Monday, June 18, 2012

Tanzania's Poachers Turn to Poisoning Elephants

An African bush elephant in Tanzania

It has been recently reported that poachers in Tanzania have developed a new strategy in bringing down elephants: poisoning. It is said that poachers have been taking lives of close to 24 elephants for their tusks through this gruesome method. According to reports, suspects were arrested at the Mbulumbulu Village in Karatu District while supposedly scheming to kill elephants through poisoned pumpkins and watermelons near the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Shaddy Kyambile, an acting conservator of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA), described the incident as being third in which suspected poachers would use poison to kill the animals. He further added that game rangers set a trap and arrested a suspect at the Sahata River while out on patrol. In addition to that, he also mentioned that it takes an elephant five hours to die after eating a pumpkin or watermelon laced with chemicals. Another official named Amiyo Amiyo said that an elephant, believed to be poisoned, collapsed and died near the authority gate last month. A recent case was reported near Lake Manyara National Park, where fourteen elephants were found dead upon suspicions that they were poisoned. Earlier in April, eight elephants were allegedly poisoned near Tarangire National Park in western Arusha which increased the death toll to 87 in four months.
Elephants in Lake Manyara National Park

Wildlife officials stated that a well-organized group of poachers were running amok in different national parks for about four months, butchering elephants for ivory to sell in Far Eastern markets. Acting Director of Wildlife Ms. Nebo Mwina said that a total of 776 elephants had been killed off between 2008 and 2012 in various national parks. Statistics showed that 104 elephants were killed in 2008, while 127 and 259 were slaughtered in 2009 respectively. 2011 saw deaths of 276 elephants in the hands of poachers, and finally in mid-April of this year the body count surged to 87 animals. The figures, according to Ms. Mwina, give a clear indication about a sharp rise in the "appetite for wildlife trophies, particularly elephant ivory in Vietnam and China." John Saleh, executive director of the African Wildlife Foundation, stated that the wave of killings is a reminder from the 1970s during which poachers decimated elephant populations with impunity. He further added that it is crucial for local communities to engage in the protection of wildlife, and the war against poaching. According to Khamis Kagasheki, minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, the reason poaching had exceeded to such overwhelming proportions is due to limited resources on the government's part. An expert with the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) stated that around $77 million in budget funds are needed per year to be able to guarantee that all national parks are faultless. However, the current budget is at $38 million annually. The dean of Tumaini University Makumira's Law Faculty named Elifuraha Laltaika said that militarizing wildlife protection would be more expensive and short term. In his own words, he stated that a community living in and around protected areas would fight poaching at a cheaper and more sustainable manner if it knowingly benefits from the resources. The ongoing slaughter has grown so worse, that last year Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikiwete called to sanction the arrangement of army units to investigate poaching in game reserves.
Men posing with ivory tusks in Dar es Salaam.

I'm very much shocked to see the numbers of elephants butcher as a result of this sadistic technique of poisoning implemented by the poachers in order to conduct their illicit business in and around Tanzania's protected areas. The figures mentioned above are just staggering, indicating that a silent slaughter had been taking place over a four-year period from 2008 to 2012. It goes to show that the demand in ivory from China and Southeast Asia is the driving force behind all the poaching activities occurring in Tanzania and elsewhere in Africa. I personally feel that this is a crucial time to reach out and encourage the local communities to lend their hands in helping protect the wildlife and battle poaching. In addition to that, involving both the law enforcement and the military to collaborate with the national parks' staff is also necessary if Tanzania is to protect its elephants from any further poisoning. Putting up fences around some game reserves, as put by African lion researcher Dr. Craig Packer, is not the only solution to prevent poaching, since the perpetrators are capable of cutting their way into the areas. Furthermore, different international wildlife organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) should be involved in order to provide the nation with funds for its budget. As long as the threat of poaching prevails, the tourist industry would be greatly affected as well. Overall, this article indicates how crucial it is to combat the ongoing threat of the ivory trade which has been plaguing Africa's wild places for decades.

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