Leonard Paulo, Morogoro Regional Police Commander
Poachers have gunned down two elephants and plucked out their tusks at Udzungwa Game Reserve in Kilombero District, Morogoro Region
The grisly incident took place on Saturday despite the government’s decision to resume the anti-poaching operation in June this year after being suspended in November 2013.
Speaking to journalists here yesterday, Morogoro Regional Police Commander, Leonard Paulo, said the poachers also uprooted the tusks of the elephants.
“Shortly after gunning down the tuskers and removing the tusks, police in collaboration with wananchi started hunting the poachers only to find the two dead elephants and four tusks hidden in a bush within the game reserve. The tusks were still fresh – with blood oozing,” he told the media.
According to Paulo, in a further search, they they managed to arrest one suspect.
“We arrested Fidelis Mohamed and during interrogation, the suspect said he took part in the exercise showing us Rifle 375 with serial number Tz 43818 NP 19 and a bush knife which were used to gun down the elephants and remove the tusks respectively,” the commander noted.
Paulo said investigations into the matter are still in progress and has called for continuous support from the wananchi in the fight against poaching in the country.
He did not however mention any involvement of game wardens in the Saturday’s exercise. The anti-poaching operation resumed in June this year minus military officers.
According to Natural Resources and Tourism minister Lazaro Nyalandu, the exercise is no longer ‘Operation Tokomeza Ujangili’ as it used to be called, but is just referred to as operation against poaching.
Speaking on the sidelines of an International Conference on Sustainable Tourism in Developing Countries in June, minister Nyalandu confirmed that the operation which was prematurely suspended had resumed but in a different style.
Unlike the suspended operation, the minister noted, the second phase would use little force, noting that more investment has been put into intelligence and tactical power to intercept or seize the poachers.
He said the ministry in collaboration with the government is moving to increase the number of game wardens and police officers for surveillance.
The minister said his office had already employed over 430 new game wardens and was planning to employ more in due course. Nyalandu further explained that in implementing the operation, the ministry improved training and increased boots on the grounds.
He said his ministry was also planning to buy additional air wing equipment in a move to strengthen the operation.
“The number is not enough to cover the entire country, we’re committed and we’re going to increase the force, equipment and vehicles for the operation,” he added.
In addition, the minister pointed out that the general public has been supportive in the undertakings of the operation under which it has now succeeded to net 54 per cent more poachers.
“Members of the community have been helpful in this operation … they are assisting us to identify the poachers’ locations and simplifying the entire task to take them down,” he said.
Even then, the minister could not give comments on whether his office has managed to raise the whooping 3.5bn/- claimed in arrears by over 2,000 persons who were hired to implement ‘Operation Tokomeza Ujangili’.
The money is to be paid to soldiers, police officers and game wardens as they only got the first installment of their salaries before the operation was called off.
Nyalandu said however that the government was yet to take action against senior officers charged with mismanaging the operation pending recommendations from the judicial commission of enquiry formed by President Jakaya Kikwete early last month.
Led by retired Justice Hamisi Msumi, the commission is going through the terms of reference to establish what transpired in carrying out the operation before recommending further action to be taken.
“We better hold on until the commission is through with its work,” he said.
Addressing the public early this year, President Kikwete said plans are underway to resume the anti poaching operation across the country.
It was during his end of the last year address when, he said, the government was finalising plans to resume the operation and start the second phase in fighting the alarming spate of poaching.
“It is important to go on with the operation because if we don’t, the poachers will go on with the practice,” he said.
He said the situation on the side of elephant poaching was alarming, promising that the government would carry out a census of the species in the Selous Game Reserve.
The census found that elephant population had been reduced to 13,084 of the megafauna from the 109,419 elephants in 1976.
“If we don’t run this operation, after a few years, we may not have even one elephant left. Even the operation of removing livestock from game reserves will resume but with strong emphasis on implementers not to commit any injustices,” he said.