Natural Resources and Tourism deputy minister Lazaro Nyalandu last week announced that the government had intensified the war on poaching, mainly meant to stem the smuggling of elephant tusks.
But he explained that this was chiefly a campaign implemented rather covertly, although it involved Army and police officers as well as a wide range of other people whose duties and responsibilities directly relate to those of the Natural Resources and Tourism ministry.
He also revealed that the crackdown, which has gone on for some weeks, had already seen the arrest of a good number of illegal ivory dealers.
There are no definitive figures on the magnitude of poaching every year in Tanzania or elsewhere in this part of the world, but we have it on good authority things have grown much worse in recent years.
Statistics show that some 10,000 elephants are slaughtered for their tusks every year by poachers in Tanzania – with the country reportedly standing as the leading exporter of illegally acquired ivory in the world, trailed by Kenya.
Two months ago, customs officials in Hong Kong, China announced the seizure of nearly four tonnes of ivory hidden in two containers shipped from Indian Ocean ports in Tanzania and Kenya.
As if that was not bad enough, Tanzanian police late last month impounded 214 elephant tusks and five elephant bones hidden in fertiliser bags near Dar es Salaam.
The story in neighbouring countries speaks of bigger volumes even in places where there are no elephants to be found.
A world wildlife conservation group meanwhile said on Monday that some 34 tonnes of ivory have been seized so far this year, making it the worst year ever in efforts to protect elephants from poachers and seal off exit routes to avert the slaughter and illegal trade in ivory.
International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) elephant programme director Jason Bell gave this as the biggest ever volume of confiscated ivory since detailed records began 24 years ago, having outstripped by almost 40 per cent last year’s record of 24.3 tonnes!
According to Bell, this was “an indication of an illegal industry completely out of control that lawmakers still have no idea about”.
It is gratifying that this time round, the crackdown in Tanzania looks much more serious and promising than most previous initiatives. The deputy minister launched it on a note of optimism, saying he would only go to bed after elephants and other animals in the country’s national parks and game reserves were assured of their sleep.
But even with this new spirit, we believe two things ought to be added to the current drive – drawing similar lessons from the past and integrating efforts by foreign nations ready to take part in the campaign.
In the 1990s Tanzania launched a campaign against poaching, particularly rhino poaching, which proved very successful and from which we ought to borrow a leaf.
Already countries like China, where booming markets in elephant tusks are found, have expressed willingness to support the war on ivory smuggling. There is every reason for us to seek to benefit from such positive external gestures.