THE government is now aggressively targeting erstwhile ‘untouchable’ kingpins and top financiers of elephant poaching activities in Tanzania as part of tough new measures aimed at crippling the organised transnational crime, it has been revealed.
According to Gaudence Milanzi, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, major arrests and prosecutions of poaching kingpins in Tanzania are now imminent.
Milanzi, a retired major general, who is among high-level government officials leading the new anti-poaching drive, told The Guardian in an exclusive interview yesterday that the list of kingpins behind the illicit trade would "shock" Tanzanians when it is finally revealed.
The PS said the anti-poaching campaign has been invigorated by the "unwavering support of President John Magufuli."
He warned that poaching paymasters in Tanzania and their international collaborators would soon discover that the slaughter of elephants and other wild animals does not pay.
“You will be shocked if we tell you right now the kind of people behind these poaching activities," Milanzi said in an exclusive interview in his office in Dar es Salaam. He declined to name names at this time, citing ongoing investigations.
Tanzania relies heavily on revenues from safari tourism and President Magufuli has pledged to root out poaching as part of a wider war on corruption.
Tourism is the biggest source of foreign exchange and fetches the country over $2 billion a year, ahead of manufacturing and mining sectors.
But the nation's tourism industry has long been suffering from rampant elephant poaching.
Milanzi said government security forces had now identified all major Tanzanian poaching kingpins and their interlinked international poaching cartels.
"We have already gathered significant evidence against these major suspects ... massive arrests will soon be made. No one will be spared this time around," he declared.
Milanzi declined to reveal any names, but said authorities were targeting several poaching heavy-hitters who were untouchable in the past and somehow always managed to avoid the dragnet.
The government earlier this month rejected findings by the WWF conservation group that suggest elephants could be wiped out within six years from the Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania’s largest protected area, due to "industrial scale" poaching.
Poaching has risen in recent years across sub-Saharan Africa, where well-armed criminal gangs have killed elephants for tusks and rhinos for horns that are often shipped to Asia for use in ornaments and medicines.
WWF said Selous was home to one of the greatest concentrations of African elephants on the continent, but rampant ivory poaching has seen the population reduced by 90 per cent in fewer than 40 years.
Independent conservationists say Tanzania's total elephant population shrank from 110,000 in 2009 to around 43,000 in 2014. There are also far fewer rhinos and they are endangered.
Milanzi admitted that poaching was "still a big problem" in Tanzania, but dismissed claims that the ongoing slaughter of elephants for their ivory was on an industrial scale.
There have long been claims that some highly influential personalities in the country, such as business tycoons, senior politicians and other well-known members of society are the real kingpins behind the illegal poaching trade but have become untouchable due to institutionalised corruption.
“We have realised that this is a very big syndicate with very influential people behind it, but trust me, we will soon make some big arrests,” Milanzi insisted.
“We are carefully gathering concrete evidence that will link these people to the illegal poaching business before we finally take them to court.”
The Director for Wildlife, Herman Keraryo, said the government increased anti-poaching patrol boots on the ground by hiring more game rangers.
He said some 511 rangers were employed in 2015 alone and the government plans to recruit an additional 500 rangers this year.
“We want to recruit at least 2,000 game rangers and conservationists over the next two years, who we believe will play a key role in the fight against poaching in the country," said Keraryo.