Nairobi — A new investigation by a panel of international and local experts that implicated senior government officials in the illegal ivory trade and the rise in elephant poaching in Tanzania is believed to have led to the country being denied permission for a one-off sale of its $20 million ivory stockpile.
The report, seen by The EastAfrican last week, says the illegal international trade in ivory is conducted by organised criminal syndicates with the collusion of corrupt Tanzanian officials.
It reveals that, since January last year, Tanzania has been implicated as the source of nearly 50 per cent of the ivory seized worldwide – about 11.632 tonnes – while poaching of elephants in Tanzania is increasingly unsustainable.
The March 2010 report by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency and the Journalists’ Environmental Association of Tanzania says there is uncertainty over the number of elephants in Tanzania, particularly in the Selous Game Reserve, and that illegal trade in ivory is widespread in Tanzania, with most of the ivory exported to China, Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Philippines and Taiwan.
The report, entitled Tanzania Briefing Report of the Panel of Experts on the Ivory Trade, says the most recent Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) analysis reveals that the country’s scale of its involvement is second only to that of China, and the value of the ivory concerned is more than twice that for any other cluster of countries.
Mary Rice, executive director of the Environmental Investigation Agency, told The EastAfrican from London last week that in February investigators from EIA visited Tanzania specifically to investigate the extent of illicit ivory trade, and the enforcement response in Southern Tanzania.
Ms Rice said that EIA undercover agents made interactions with ivory trade criminals and found that ivory is flowing out of the Selous Game Reserves often in collusion with rangers working in the reserve, and that the main destination is Dar es Salaam.
“These findings are independently supported by well-documented evidence of a thriving illegal international ivory trade, and also by the findings of the Panel of Experts report for Tanzania,” she said.
According to Ms Rice, EIA also received reports that ivory from Mozambique was being smuggled into Tanzania and being shipped out along with Tanzanian ivory from the ports of Dar es Salaam and Tanga.
The EIA said such accounts were frequently accompanied by allegations of the involvement of corrupt government officials of varying ranks.
In some instances, there were also indications and allegations of the involvement of Chinese businessmen and contractors based in Tanzania.
The EIA undertook another investigation in March this year and established that intelligence information released by the government of Tanzania suggesting improvement in the situation concerned superficial changes and in fact that illegal activity has escalated.
“This is supported by the catalogue of large seizures emanating from Tanzania and by increased press reports of poaching and collusion with figures in authority. DNA analysis also supports concerns about the level of poaching and illegal off-take, particularly in the Selous,” said Ms. Rice.
Overall, seizures involving Tanzania between 1989 and 2010 represent one third of all ivory seized globally, and Tanzania ranks first among African countries in terms of the total volume of ivory reported by large-scale seizures.
Additionally, EIA also has records of nine major seizures that have taken place since 2002, representing almost 16 tonnes of ivory.
Another pending case concerning a large-scale ivory seizure in the Philippines also involves Tanzania as the country of export.
“As well as being a conduit country for ivory from other African countries to overseas markets, recent seizures along with EIA’s 2010 investigations indicate that a significant quantity is derived from poached Tanzanian elephants,” said the report.
Many of the traders with whom EIA met stated that the ivory was sourced from within Tanzania, with some offering to procure it on request.
EIA’s findings also reflect the claims made in various media reports, which allege that much of the ivory comes from Dodoma and Manyara Regions and the Selous Game Reserve in the South.
Shamsa Mwangunga, Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, acknowledged that poaching incidents in national parks have assumed “alarming proportions.”
Mrs Mwangunga said that sophisticated poaching syndicates and networks with international links are operating in the country, posing a serious threat to Tanzanian wildlife.