Tanzania: Poisoned Watermelons – New Forbidden Apples in Tanzania’s Edens

by Jun 18, 2012Wildlife News

TANZANIA’S National Parks, Game Reserves and other forms of Natural Resources have frequently been described as ‘Gardens of Eden’ due to their abundant wildlife species.

And sure enough, like the legendary Eden, the local Game Parks, especially those located within the Northern Zone’s Tourism circuit are facing serious threats from some types of fruits being served to the animals by illegal hunters.

If a certain ‘forbidden’ apple caused havoc in Eden, then watermelons and pumpkins laden with some forbidden chemicals seem to be doing the same for local game reserves here.

In April, four elephants simply collapsed and died after consuming some juicy watermelons that were laid on the Jumbos’ regular paths in the Manyara Ranch, striding the Lake Manyara National Park.

It turned out that the melons were poisoned and strategically placed where the Jumbos could come across the fruits, eat them, then die and rot instantly, making it easy for poachers to extract the mammals’ highly valued tusks.

According to experts, the deadly chemical drilled into the fruits was not only found to be able to kill an elephant in less than 20 minutes upon being swallowed, but also caused the large mammal’s body to decompose in just a few hours.

That makes it easier for the poachers to pull out the ivories, a task that would have taken hours had they applied the old method of gunning the Jumbos down using Elephant Rifles. Four people were arrested in connection with the crime, but the incident raised the curtain for a new episode in illegal hunting, the employment of stealth chemical weapons as opposed to noisy guns.

It thus means that, poachers can now kill their animals of choice without attracting much attention from rangers trained to sense rifle shots’ echoes or gunpowder from fired cartridges for them to spring into action. A few weeks ago, another huge elephant staggered into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority and fell dead as rangers watched helplessly.

Apparently it had also consumed the poisoned fruits. “The little we could do was to extract the tusks and hastily bury the animal deep into the ground because if the scavenging animals or birds get to eat the flesh of the poisoned animal they would also certainly die,” explained Mr Amiyo T. Amiyo, the Manager of Conservation Services at NCAA.

And only last week, four other suspects in the ongoing wildlife poisoning racket were nabbed in Karatu, near Ngorongoro. “We arrested the four in Kambi-ya-Simba village, an area which is becoming notorious with wildlife poaching and illegal logging of sandalwood in the Northern Highland Forest Reserve,” said Inspector Yohana Sinda of the Ngorongoro Division’s Police station.

The arrested suspects include, Mr Jonah Hamsi, his younger brother Mr Romani Hamsi, Mr Issaya Arusha and Mr John Nindi who were allegedly found placing ten large pumpkins. The pumpkins had small holes drilled onto each of them. The ten pumpkins together with equally poisoned cobs of maize were placed along the bank of Sahata River in the Mbulu-mbulu Ward of Karatu which borders the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority where the another elephant was killed recently through the very same method.

“Elephant poaching has just entered a deadly phase; in the past it was easy for the rangers to hunt down poachers who were armed with guns but the new idea of using poison can be very tricky to contain,” said the NCAA communications Manager, Mr Adam Akyoo. The poison which according to the report with reference Number 242/5394 from the Chief Government Chemist, Ms Bertha Mamuya, has been described to be the infamous ‘Aldicarb’ that is traded as ‘Temik’ and which belongs to the ‘Carbamates’ group of pesticides.

Aldicarb, according to the Chief Chemist’s report, has been listed by both the World Health Organization (WHO) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) among the chemicals whose usage is highly restricted and even banned in some countries. But as far as Mr Amiyo is concerned, the Aldicarb must be freely sold in Tanzania or precisely in the North because the first chemical batch was traced to a retailer in Babati-Manyara while the second was discovered to have originated from a shop at Usa-River in Meru District.

After the recent poisoning of five jumbos, the number of Elephants that have been killed this year has reached 12. Seven such large mammals were reportedly in the Tarangire National Park, Four in Manyara and One in Ngorongoro. Elephants therefore seem to be replacing Rhinos as the next endangered wildlife species.

In Tarangire alone, where a special ‘elephant project’ is being executed under the Wildlife Conservation Society (WSC) records show an average of 9 Jumbos getting killed every year. In 2009 when the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute conducted an animal census in Tarangire, a total of 2500 elephants were counted.

On the same year, ten such Jumbos were shot down, five killed inside the Park and five others outside its boundaries. The following year 14 carcasses of shot elephants were recorded, the illegal hunters had somehow managed to kill eight of the large mammals, right inside the park and six others were shot outside the reserve.

The Wildlife Conservation Society, through the Assistant Director of WCS programme in Tanzania, Dr Charles Foley, donated two Ford Ranger pick-up trucks to the Tanzania National Parks to assist in the Anti-Poaching efforts at both Tarangire and Mount Kilimanjaro National Parks. Tanzania with a count of 110,000 elephants is second after Botswana (which has 123,000), for having the largest number of Jumbos in Africa but the new poisoning trend is currently threatening the number of these large mammals in the country.