SPECIAL REPORT: Skills gap that must be filled in handling cases of wildlife crime

Sunday June 23 2019

Wildebeests in the Serengeti National Park.

Wildebeests in the Serengeti National Park. Anti-poaching activists have raised concerns about new cases of hunters turning to wildebeest, giraffe and pangolins after a successful campaign against poaching of elephants. PHOTO|FILE  

By Hellen Nachilongo @musanachi60 news@thecitizen.co.tz

Dar es Salaam. When she wakes up every morning, Mary Mrio, 40, the only female magistrate in Simiyu Region, finds her mind racing and preoccupied, thinking how the day will end in terms of managing civil, wildlife and economic cases.

The reason why she is so absorbed is not far-fetched. She is serving 18 primary courts Busega and Itilima districts.

Ms Mrio who handles supervisory and administrative matters in primary courts of Busege and Itilima says she sometimes find herself in a difficult when fellow magistrates call him to consult on proper sentencing or handling of wildlife and economic cases.

“It is wise to mention the district or region when most of the calls come from but I’ve severally received text messages and calls from fellow magistrates seeking advice on what sentence or judgment they should impose to convicts of wildlife or economic crime,” she said.

The situation has made her preoccupied considering the fact that the Bariadi District Court, to which she is in-charge has concurrent jurisdiction with Itilima and Busega which have no district court.

Ms Mrio working for in field for over 18 years said only magistrate working nears the conservation areas were in better position to judge the case accordingly because they understand importance of wildlife.

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Apart from that, she noted that the society should be educated on how they can benefit from the conservation areas because if they don’t know about the benefits, it is not easy for them to conserve wildlife animals and other natural resources.

Ms Mrio made the  remarks during Journalists Exchange Program (JEP) meeting between Tanzania and Thailand scribers. The gathering brought several experts to discuss on various topics such as the judiciary, anti-poaching interagency collaboration in Combating Wildlife Crime (CWC).

JEP is supported by USAID PROTECT and Wildlife Asia is implemented by RTI International in collaboration with Journalist Environmental Association of Tanzania (JET), aimed at sharing experience on wildlife in each country to increase the quality and quantity of anti-poaching stories.

Principal state attorney Ms Rosemary Shio said in the previous years they were losing cases in prosecution, because most of the cases filled there had a lot of oversight.

She noted that failure to prepare certificates of seizure and lack of independence witness made them to also lose cases

“Inadequate Public Prosecutors with knowledge on the intricacies and prosecution of wildlife and trafficking in cases is another challenges that affected prosecutors to prosecute the criminals,” she said.

She said this during her presentation on the roles of national prosecutions service on Combating wildlife Crimes and Trafficking, adding that building capacity to law enforcement officials on wildlife trafficking cases and international cooperation was very vital.

She also suggested to conduct regular Meetings/forums that may assist countries to share challenges and best practices of international cooperation on wildlife trafficking cases.

Capacity building to prosecutors on Wildlife trafficking cases and promote bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international cooperation on illicit traffic in of wildlife would help the country in CWT.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) chief conservator Mr Freddy Manongi said increase in number of human activities is threatening the extinction of wildlife animals in conservation areas.

According to him, when you get into Ngorororo you will find some human settlements in the area, birth rate of masai’s is also very high which is about 4.2per cent annually…… if this will continue to happen there will be no longer conservation area in the next five years.

He noted that most corridors are blocked due to human activities, if this would not be achieved here will be no free range in next 30 to 40 years because most of areas would be blocked.

“We have seen a number of corridors blocked in Nambia, South Africa and we are slowly seeing this in Botswana therefore, we need to find strategies, enact improved laws to protect our animals from extinct… laws that should be enable to support people living around area to come out of poverty, “he said.

“We annually set some funds to supply food to residents in the conservation area, we have managed to build 21 primary and two secondary schools but, illiterate level is still high in the conservation area.” he said.

He stressed that the only way to achieve this to revisit some laws concerning wildlife to sustain animals and enable them to continue surviving and help residents not live in poverty. Most laws on wildlife were colonial laws which are quite conflicting.

