TANZANIA AFTER DOHA: Time to rethink conservation

By Felix Kaiza

The Doha sitting of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species (CITES) has declared a halt on the Tanzania and Zambia
campaigns to pump ivory from their stockpiles into the market, purportedly
to plough back some of the accrued revenues into elephant population
conservation programmes. These essentially entail anti-poaching activities.

On this one, CITES deserves more than the traditional three cheers’
prescription of the English language. It should also be hats off for CITES
the world over. Now we know. If I were CITES, I would now go in for striking
the one-off sales from government stockpiles option off the register. In any
case, do we know the poaching/culling ratio of the tusks held in government
ivory rooms?

Although previous sales permits led to some positive results, prevailing
conditions do not give this option a chance to deliver. Poaching in the past
had some elements of poverty. Today, it is mainly the rich who poach and
they use clandestine programmes that cannot be controlled by revenues from
the one-off sales window.

The premise of the old formula was that poverty and prohibition but together
provided a recipe for poaching; while where people were given conservation
incentives, elephant population increased and poachers were thrown out of

According to expert opinions expressed at Doha, with or without sales, the
leading force behind elephant poaching is the illegal ivory markets across
Africa and Asia.

Latest reports show that poaching and smuggling are rife in West Africa in
particular, with several Asian nations complicit in smuggling. Nigeria, the
Democratic Republic of Congo and Thailand constitute the case at issue
involving organised crime syndicates.

In the case of Tanzania, reports reaching Doha expressed concerns about the
extent to which organised crime rings were involved in poaching and
smuggling operations.

Tanzania’s national wildlife services notwithstanding, reports said there
were signs of a waning commitment to law enforcement and a lack of
co-ordination between wildlife and customs services. Containers with
contraband elephant tusk cargo have been impounded in the Dar es Salaam
Harbour, standing testimony to this. Tanzanian game experts have also had to
travel overseas as far as Bangkok in Thailand to identify and establish the
source of tons of impounded airfreight ivory cargo.

To cap it all, reports reaching Doha also said the source of about half of
the elephant tusks held in the Dar es Salaam-based Ivory Room stockpiles,
which were due for sale, was not known.

Tanzania should now revisit its conservation strategy and devise alternative
ways of keeping the elephant population in healthier numbers and present
them for support by national and international stakeholders The stakeholders
cannot reject the requested sales and at the same time refuse to fund
alternative delivering programmes.

Tanzania’s first stop point is to re-read Nyerere on conservation properly.
This is in the home library. It is also depicted very vividly at many
centres, including the headquarters of the Tanzania National Parks at

The second is to link up with partners in the East African Community (EAC).
Tanzania and Kenya, both partners in the EAC, have just ended joint aerial
cross-boarder census conducted with Kenya to establish the wildlife status
following the prolonged drought? After the official results have been
released, the two countries could establish a joint programme to take care
of not only the elephant but also wildebeest and zebra populations. Even the
international institutions would find it easier to co-operate with enlarged
set-ups that include the interests of local communities.

Tanzania’s third stop centre is the Southern Africa Development Community
(SADC). Otherwise, how does one explain the situation whereby Tanzania and
Zambia went as individuals to the CITES in Doha instead of using the SADC
angle? After the Doha experience, time could be ripe now to set up
trans-border parks within the SADC region. Which country among them really
owns the elephants?

Most conservation groups were delighted that the Tanzanian and Zambian bids
were turned down. The Director of Southern African operations with the
International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw), Jason Bell-Leask, was quoted
as saying this was a victory for the elephants. Ifaw should be too glad to
chip in.

The body charged with monitoring the illegal wildlife trade, Traffic, is the
one that came up with the idea that where people are given incentives to
conserve, elephant stocks increase and poachers are put out of business.

Species programme manager with WWF International, Elisabeth McLellan, was
quoted as saying “poaching and illegal ivory markets in central and western
Africa must be effectively suppressed before any further ivory sales take

All these institutions comprise a resourceful base for co-operation to
establish and run a save the elephant programme that is not tied to the
one-off sales window.

Lastly, Tanzania should also see something coming. The CITES Doha meeting in
Qatar also made some discussions about the sale of red corals from the
Mediterranean Sea.

Coral reefs constitute a big component in the Zanzibar marine ecosytems and
diving. I don’t know whether there are red corals in Zanzibar or not. But it
would be worthwhile now to start watching out for any attempts by coral
traders to develop interests in our marine creatures.

Tanzania should not find itself having to go to CITES for help in future
over the state of its corals. As the wise saying goes, prevention is better
than cure.

All said, Tanzania has to rethink conservation and not only as far as the
elephants are concerned but all round.