In his New Year message to Tanzanians did President Kikwete promise to resume the controversial anti poaching operation ‘Tokomeza’ which was halted in November after it became known that officials on the ground had subverted the objectives of anti poaching and took aim at pastoralists and cattle herders, confiscated their livestock and reportedly killed and tortured people instead of hunting for the commercial poaching gangs.
Conservationists decried the halt of the operation but agreed that a fresh focus and leadership was needed to put anti poaching back on track in Tanzania and halt the massive slaughter of elephant, which in recent years has reduced the number of elephant in the Selous Game Reserve alone from nearly 70.000 in 2005 to only 13.000 in 2013, a loss of 57.000 elephant in the space of just 8 years in just one game reserve.
More critical observers are skeptical though on the president’s promises as he had in the past promised to deploy army units to aid game wardens and rangers, bringing about false hope as nothing of substance then happened .
Meanwhile was information received from Dar es Salaam that another major consignment of blood ivory was confiscated at the port of Dar es Salaam but it appears that in an act of totally misguided secrecy were journalists then denied entry to the port by port officials, who where then promptly blamed to be accomplices of poachers trying to hide the truth from the public, accusations which are now, according to one source, being looked into.
Unlike the port of Mombasa, where sniffer dog patrols are used around the clock and where scanners have been introduced to detect not just such contraband but also smuggled weapons, ammunition and explosives which could be uses by terrorists, the ports in Tanzania do not have such equipment making it much easier to evade detection and relying either on informants or sheer luck.
The sacking of former natural resources and tourism minister Kagesheki too has played into the hands of commercial poaching gangs, their financiers and middlemen, leaving the ministry’s key staff unsettled to say the least. One local conservation source added the voice to these recent developments when writing: ‘If Kikwete is serious, and before he was not, we may yet safe our elephant. The figures now coming out from the Selous are a damning indictment of his administration and he is in the history books already as the one president of our country presiding over the worst slaughter of wildlife. Everyone is watching to see what now follows his promises but in this country of ours you can never be sure what is just hot air and what will be done’. Watch and wait it is then to see if 2014 will bring fundamental change in Tanzania’s fight against poaching or if the slaughter will continue as witnessed until now.
Source: Wolfgang H Thome