A government minister in Tanzania has called for a “shoot-to-kill” policy against poachers in a radical measure to curb the mass slaughter of elephants.
Khamis Kagasheki’s proposal for perpetrators of the illicit ivory trade to be executed “on the spot” divided opinion, with some conservationists backing it as a necessary deterrent but others warning that it would lead to an escalation of violence.
There are already signs of an increasing militarization of Africa’s wildlife parks with more than 1,000 rangers having been killed while protecting animals over the past decade, according to the Thin Green Line Foundation. Tanzania is said to have lost half its elephants in the past three years.
“Poachers must be harshly punished because they are merciless people who wantonly kill our wildlife and sometimes wardens,” said Kagasheki at the end of an International March for Elephants, which took place in 15 countries to raise awareness of the poaching scourge. “The only way to solve this problem is to execute the killers on the spot.”
Anticipating criticism, the natural resources and tourism minister added: “I am very aware that some alleged human rights activists will make an uproar, claiming that poachers have as much rights to be tried in courts as the next person, but let’s face it, poachers not only kill wildlife but also usually never hesitate to shoot dead any innocent person standing in their way.”
Elephant in Tanzania. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Ivory has been dubbed the “white gold of jihad” by activists who say it is funding armed rebel groups including al-Shabaab, the militia behind the siege of the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi that left at least 67 people dead. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a Kenyan conservation charity that organized last week’s protest march, says one elephant is killed every 15 minutes for its tusks and they could disappear from the wild by 2025.
On Tuesday the trust declined to condemn Kagasheki’s remarks. Rob Brandford, its director, said: “Rangers are in the middle of a poaching war against well-armed poachers and many have lost their lives in the battle to protect elephants. Tens of thousands of elephants are being killed annually for their tusks and poachers need to know that they are risking their lives if they choose to target elephants.
“Soft measures, which we witness today, especially with sentencing for those caught poaching, will not deter poachers. Our own teams in Kenya can arrest a poacher one day and then the next week come up against the same poacher, who having paid a small fine was released by the courts—where’s the deterrent?”
But within the conservation movement there are a range of attitudes, with some taking a less militant approach to poachers, who are often from impoverished backgrounds. Bell’Aube Houinato, WWF’s country director in Tanzania, said he attended the march there and “could feel in the room people were very agitated and concerned that as a country we need to do more. Many solutions have been proposed.”
“It is very true that poaching has taken such an alarming route and it’s obvious the government is getting worried. It’s important the punishment for poaching is a deterrent, but killing poachers is not part of the measures we have been advocating. It would lead to an escalation of violence; it’s very difficult to control who is actually killing. There are law enforcement and judicial systems and they should be made more effective.”
It is also important to combat the demand for ivory from far east countries such as China and Thailand, Houinato added. “I do see there is commitment from ministers but in terms of resource allocation we need to see more investments. People do not have the resources to do what it takes.”
Tanzania, with 70,000-80,000 elephants in 2009, is thought to be home to nearly a quarter of all African elephants. Media reports have alleged that some MPs and other officials are involved in and benefiting from the lucrative ivory trade.
Human rights defenders warned that Kagasheki’s demand for lethal force was unconstitutional and would result in extra-judicial killings. Rodrick Maro, of the Legal and Human Rights Centre of Tanzania, said: “Poaching is a problem but the minister’s statement is also problematic. It is not only against the law but against human rights.”
Original story: David Smith. Execute elephant poachers on the spot, Tanzanian minister urges. The Guardian – October 8th, 2013
(09/27/2013) Hillary and Chelsea Clinton on Thursday deployed their mother-daughter star power to help the effort to save African elephants, brokering an $80m effort to stop the ivory poaching which threatens the animals with extinction.
(09/12/2013) Africa’s elephant poaching crisis doesn’t just threaten a species, but imperils one of humanity’s most important links to the natural world and even our collective sanity, according to acclaimed photographers and film-makers, Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson. Authors of the book Walking Thunder – In the Footsteps of the African Elephant, Christo and Wilkinson have been documenting Africa’s titans in photos and film for several years. In 2011, the pair released a film Lysander’s Song (named after their son an avid fan of elephants) which depicts the millennial-old relationship between humans and elephants.
(09/11/2013) As the illegal poaching of African elephants and rhinos reaches epidemic levels, other species are also suffering catastrophic losses as a direct result of poachers’ behavior. A recent incident in July, where a poisoned elephant carcass led to the death of 600 vultures near Namibia’s Bwabwata National Park, has highlighted how poachers’ use of poison is now one of the primary threats to vulture populations.
(09/10/2013) On October 8th, the Obama administration will publicly destroy its ivory stockpile, totaling some six tons, according to a White House forum yesterday on the illegal wildlife trade. The destruction of the stockpile—via crushing—is meant to send a message that the U.S. is taking a tougher stand on illegal the wildlife trade, which is decimating elephants across Africa and imperiling other animals worldwide. The U.S. remains one of the biggest destinations for ivory and other illegal animal part aside from East Asia.
(08/01/2013) The Congolese Supreme Court has ordered Ghislain Ngondjo (known as Pepito) to five years in prison for slaughtering dozens of elephants for their ivory tusks. The five year sentence is the maximum in the Republic of Congo for poaching. Ngondjo was considered the “kingpin” of an elephant poaching group; in addition to killing pachyderms, Ngondjo recruited new poachers and made death threats to park rangers and staff in Odzala National Park.
(07/24/2013) In a single night in March, a band of heavily-armed, horse-riding poachers slaughtered 89 elephants in southern Chad, thirty of which were pregnant females. The carnage was the worst poaching incident of the year, but even this slaughter paled in comparison to the 650 elephants killed in a Cameroon park in 2012. Elephant poaching is hitting new records as experts say some 30,000 elephants are being killed every year for their ivory tusks. But the illegal wildlife trade—estimated at $19 billion—is not just decimating elephants, but also rhinos, big cats, great apes, and thousands of lesser-known species like pangolins and slow lorises. This growing carnage recently led to representatives of over 40 zoos and dozens of wildlife programs to call on governments around the world to take immediate action on long-neglected wildlife crime.
(07/03/2013) Barack Obama launched a new initiative against wildlife trafficking on Monday, using his executive authority to take action against an illegal trade that is fueling rebel wars and now threatens the survival of elephants and rhinoceroses. The initiative, announced as the president visited Tanzania on the final stop of his African tour, was the second time in a week Obama has used an executive order to advance environmental policy, after announcing a sweeping new climate change plan.
(07/01/2013) Forensic-dating could end a major loophole in the current global ban on ivory, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Scientists have developed a method to determine the age of ivory, allowing traders to tell the difference between ivory taken before the ban in 1989, which is still legal, and recently-poached ivory.
(06/27/2013) During one night in March, horse-riding poachers slaughtered 89 elephants in Chad, including over 30 pregnant mothers. Now officials say they have caught the ringleader behind the mass-killing: Hassan Idriss, also known as Gargaf.