Dar es Salaam. In a move meant to formulate a continent-wide position on the trade in live elephants and ivory stockpiles, Tanzania says it is committed to conserving wildlife, including elephants, and using stockpiled ivory for awareness purposes.
The stance follows a ministerial conference, dubbed “the Elephant Summit”, held in Harare Zimbabwe recently, whose aim was to build consensus among African countries for the coming 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP19) to be held in Panama in November.
Although other invited countries such as Kenya did not attend, having repeatedly demanded a total ban on trade in elephant products, Tanzania was represented by Ms Mary Masanja, the Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism.
She said Tanzania together with other countries in Southern Africa that were present in the meeting called for creation of a special fund to cater for compensation to those that would be affected by the direct impact of human-wildlife conflict.
“We also called upon Western countries to stop interfering with in matters regarding conservation in Africa…we will do it the way we see fit,” Ms Masanja said
Moreover, Tanzania’s new position on the matter, follows President Samia Hassan’s comments during the filming of The Royal Tour documentary, whereby the President said the country’s stockpile would neither be sold nor destroyed.
“Selling this in an open market, would only send the wrong message, and will likely drive demand, and leading to even more poaching,” she said.
“We are in a dilemma...we can’t sell them, we can’t burn them, we are just going to leave them like as they are to educate the world that this thing has to stop…the wanton slaughter of elephants genocide has to stop,” she added.
In fact, according to the documentary, in just five years (2009-2014), Tanzania lost 85,000 elephants to poachers, which was 60 percent of the country’s total population. While in the last decade alone, it is estimated that at least 40 tonnes of Tanzanian ivory have reached the international black market.
For his part, Mr Aron Msigwa, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism spokesperson, told The Citizen, “Our stand is still the same. It hasn’t changed...the stockpile dates a long time back. Our focus is now on conservation and the fight against poaching, as well as against human-wildlife conflict.”
Between 2009 to 2013, Tanzania made several attempts to dispose of its stockpiled ivory worth $80 million (Sh186 billion) and a proposal to downgrade the elephant’s endangered status, insisting that the stockpile weighing more than 100 tonnes was from dead or culled animals that were not poached.
For instance, in 2010, a request by Tanzania and Zambia to hold one-off sales of their ivory stockpiles was rejected. Both countries had proposed a relaxation to trade restrictions on their elephant populations by moving them from Appendix I to Appendix II.
While Appendix I suggests the highest level of protection under the Convention, banning all international commercial trade, appendix II allows some regulated international commercial trade.
While Tanzania was asking to sell almost 200,000 pounds of ivory that would have generated at least $20 million, Zambia wanted to sell 48,000 pounds of ivory.
Media reports indicate that both countries argued that its elephant population had reached the point where they were trampling crops and killing too many people.
They also said preventing them from selling the stocks which come from natural deaths or controlled culling of problem animals - would increase anger toward the beasts who are seen increasingly as pests by affected communities
But on the other hand, in 2012 a fresh bid by Tanzania to be allowed to sell its stockpiled ivory was turned down. This prompted the country in 2013 decided to abandon its efforts to sell them, a decision which was commended by many stakeholders, including the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF).
It is documented that Tanzania is a home to one of the largest concentrations of African elephants on the continent.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) it is estimated that there are only 415,000 African elephants compared to 10 million in 1930. However, their populations have been growing rapidly in southern Africa.
African elephants consist of two subspecies – savanna elephants which roam plains and the lightly wooded savanna of southern and east Africa, and the smaller forest elephants, which live in the tropical jungles of west and central Africa.
Most African elephants are currently included in Appendix I of CITES, which limits trade in all products derived from the animals.
The elephant populations in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa are included in Appendix II, which is less restrictive, but a special annotation deems their ivory untradeable.