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Corruption in Tanzania facilitates ivory trade

Elephants in Tanzania

Elephants in Tanzania. All photos by Rhett A. Butler

Corruption in Tanzania is enabling large volumes of illegal elephant ivory to be smuggled out of the country, alleges a new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)

The report, titled Vanishing Point, says that high ranking officials are involved in the illicit trade, which have devastated the country’s wild elephant population.

“Politicians from Tanzania’s ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party and well-connected businesspeople use their influence to protect ivory traffickers,” said EIA in a statement. “In 2013, former Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Khamis Kagasheki named four CCM MPs as involved in elephant poaching and stated: ‘This business involves rich people and politicians who have formed a very sophisticated network.'”

“A year earlier, a secret list of the main culprits behind the crisis was handed to Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete by intelligence sources, containing the names of prominent politicians and businesspeople regarded as untouchable due to links to the CCM; most people on the list have not been investigated further or arrested.”

Elephants in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

The report also alleges official Chinese government delegations are complicit in ivory trafficking.

“In December 2013, an official visit by a Chinese naval task force to Tanzania’s capital city port of Dar es Salaam spurred a major surge in business for ivory traders, with one dealer boasting of making US$50,000 from sales to naval personnel. In addition, a Chinese national was caught trying to enter the port with 81 illegal tusks intended for two mid-ranking Chinese naval officers,” said EIA.

“Earlier that year, in March, the visit of a large official delegation accompanying Chinese President Xi Jinping to Tanzania created a boom in illegal ivory sales and caused local prices to double.”

To address the problem, the report urges crackdown on corruption and “a zero tolerance approach” in Tanzania. More broadly, EIA calls for a ban in all ivory sales.

“The ivory trade must be disrupted at all levels of criminality, the entire prosecution chain needs to be systemically restructured, corruption rooted out and all stakeholders, including communities exploited by the criminal syndicates and those on the front lines of enforcement, given unequivocal support,” said EIA Executive Director Mary Rice.

“All trade in ivory, including all domestic sales, must be resolutely banned in China which has failed to comply with CITES ivory controls.”

Elephants in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

EIA estimates that Tanzania has lost more elephants that any other countries during the past 3 years, including 10,000 in 2013 alone.

“Tanzania’s world famous Selous Reserve has seen its elephant population plunge by 67 per cent in just four years, from 38,975 animals to 13,084,” said the group. “Tanzania is the largest source of poached ivory in the world and China the largest importer of smuggled tusks.”

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