Tanzania’s statement on claims by a UK newspaper on slaughter of elephants



In its last weekend edition, The Sunday Mail Newspaper of Britain published an article entitled: “Tanzania slaughters over 11,000 elephants a year for the bloody trade in tusks and its President turns a blind eye.”

In a completely one-sided article and in complete disregard to one of the cardinal principles of journalism, which compels responsible journalists to balance their stories by seeking responses from
all concerned parties in their stories, the writer, one Mr. Martin Flechter further claims: “Mr. Kikwete’s regime has presided over a slaughter of elephants that is unprecedented in his country’s history.”

This story is a deliberate distortion of the truth about the efforts being expended by the government of Tanzania. It is malicious, preposterous and contemptible. Contrary to what is being claimed in this story, there are heightened efforts and major achievements are being made by President Kikwete’s administration in wildlife conservation and anti poaching drive. To blame his Government and claim that it is presiding over slaughter of elephants is typical case of blaming the victim and ignoring the serious efforts being made by his government. Instead of engaging in these unfounded and malicious attacks, the Government of Tanzania deserves compliments and words of encouragement to stay the course and intensify the fight.

Nobody is denying that the problem of poaching is real and big. We in Tanzania have noticed increased poaching activities since 2009. But these heightened illegal activities have been responded to commensurately through many bold and innovative initiatives and actions by President Kikwete’s administration.

Here are some of the facts about the war President Kikwete and his Government is leading and waging against poaching of elephants and illegal ivory trade in Tanzania:

At independence, Tanzania had an estimated elephant population of about 350,000. During the first wave of elephant poaching in the 1970 and 1980s by 1989 Tanzania had 55,000 elephants left. That year the Government decided to involve the military and launched Operation “Uhai” to fight poaching. This intervention coupled with CITES ban on ivory trade brought relief and the numbers began to increase and reached 110,000 in 2009. This was the time of President Kikwete.

Following resumption and the intensification of poaching after 2009, the President ordered the Police to assist wildlife officials in the fight against poaching. As a result Police-led Operation Kipepeo was launched. It was implemented in three phases in the Selous Game Reserve and in the neighbouring districts of Namtumbo, Liwale and Tunduru and other parts of both Ruvuma and Lindi Regions. The operation succeeded in arresting more than 220 poachers, confiscation of more than 125 guns and more than 245 rounds of ammunition and seizure of more than 50 pieces of ivory an various other items used in poaching.

In 2012 the Government established a Joint Inter-Institutional Task Force involving officials from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, The Tanzania National Parks Authority TANAPA) and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA). The Task Force carried out an operation in Arusha and Manyara Regions which led to the arrest of 40 core poachers, identified and crippled their criminal syndicates operating in Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Parks and the surrounding areas, including the City of Arusha. As a result of this operation, elephant killings were cut down from six per month to just one in three months. Of recent, there have been no reports of elephant killing in these parks.

To complement efforts of the Police-led “Operation Kipepeo” and the Ministry-led Inter-Institutional Task Forces, in 2013 President Kikwete ordered the Tanzanian Military to support the efforts. Hence “Operation Tokomeza” was undertaken in October, 2013. It was temporarily suspended because of need to investigate reports and claims of human rights abuses. However, the Operation will resume shortly. A lot was achieved during the time of the Operation. For example; 962 suspected poachers were arrested, 202 pieces of ivory were impounded, 779 guns and 2095 rounds of ammunition of various calibers were confiscated and 4949 herds of cattle found grazing inside protected areas were removed. We expect more to be achieved on resumption.

The government has never been resting in its efforts to deal with poachers and illegal ivory trade. The record of arrest of poachers, confiscation of arms and ammunition and seizure of ivory during this administration speaks for itself. With this track record to assert that the President and his government has been doing nothing and overseeing the slaughter of elephants is a gross miss representation and distortion of facts and truth. It is unfair as well.

The assertion that all the big seizures of ivory have been done outside and not in Tanzania is not true as well. In 2013, 12.2 tons of raw ivory and 52.3 kilograms of worked ivory were seized within Tanzania. The total amount of tons of ivory confiscated within Tanzania between 2010 and 2013 is 19.993 tons. Is that amount small? The total amount of ivory seized in countries outside Tanzania – in China-Hong Kong, Malaysia/China, Hong Kong/Malaysia and Malawi – within that same period is 17.697 tons. Why should we not believe that your newspaper is engaged in a deliberate smear campaign against the President and the Government of Tanzania?

The Government has hired more staff – more officers, more rangers, more scouts and more wardens for National Parks and Game Reserves and for specific areas such as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). The Government is finalizing the employment of 900 more staff for the Wildlife Division alone. More equipment has been bought for wildlife staff – more patrol vehicles, more GPS’s instruments, more binoculars, more night vision goggles, more uniform as well as more tents, more air mattresses and more rucksacks. However, the Government still needs more equipment to match the existing challenges in wildlife conservation.

Surely, this story cannot be a tale of a President or of a Government turning a blind eye or overseeing the slaughter of elephants.

There are also factual errors in Mr. Fletcher’s story that need to be addressed as they help create a misrepresentation of what the Government of Tanzania is doing in this regard:

That the President’s Office is sitting on a dossier submitted last year by the former Minister of Tourism and Natural Resources Hon. Khamisi Sued Kagasheki, which among other things identified prominent Tanzanians involved in poaching activities. This is an absolute lie. No such dossier has ever been submitted to the President by Honourable Kagasheki, when he was Minister.

That, the Honourable Kagasheki as Minister launched a military crackdown which led to hundreds of arrests. The truth of the matter is the involvement of the military was the President’s idea. It is the President who gave orders for the same. In Tanzania, only the President as Commander in Chief has the mandate and power to issue orders to the military. Nobody else can do so.

That, Minister Kagasheki was dismissed. Again, this is not true. Hon. Kagasheki resigned in Parliament taking political responsibility for allegations of human rights abuses during the implementation of Operation Tokomeza as revealed by a Parliamentary Select Committee.

That, traders in ivory include even a close relative of President Kikwete. The President would be grateful to get the name of this “close relative and the veracity of the allegations. Otherwise, this claim also deserves contempt.

That, a Channel 4 documentary claimed that when Hu Jintao, the then Chinese President, visited Tanzania in 2010, his officials took illegal ivory back home on his plane. Although this is for the Chinese Government to respond to, we find it hard to comprehend or believe the allegations. It is sad for renowned newspaper like the Sunday Mail to engage in gossip and distorting allegations against President Jintao.

That, the Government of Tanzania wants to sell its ivory stockpile ostensibly to raise money for conservation but in reality it is meant to fill CCM’s coffers before next year’s elections. Again, this is an outrageous accusation, absolutely baseless. The Government of Tanzania has not been asked by CCM to help in raising funds. Therefore, there is no basis for your newspaper to make such claims. Moreover, since Doha CITES’s meeting, the Government is not contemplating requesting permission to sell its ivory stockpile. This allegation is an outright lie and clearly shows that your reporter was a victim of his own poor judgment in assessing the information he got from his so-called sources.

The President of Tanzania and his Government do not take this report and the allegations contained in it lightly. It is our sincere hope that you will be courageous and honest enough to rectify these obvious gaps in your article.

Issued by:

Directorate of Presidential Communications,
State House
Dar es Salaam
11th February, 2014