According to him, last year they earned more than Sh 127 billion from tourists but, people staying in the conservation area still live poverty line.

Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism assistant director anti-poaching Mr Robert Mande said 2010/14 wildlife was very high, almost 60 per cent of elephants disappeared due poaching...but since the establishment national combating poaching strategy started in 2014 elephant crime has reduced.

Mr Mande however, raised a concern that since elephant poaching reduced hunters were hunting wild beast, giraffe and pangolins... Poachers dry the meet and transport them to neighboring countries like Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda for selling.

According to him, last year more than four suspect were arrested and investigations is currently still going on.

He said currently they have placed a special group areas that has high increase of poaching of wild beast and giraffe and also work with various government institution to curb CWT.

Following this, USAID PROTECT in collaboration with other stakeholders came up with work plan to involve other agencies, institution to curb CWT by introducing online courses to judges and magistrates.

USAID PROTECT resource rights, governance and policy reform specialist Mr Exper Pius said for many years CWT has been a challenge in the country therefore it was observed that there was need to involve other agencies and institution to enable curb CWT.

Through the project stakeholders to introduce online courses to train judges on matters related to wildlife and tell them about the new amendment of the laws that they could have used to put or give stiffer penalties to wildlife offenders.

For example the new amendment of Economic and Organized Control Act which was amended in 2016 but, most judge, magistrate were not aware about the law so when they were trained about the law they got interested and requested for similar trainings to be sustainable.

According to him, the judiciary like judges and magistrates were considering to adjudicating wildlife crimes to adjudicate the some cases as other as civil cases which was not the case.

For example, they were requiring an independent witness of which that is not the legal requirement for the judge to decide against or in favor to convict, someone that has committed crime but, it was preference for judges to use that and because judges, magistrate does not have the filled experience on what is happening on the ground…. “If it is physical or practical to have someone out to be an independent witness when the crime is happening imagine if the crime happens on the ground, in the filled, 6 kilometers inside the bush no independent witness therefore, most judges were taking that as a loophole to adulate a case in favor of those who committed a crime now we need them to be involved.”

“Now that the project was a short time project how do we ensure the projects trainings of contuse and leave a legacy behind we have introduced online courses for them to learn through online,” he said.

He stressed that since last year they trained 18 Lake Zone, Last month (May) some 35 judges and magistrate voluntarily registered to attain wildlife crime courses through online.

Resident magistrate stationed at judiciary delivery unit Mr. Elimo Massawe said before he underwent the training he had knowledge and experience on wildlife crime.

According to him, after undergoing the training it broadened his knowledge and exposed him with more techniques and skills on how to handle wildlife cases. “In short” the training is education that helps magistrate to understand wildlife as part of economic and organized crime cases accordingly.”

“Actually the training did not only helped me with wildlife but, enhanced me skills and knowledge in dealing with economic and organized crimes cases.” He said.

He stressed that there is a great association between corruption, money laundering, forgery and wildlife crime because wildlife crime in some level especially trafficking amounts to organized crime, in sense that they are not event like street robbery but, they go in a chain of process and illegal plans.

According to reports, wildlife poaching and the illegal trafficking of wildlife products is negatively affecting both ecosystems and the socioeconomic development of the country through its impact on the tourism sector.

To effectively fight poaching, further efforts are needed to strengthen the financial and technical capacity of the relevant authorities as well as enhancing the collaboration amongst key stakeholders.

Increased involvement of communities, especially those living in protected areas, is central in the fight against poaching.

The Bank of Tanzania Monthly Economic Review report, the tourism industry was the main source of foreign exchange receipts by Tanzania in 2018.

In the MER report for the year ending December 2018, travel earnings (dominated by tourism) increased due to a rise in the number of tourist arrivals.

The earnings reached US$2.44 billion from US$2.25 billion tabled in the same period the previous year.

The total receipts from services recorded a positive trend due to also the increase in the transport sector, which rose from $1.14 billion in 2017 to $1.22 billion in 2018.