PRESIDENT Jakaya Kikwete has appealed to the international community to extend a helping hand in stopping the trade of ivory and rhino horn in the world in order to protect the wild animals from extinction.
“If this (international assistance) is done, elephants and rhinos will be safe. There will be no demand for ivory and horns and thus no enticement to kill an elephant or rhino,” Mr Kikwete said when addressing delegates at the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade.
He cited a ban on ivory trade in the year 1989 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which played a crucial role in stopping the trade.
“When CITES banned ivory trade in 1989 it helped the recovery of elephant population. I believe if the trade is banned today the effect will be the same and many lives of elephants and rhinos will be saved,” Mr Kikwete said.
At independence in 1961, the population of elephants in Tanzania stood at 350,000 but due to poaching in the country’s national parks and game reserves in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the number had dropped to 55,000 by the year 1987.
“Faced with such unprecedented situation the government deployed the Tanzanian military to fight poachers and protect the elephants. This intervention helped to stem the rot. It reversed the trend.
“Complimented by the global ban on ivory trade imposed by CITES at that time, poaching of elephants in 1989 was no longer a problem as it used to be and as a result their population started increasing and peaked 110,000 animals in 2009,” Mr Kikwete told the gathering at the global meeting.
The President expressed concern however that during the same year (2009), poaching of the jumbos started to increase due to the re-emergence of illegal ivory trade.
It was against this backdrop that the government conducted various operations namely “Operation Kipepeo” in 2010 and the recently suspended “Operation Tokomeza” to clamp down on poachers.
He said the government was now organizing financial and logistical requirements to re-launch Operation Tokomeza which was suspended in November, last year due to reports of human rights abuses during its implementation.
According to President Kikwete, poaching, encroachment of wildlife sanctuaries and effects of climate change are the leading threats to wildlife conservation in Tanzania. “Poaching for meat and trophies is however the biggest threat to conservation and survival of wildlife in Tanzania.
If it is not stopped the species whose trophies and meat are in high demand may become extinct not long from now,” Mr Kikwete observed.
At the same occasion, Prince Charles (Duke of Wales) urged governments to attack demand for illegal wildlife products and follow the money to seize the “ill-gotten gains” from organised gangs threatening the annihilation of endangered species.
In his address at the meeting which brought together delegates from about 50 countries, Prince Charles warned that the scale of the poaching crisis had reached “unimaginable heights”.
Flanked by his sons, Prince William (Duke of Cambridge) and Prince Harry, he praised the leaders and foreign government ministers for meeting at Lancaster House.
Speaking at the meeting, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s Administrator Helen Clark noted of how the agency had supported the Tanzanian government with formulation of a national strategy aimed at eradicating elephant poaching and trafficking.
“Governments have a key responsibility in leading antipoaching and trafficking initiatives through strong intra-government coordination. “The UNDP appreciates the efforts by the government of Tanzania in launching Operation Tokomeza.
It now encourages the government to ensure that the second phase of the operation adheres to human rights norms and standards,” Ms Clark said.
The London meeting was also attended by Heads of State from Gabon, Botswana and Chad. It was co-hosted by the government of UK and Prince Charles who has been instrumental in protecting sustainability of wildlife globally.