Meagre funding plagues anti-poaching operations

Ezekiel Maige

The minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Ezekiel Maige

Efforts to protect the elephant population have been hampered by a meagre anti-poaching budget, the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) has said.

In its Elephant Management Plan for 2010-2015, TAWIRI says there has been a link between the decreasing budget and increased  poaching, adding that over 30,000 elephants perished between 2006 and 2009.

The plan which was endorsed by the Minister for Tourism and Natural Resources, Mr Ezekiel Maige in January last year was presented to President Jakaya Kikwete earlier this week.

According to the plan, prior to 2005 a Revenue Retention Scheme was in operation, whereby 100 per cent of revenue from photographic tourism, and 50 per cent from hunting operations, were retained for management of the Game Reserve.

”Following  budget reductions in 2004, the amount retained by the Reserve declined dramatically to approximately US $800,000 (1.28bn/-) in 2008 and the drop in revenue coincides with a period of increased poaching,” says the report.

In 1997 the Reserve earned US $2,300,000 annually and retained US $1,703,000, and by 2003 the revenue retained had increased to US $2,800,000. The report says in recent years there has been growing evidence that illegal killing of elephants and the smuggling of ivory were on the increase.

In 2009 there were 32 seizures of illegal ivory in Tanzania and four incidents involving shipments of ivory from Tanzania occurred outside the country, with a total weight of 13,066 kg sold to Vietnam and Philippines in 2009.  According to the plan, to address poaching, two special operations involving Wildlife Division forces and the Police namely ”butterfly” and ”Costa” were mounted in 2009.

”From the operations 70 poachers were arrested in Selous ecosystem while Costa operation which was coordinated by Interpol nabbed 22 poachers,” said the document.  Hunting of elephants is permitted only to trophy hunters on payment of a licence fee ranging from $7,500 to $25,000, depending upon the tusk size of the animal and the type of weapon used.

The minimum tusk size for a trophy animal is 15kg for both males and females. Since 2007 the national annual export quota arranged through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is 200 trophy-hunted male elephants (400 tusks) per year, although off-take has been less than 50 per cent of the quota since 2007 (CITES 2010). Elephant trophy hunting occurs in Game Reserves, Game Controlled Areas, and Wildlife Management Areas where designated hunting blocks exist.

TAWIRI’s 2009 national census estimates total abundance of elephants in Tanzania at 109,051 individuals representing a significant recovery since the late 1980s when the population was estimated at about 55,000 following years of heavy poaching which affected all elephant range states.

Following Operation Uhai in Tanzania in 1989 and the international CITES ivory trade ban in 1989, continued enhancement of security throughout Tanzania’s National Parks and Game Reserves has enabled the total elephant population to more than double over the last twenty years, which represents an average annual growth rate of 3.3 per cent. TAWIRI says ivory poaching is increasing in some parts of the country, driven by a resurgent demand  in Asia.

Other threats include loss of elephant habitat outside of Protected Areas to agricultural crops, and increased competition from livestock grazing. These issues are reflected in the latest census results, which show that most populations continue to increase, while others have stabilized or are in decline.

The Selous Ecosystem contains the largest single population of African elephants in Tanzania and the second largest in Africa, and the decline in elephant abundance at this site is the reason for the national trend showing a downturn over the last three years while most other populations continue to increase. The demographic survey reveals that nearly 40 per cent of the elephants are under the age of 5 in Serengeti. TAWIRI says elephants killed between 40 and 50 per annum created a conflict between elephants and human beings.

By FARAJA MGWABATI, Tanzania Daily News