Katavi. Conservation intervention measures stepped up in Katavi National Park located in Katavi Region, about 1,513 kilometres from Dar es Salaam and are bearing fruits leading to increased numbers of wildlife, especially elephants.
The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) website reports that more elephants had been killed through poaching than from natural causes or conflicts related to human beings.
Poachers have been targeting wildlife parts that are illegally traded as trophies, traditional medicine, or trinkets on lucrative black markets.
However, these iconic pachyderms are not the only wildlife species targeted by poachers for personal gain as big cats, like the lion and cheetah, are also killed for their bones.
The African wild dogs and other large carnivores also die at the hands of villagers in their efforts to protect their livestock.
However, the Tanzania Wildlife Census Report of 2019, shows that the population of elephants that declined to 43,000 in 2014 has steadily increased to 60,000.
AWF director for countering wildlife trafficking program, Ms Didi Wamukoya says anti-poaching intervention measures have borne fruits.
This is because illegal elephant killings for ivory in the continent has been declining steadily since 2011.
“The decline could be translated to the drop in trophy seizure in the country. Frequent seizures may be frequent because of enhanced enforcement and the creation of the National Taskforce on Anti-Poaching (NTAP) in 2016, which is an inter-agency forum for combating wildlife crime,” she says.
She says the wildlife trafficking, specifically elephant trophies, is run by international trafficking networks, noting that law enforcers in Tanzania have identified trafficking rings consisting of Tanzanians and nationals from West Africa and China.
“It is difficult to identify and disrupt trafficking rings due to the transnational nature of their operations and the fluidity of their operations. These rings can quickly switch from trafficking ivory to timber, firearms or other contraband in order to escape trailing,” says Ms Wamukoya.
The director of Wildlife from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Dr Maurus Msuha attributes the increased number of elephants to good systems of security in conservation areas.
“We have militarized our operations and increased partnership with other institutions,” he says.
According to him, most of the recently seized ivory were between six and seven years old, translating to the high decline of poaching incidents as compared to reported incidents before 2014, when hundreds of elephants were killed annually.
Dr Msuha says similar measures have been taken in protecting rhinos whose numbers are also steadily increasing.
“We are on the right track of implementation of the Five Year Strategy 2019 – 2023 aimed at increasing the number of rhinos by five percent annually. Currently, the target has been surpassed,” he says.
Mr Francis Konde, the acting head of Katavi National Park says, they have often been arresting poachers and bring them to justice for the law to take its course.
“But, we urge the people to stop such acts as we are well prepared to arrest and extend legal measures to anyone entering the national park,” says Mr Konde.
He says the presence of markets for elephant tusks and other trophies in Asian countries, significantly contributes to increased poaching incidents in different parts of the world, especially Africa.
However, he says surveillance and involvement of the local people living in surrounding conservation areas has been improved which has also contributed to the reduction of wildlife trafficking in recent years.
According to him, the national park is improving its roads and building new ones in order to increase visitors’ access to different parts and that additional wardens and vehicles will increase efficiency in wildlife protection.
“By June this year, the park plans to establish participatory protection groups of citizens from surrounding villages who will provide assistance wildlife and natural resources protection,” he says.
“Villagers are ready to volunteer because they benefit from the park through water supplied to them, health and education services for their children,” he adds.
According to him, citizens have been greatly supportive in providing information about those involved in poaching, which is evidence that they are interested in the conservation of natural resources.
Tanzania’s decline in elephant poaching and trafficking can’t be celebrated without acknowledging heavy penalties handed to criminals found guilty after being arrested in the country, according to Wamukoya.
Both, law enforcement officers and the country’s judiciary should be commended for dismantling some of the rings connected to the Chinese Yang Fenglan popularly known as Queen of Ivory and Mr Boniface Malyango alias Shetani who led the ivory trafficking networks to Asia.
“The international cooperation is key in combating wildlife poaching and trafficking because of its transnational in nature. Demand for trophies has to be addressed and efforts need to be done to sensitize and reduce demand in destination countries,” says Ms Wamukoya.
Ms Yang who was accused of operating one of Africa’s biggest ivory-smuggling rings, responsible for smuggling $2.5m (£1.9m) worth of tusks from some 400 elephants was handed a 15-year jail term in Tanzania alongside two Tanzanians.
March 2017, the Tanzanian court sentenced the notorious poacher, Mr Malyango and his younger brother Luca Malyango to 12 years in prison following their involvement in poaching activities.
The challenge at hand
Despite ongoing interventions from the government and other conservation stakeholders, poaching remains an activity spearheaded by cartels using local people, game rangers and businessmen to obtain trophies.
A game warden from Katavi National Park who asked for anonymity says there were colleagues who collude with poachers in killing elephants and trade ivories in black markets.
“There are dishonest people who collude with businessmen to kill our elephants. This is not acceptable because they track us back in this war,” says the source.
A resident of Stalike Village in Mpanda District, Mr Ibrahim Makusa says despite the awareness they have, some villagers have been taking part in killing animals in order to obtain the ivories.
“Some villagers caught with the ivories have pending cases in courts. They undermine wildlife conservation efforts because being important stakeholders we are directly benefiting from the national parks,” he says.
About Katavi National Park
It is the third largest park in Tanzania with an area of 4,471 square kilometres, possessing over 5,400 hippos and some animals in the big five.
Unlike many other parks, it has a unique history of its origin and it is featured by many rivers and lakes which supply water to support the wildlife.
The national park hosts over 100,000 wild animals like lions, leopards, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, antelopes, buffaloes, giraffes and zebras.
Also, Katavi is home to more than 450 species of birds, ranging from turkey, sized group of hornbill to the tiny sun birds.
These treasures make it a tourism destination, attracting local people and foreigners who visit the national park annually.
According to Mr Konde, the national park receives an average of 3,800 tourists annually, hinting that the number declined in 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions.
However, since 2021, the trend has been on the increase following arrivals of visitors from the US, Germany, France, Belgium Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Tanzania itself.