The anti-poaching squad has arrested eight people and beefed up security in Serengeti National Park following the killing of one of five highly valued endangered East African black rhinos christened ‘George,’ which were relocated from South Africa mid this year.
Natural Resources and Tourism ministry permanent secretary Dr Ladislaus Komba told a press conference in Dar es Salaam on Thursday that the police, in collaboration with Grumeigame Reserve guards, managed to arrest the suspects.
The PS also said that a post-mortem carried out on the carcass of Rhino George by the Franfurt Zoological Society using a metal detector helped find an important clue to the owner and type of the gun used to kill the rare animal.
He said the Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) management, in partnership with Mara regional security apparatus, had launched a crackdown on poachers to defuse their network in the country and in neighbouring countries.
“No stone will be left unturned to bring to book the culprits. Our intention is to weaken the entire network of poachers, which we believe involves rich personalities inside and outside the country,” said the PS.
He said rhino George lost communication with its ranger guides on December 10 when a radio transmitter fitted on the animal went inactive and its carcass was found with its horns chopped-off two days later.
“This was clearly a coordinated work by a well organised group of poachers,” he said. According to him, more rangers, including patrol vehicles and sophisticated gadgets, had been deployed in the area to beef up security.
The rhino was killed just seven months after its arrival in the Serengeti, despite being implanted with an electronic chip and protected by an elite ranger task force especially trained to guard the animals.
Recent records show that rampant poaching in the Serengeti – famed for its sweeping planes and Africa’s most spectacular wildebeest migration – in the 1960s and 1970s saw the population of black rhinos in Tanzania plummet from over 1,000 to just 70, denting tourist arrivals.
Rhinos are heavily poached for their horns, which are highly sought after in parts of the Middle and Far East. It is believed in some cultures that powdered rhino horn has powerful medicinal properties, although this has never been scientically proven.
The five rhinos flown to Tanzania are part of a larger group of 32 animals being reintroduced to Tanzania from a 50-strong herd. The rhinos were bred from seven animals that were relocated to South Africa in the early 1960s.
The remaining 27 rhinos are expected to be returned to their natural habitat in stages over the next two years under the Serengeti Rhino Repatriation project.
The rhinos were flown from South Africa to Tanzania in a chartered Hercules C-130 cargo plane and received by President Kikwete in May, this year. Conservation experts had hoped that extra protection for the rhinos would also help other species in the park.
Organisers said the relocation was part of a new drive by African governments to protect the “big five” mammals – lions, rhinos, elephants, leopards and buffalsos – that make up one of the continent’s main tourist attractions.
Both Tanzania and Kenya have suffered a spite in poaching, particularly of elephants and rhinos, in the past few years. Kenya lost at least six rhinos last year, according to conservationists.