Tanzania: Epicenter of Africa’s elephant poaching crisis

by Lori Kalef, Program Manager

Last month, Meredith and I traveled to east Africa to work alongside our partners in Tanzania and to gather firsthand information on the tragic, unprecedented decline of the magnificent wildlife known to Africa. After days working with our partner on domestic animal and livestock issues, we traveled out to the bush to speak with local game rangers about the many animals facing extinction as a result of poaching and hunting.

Africa embraces a tremendous wealth of wildlife, and Tanzania has been particularly blessed. National parks, game reserves and wildlife management areas envelop almost a third of the entire county. Of all the species found there, lions are particularly important because they draw the most visitors throughout the world. While a large part of these visitors only come to take photos, hundreds of others armed with rifles and hired guides pay thousands of dollars to take home trophies from what is often termed a once-in-a-lifetime hunt. Man has become one of the worst predators to the lion. The millions of dollars that hunters spend to go on safari each year are said to help finance Tanzania’s economy, even filtering down to help fund conservation efforts and wildlife management for the game reserves and national parks.

During our visit to Selous, the largest game reserve on the African continent, we had the opportunity to speak with the locals about their views on the crisis. Even though outsiders know the reserve as abstaining from hunting, what we learned was quite different. In fact, the entire south side of the reserve has been identified as a hunting hotspot for foreigners with large wallets, the majority being from the U.S.

Tanzania has also been deemed the epicenter of Africa’s elephant poaching crisis, with over 60% of the population being killed in the last 5 years for the illegal ivory trade. If this trend continues, conservationists believe that this majestic beast could go extinct within a decade. A recent announcement from U.S. and China’s governments states an agreement to enact “nearly complete bans on ivory import and export”. The questions that loom over many minds are whether it is too late and will the illegal poaching become even more underground and violent? Poachers are said to work alongside underpaid regulatory officials and are most often heavily armed.

All these results have started to pile pressure on the Tanzanian government that has been heavily scrutinized for its inability to put a stop the vast amount of ivory being poached and threat of extinction for some of Africa’s famed animals from its national parks. We were told that the Tanzanian Government insists it will become stricter on the amount of hunting licenses granted; however, with so much income being generated from foreign hunting demand, locals believe the movement remains uncertain and thus so does the future for some of African’s wildlife.

As an immediate action step, SPCAI will immediately set up a new petition for the Tanzania government to further pressure them to ban ALL hunting licenses for the majestic wildlife of Tanzania. SPCAI is also developing partnerships to focus more resources on these critical extinction issues before it’s too late. Please stay tuned on Facebook for the petition and our call to action for signatures and sharing.