Dar Es Salaam — Giraffe, the country’s national emblem, is increasingly becoming an easy target for bush meat hunters, and wildlife protectors are warning that if the trend is not checked now, the towering African animal will soon be extinct.
It is illegal to for anyone to kill a giraffe since it is sanctified as a national symbol and an exemption can only be granted by the President, a professional game warden with six years of experience informed The Citizen.
He, however, noted that of late there has been a growing trend of giraffe poaching, especially in the country’s game-controlled areas.
Figures obtained from Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (Tawiri) indicate, for instance, that a census conducted in 2002 in Selous Game Reserve established that there were 6,712 giraffes but the number decreased sharply, with the 2006 census indicating that there were only 3,163 giraffes remaining.
Of relief, however, is the fact that a 2006 census in Serengeti established that there were 5,246 giraffes while the number went up to 12,078 in 2010.Between February and December 2007, a total of 210 giraffes were killed in West Kilimanjaro, and local game rangers say that on average, 20 giraffes are killed every month. It means a lot has to be done if the country is to save this unique animal, say wildlife experts.
“The giraffe is an attractive target to poachers because it has a lot of meat on their bones. Meat from one giraffe can be equal to the meat you get from, say, four elands,” said the game warden who preferred to remain anonymous for security reasons.
He was speaking in an interview with The Citizen at the end of a gala dinner organised by the Wildlife Conservation Foundation of Tanzania (WCFT) at Movenpick Royal Palm Hotel in Dar es Salaam over the weekend to raise funds for anti-poaching activities in Tanzania.
During the dinner, the WCFT executive vice-president, Mr Gerard Pasanisi, the chief organiser of the gala, donated five four-wheel-drive Land Cruisers equipped with state-of-the-art communication gadgets such as radios and global positioning systems (GPS) worth Sh640 million to the Wildlife Division for anti-poaching operations.
The vehicles were bought with money collected from a fundraiser WCFT hosted in Paris in November, last year, where over $280,000 (about Sh420 million) was realised thanks to stakeholders, including tourist hunting companies, tour operators, hoteliers and miners.
Since the WCFT was founded in 2001, it has donated 15 vehicles worth billions of shillings designed to help anti-poaching staff with the Wildlife Division to carry out their duties.
The game warden revealed to The Citizen that two giraffes were killed by poachers early this month at the Ruvu Maasai Game Controlled Area in Simanjiro District in Manyara Region.
“Giraffe poachers are deadly marksmen and we suspect that some of them have military training background,” he said, citing another area where the animal is under serious threat as Kitwai Game Controlled Area, also in Simanjiro District.
The game warden said during this month’s anti-poaching operation in the two game controlled areas, they managed to seize giraffe meat, two vehicles and firearms used by poachers. “We failed to arrest the poachers because they’ve a very sophisticated network of communications which enabled them to dodge the wardens,” he said.
Reached for comment yesterday, the minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Ezekiel Maige, said his ministry was aware of the growing trend in giraffe poaching, adding that relevant measures are underway, including carrying out investigations.
“We’re doing all we can to fight poaching but we are limited in terms of staff and resources,” said Mr Maige.
He thanked donors for contributions from the WCFT to the Wildlife Division in his ministry, saying they would play a major role in anti-poaching activities.
Speaking at the gala dinner, the Vice-President, Dr Mohamed Gharib Bilal, said the country’s reservoir of wildlife is under serious threat.
“The gravity of crime in our game reserves has increased,” said Dr Bilal, adding that the government would embark on a major long-term crackdown against poachers in national parks and game reserves.
He added that the government also intends to use the latest technology in combating poachers and introducing stiffer laws with higher penalties, including longer prison terms for the convicted. Dr Bilal paid tribute to the WCFT and Mr Pasanisi in particular, for supporting conservation in Tanzania, adding that wildlife was an important resource for the social and economic wellbeing of the people.
The WCFT treasurer, His Imperial and Royal Highness Archduke of Austria-Este, was represented by Mr Jacques Servais, who praised President Jakaya Kikwete for ensuring proper conservation measures in Tanzania were in place.
The chairman of the WCFT organising committee, Sir Andy Chande, said: “We’re fully aware of the national budgetary constraints and are therefore doing whatever is within our capacity to help the anti-poaching activities.”
The gala dinner was also attended by one of the patrons of the WCFT, retired President Benjamin Mkapa. Other patrons are: former US President George Bush Sr. and former French President Valery Giscard D’Estaing who is also the president of the Foundation.
Others present were WCFT vice-president George Kahama, the WCFT vice-president, Mr Gerard Pasanisi and the WCFT secretary general, Mr Emmanuel Severe.