By Peter Elias
- Katavi National Park is third largest park in Tanzania with an area of 4,471 km2.
- The park hosts more than 100,000 wild animals and more than 450 bird species,
- Wildlife poaching is a serious challenge because the park has no fence
- Improved surveillance and community participation in conservation activities has helped reduce wildlife trafficking in recent years.
- Despite efforts made by the government and stakeholders, poaching still persists
A journey of 1,513 kilometers from Dar es Salaam takes me to Katavi National Park-the home to thousands of animals in the Katavi region located in Western Tanzania.
Being the third largest park in the country, Katavi, with an area of 4,471 square kilometers, is popularly known for having more than 5,400 hippos and some animals in the big five.
Unlike many other parks, it has a unique history of its origin and is also featured by many rivers and lakes which supply water to support wildlife.
These treasures make it a tourism destination, local people and foreigners have been visiting the park to see the variant animals, especially the hippos which make it unique before others.
Francis Konde, acting head of Katavi National Park, says they receive 3,800 tourists per year. He says the number was reduced in 2020 because of Covid-19 restrictions but it is on the rise again in 2021.
“Most of the people visiting the park are Tanzanians followed by people from the USA, Germany, France and Belgium. This is because the park is close to Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),” he says.
According to the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) website, more elephants are dying from poaching than from natural causes or conflict with humans.
Their body parts are traded illegally as trophies, traditional medicine, or trinkets on a lucrative black market — but these iconic pachyderms are not the only wildlife species to be slaughtered for human gain.
Big cats like the lion and cheetah are killed for their bones; the African wild dog and other large carnivores die at the hands of villagers protecting their livestock.
“We often arrest and bring them to justice so that the law takes its course. But we urge the people to stop such acts as we are well prepared and anyone who enters the park for criminal acts, will be arrested and taken to court,” says Mr. Konde.
Konde reveals that the presence of markets for elephant tusks and other trophies in Asian countries like China and Thailand, contribute significantly to poaching.
He adds that they are building new roads to increase access to some parts of the park. Also, he notes that they have additional rangers with more vehicles that will enable them to increase efficiency in wildlife protection.
The park plans to establish participatory protection groups by June whereby citizens themselves will form such groups that will assist in the protection of wildlife and other natural resources. They are ready to volunteer because they benefit from the park, which supplies water to them and has given them a health center and hostel for their children.
“The citizens are fully involved in protection activities, and we get information from them about the poachers. This shows that they are also interested in natural resource conservation activities for the benefit of all,” says Konde.
AWF Director, Counter Wildlife Trafficking Program, Didi Wamukoya says efforts to fight elephant poaching have borne fruit because illegal killings of elephants for ivory in Africa has been on a steady decline since 2011.
Wamukoya notes that the elephant population in Tanzania has been steadily increasing from 43,000 in 2014 to 60,000 in 2019, according to the Tanzania Wildlife Census Report of 2019.
This decline in wildlife crime in Tanzania has been tracked on #WildEye East Africa, a new interactive map produced by InfoNile and Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism tracking wildlife crime in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. According to 105 tracked cases of wildlife crime that were prosecuted between 2017-2022 in Tanzania, the vast majority of wildlife items were seized during 2015-2016.
Wamukoya says there has actually been a decline of seizures in trophies in Tanzania. She adds that the seizures may be frequent due to enhanced enforcement and the creation of the National Taskforce on Anti-Poaching (NTAP) in 2016, which is an inter-agency forum to help combat wildlife crime.
“Wildlife trafficking, specifically in elephant ivory, is run by international trafficking networks. Tanzanian law enforcers have identified trafficking rings consisting of Tanzanians, West African and Chinese nationals.
Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority (TAWA) was established in 2014 with the aim of conducting anti-poaching patrols in and outside Game Reserves and Game Control Areas.
According to information on their website, since the inception of TAWA up to September 2016, a total of 69,278 patrols were conducted in and outside Game Reserves and Game Controlled Areas that lead to the arrest of 1,563 poachers.
On the other confiscated items are 90 pieces of elephant tusks weighing 376.33 kilograms, 29,529.5 kilograms of bush meat of different species, 141 firearms and 278 ammunition of different calibers.
TAWA also maintains a canine unit that helps in the inspection of wildlife products at Julius Nyerere International Airport and Dar es Salaam seaport.
A strong legal response
Ms Wamukoya notes that Tanzania’s decline in elephant poaching and trafficking can be attributed to its law enforcement efforts in dismantling some of these rings including the Ivory Queen (Ms Yang Fenglan) and Shetani’s (Mr. Boniface Malyango) trafficking networks that ferry ivory to Asia.
