environment. It said as many as 30,000 elephants, many from the poorly guarded world-famous Selous Game Reserve, were slaughtered in a silent massacre between 2006 and 2009.
Understandably, this casts a dark shadow over the commitment by Tanzania to ensuring sustainable conservation.
The poaching of endangered animals including elephants and rhinos for their trophies is reported to have become entrenched in the country, with between 20 and 30 elephants being killed daily for ivory and rhino horns said to be in great demand in Asia.
According to a recent report by the London-based Environment Investigation Agency, nearly half of all ivory illegally traded globally originated from Tanzania. This underscores the fact that our elephants are really facing extinction.
The commercial-scale killings of elephants continue unabated, underlining the need for the government to address poaching more seriously. Indeed, considering the scale of the elephant population decline, it should not put a positive spin to the situation by merely giving statistics on “breakthroughs” by national park surveillance teams, etc.
In Tanzania and Eastern Africa as a whole, it is acknowledged that the current legislation just cannot effectively contain commercial poaching and there ought to be a combination of longer jail sentences and much bigger fines for all those found poaching or known to otherwise help perpetrate the crime.
But amendments to the respective laws have been slow in coming, often resulting in poachers getting bail and soon resuming their torture and destruction, while fines are laughably small and jail sentences often expressed in weeks or months rather than decades.
Of growing concern, too, is the fact that the government seems clearly downplaying the true extent of poaching and as well as falling well short of adequately supporting anti-poaching efforts by the likes of Tanzania National Parks Authority. This is sad, given that modern-day poaching involves the use of sophisticated weapons, state-of-the-art communication gear and tactics hard to beat.
It would be well advised for Tanzania to borrow a leaf from South Africa, which has taken its war against rhino poaching to the skies by deploying high-tech, low-speed reconnaissance aircraft believed to work wonders in detecting illegal hunters well before they strike.
Surely, Tanzania can also go the South African way – and why not? We have enough resources to enable us do that. Natural Resources and Tourism minister Khamis Kagasheki has demonstrated determination to wage a winning war on corruption within his ministry and the various agencies under its wings, with the vice often blamed for the rampant poaching in the country. But however gallantly he fights, he can achieve precious little singlehanded.
We therefore hope that the support he needs and deserves will be forthcoming so that all our national parks and game reserves remain world-acclaimed tourist attractions and pillars of our economic development.