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Nefarious partnership decimating Tanzania’s elephants

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A report released this month by The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) called Vanishing Points – Criminality, Corruption and the Devastation of Tanzania’s Elephants has revealed that Tanzania is officially the world’s largest source of poached ivory and China is by far the greatest beneficiary. Nothing surprising there, but what’s of particular concern is that the illicit trade is masterminded by high-ranking officials from both countries in a nefarious partnership that has caused half of Tanzania’s once-considerable elephant population to be slaughtered in just five years. Tanzania’s largest game park, the Selous reserve has seen its elephant numbers plummet by a staggering 67% from around 40,000 individuals to around 13,000, which is equivalent to thirty elephants slaughtered a day.

The report, released on the eve of a major wildlife crime summit in Tanzania, has revealed that politicians in Tanzania’s ruling party as well as high-level Chinese diplomatic delegations are responsible for transporting huge amounts of ivory out of the country. In 2013 an official visit of the Chinese naval task force witnessed a sudden spike in business for ivory traders with one dealer bragging he made $50,000 from naval personnel, while a Chinese national was caught with 81 tusks trying to enter the port of Dar es Salaam, also intended for Chinese naval officers. The same phenomenon occurred when Chinese President Xi Jingping paid an official visit to Tanzania. Prices of ivory doubled during the period the presidential delegation were there.

Even as far back as 2006, the EIA uncovered Chinese Embassy Staff as major buyers in ivory, while in 2012 Tanzania’s president Jakaya Kikwete was handed a list of top businesspeople, government officials and MPs heavily implicated with the ivory trade. To date nobody on the list has been investigated let alone arrested. Last year former Natural Resources and Tourism Minister, Khamis Kagaheki, named four prominent MPs in the government actively involved in the ivory trade, and again nothing was done apart from Kagaheki being unceremoniously sacked from his post.

In the last five years Tanzania have ‘confiscated’ 26.5 tons of ivory which means that 3,963 elephants died. But there has only been one conviction.

Trade in ‘illicit’ ivory in Tanzania is a booming business with a sophisticated network of high-ranking officials from both countries. Furthermore, the crime appears to be carried out with impunity. One of EIA’s investigators was offered tusks from the Government’s storeroom and even put them in touch with a dealer who could supply tusks direct from the Selous Reserve. As EIA’s executive Director, Mary Rice said: ‘This report shows clearly that without a zero tolerance approach, the future of Tanzania’s elephants and its tourism industry are extremely precarious.’

Rice believes that ‘the ivory trade must be disrupted at all levels of criminality, the entire prosecution chain needs to be systemically restructured, corruption rooted out and all stakeholders, including communities exploited by the criminal syndicates and those on the front lines of enforcement, given unequivocal support. All trade in ivory, including all domestic sales, must be resolutely banned in China which has failed to comply with CITES ivory controls.’

Tanzania and China were both named and shamed in 2013 for their involvemnent in the ivory trade. CITES demanded that each government implement action plans to halt the plague but it appears that neither have, apart from the occasional placatory remark from the Tanzanian President that he is doing all he can. With both countries blantanly flaunting international law, it’s high time for the world to take the gloves off. Tanzania and China must be held accountable for the holocaust, the future of Africa’s elephants depends on it.

Main Photo: (Francis Garrard)

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