She attributes international cooperation as key in combating wildlife poaching and trafficking as the crime is transnational in nature.
Also, she says demand has also to be addressed and efforts made to sensitize and reduce demand in destination countries. In addition, having strong deterrent legislation in place is key. Tanzania treats wildlife crimes as economic crimes that carry deterrent penalties including 30 years imprisonment, life sentence, fine payment or both.
According to data collected for #WildEye East Africa from Tanzania, most people who were found guilty for wildlife crimes were sentenced to at least 20 years in jail. Some judgments were also accompanied with fines/penalties based on the value of the seized wildlife animals; however, penalties were few compared to people who were jailed. There was no constant value of money fined to the person found guilty.
Director of Wildlife from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Maurus Msuha says the increase in the number of elephants is attributed to good systems of security in conservation areas.
“We have militarized our operations. Also we have another system involving other institutions; therefore, we are good in the protection of wildlife,” Msuha says.
Msuha notes that the same is done to protect rhinos, and their number is also increasing ahead of the targets.
“We have a five year strategy for 2019 – 2023. So, we are on the right track and our plan was to ensure that the number of rhinos is increasing by five percent per year but have surpassed the target as we are moving,” he says.
According to the 105 wildlife crime data points collected so far in Tanzania for the #WildEye East Africa map, about half of all cases involved ivory. More than 90 percent of cases were connected to the illegal possession of ivory, elephant tusks, elephant meat and other parts of the elephant.
This data was collected tracking illegal wildlife seizures or cases prosecuted between January 2017 and March 2022. The cases involved seizures, arrests, convictions and court cases waiting for trial and sentence. About half (52 percent) were convictions, 10 cases (22 percent) were waiting for trial, and 12 (26 percent) were arrests.
Poaching, a persisting problem
Despite the efforts made by the government and other stakeholders to stop wildlife poaching, it is still persisting. There are cartels that use the local people, game rangers and businessmen to obtain the ivory from the park.
A game ranger in Katavi Park who did not want to disclose his name for security reasons, says there are fellows who help the poachers in killing elephants and sell ivory to the black market.
“Among ourselves, there are dishonest people who collude with the villagers or businessmen to kill our elephants. This is not acceptable, they failed us in this war,” says a game ranger in Katavi National Park.
Mr. Ibrahim Makusa, a resident in Stalike village in Mpanda district, says they are aware of the importance of protecting the park, but some villagers have been taking part in killing the animals to obtain the ivories.
“Some villagers were caught red handed with ivories; their case is still on progress. They undermine our efforts to protect the park because we benefit from this park; it has built a school for us, it has supplied water to our village,” says Mr. Makusa.
Msuha says that there is still a black market in Asian countries like Vietnam, Malaysia and others in East Asia where people believe that owning ornaments made of ivory is a sign of wealth.
Kisutu Magistrate Court in Dar es Salaam has been hearing a number of cases on wildlife poaching and seizures of ivory whereby some people have been sentenced to jail and others were set free.
In March 2022, five residents of Katavi and Sumbawanga regions were arraigned in Kisutu Resident Magistrate Court, facing two charges including being caught in possession of four pieces of ivory.
The accused are Craft Kileo (43), Mr. Godfrey Kashuli (42), Mr. Richard Kafwa (43), Mr. Moses Zakaria (33) and Mr. Benjamin Lushina (33) who are residents of Sumbawanga, Namanyere and Mpanda respectively.
Also, the Dar es Salaam Special Zone Police is holding three suspects for illegal possession of 25 pieces of ivory in an operation conducted from February 25 to March 9 in Magomeni and Manzese suburbs.
Recently, Dar es Salaam Special Zone Commander, Mr. Jumanne Muliro said the police in collaboration with Anti-Poaching Task Force have managed to arrest three suspects; Mr. Gabriel Mgana, Mr. Haffarman Yona and Mr. Felician Cyril, with 25 pieces of ivory weighing 20 kilograms equivalent to 14 elephants killed.
Early this year, Kisutu Resident Magistrate Court sentenced Ms Haika Mgao (26) to 60 years in prison after she was found guilty in possession of ivory and hippopotamus teeth worth Shs69.5 million belonging to the United Republic of Tanzania.
Mgao, a resident of Kimara, Dar es Salaam, was facing three charges in economic sabotage case number 69/2018. One of the charges was being found with pieces of ivory and hippopotamus without the permission of the Director of Wildlife.
Support for development and production of this story came from InfoNile, in partnership with Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism, with funding from the Earth Journalism Network. Data visualizations by Ruth Mwizeere and Annika McGinnis / InfoNile.