POACHING is not only a threat to wildlife in Tanzania, but also across the African continent due to high demand for ivory for architectural ornaments and other uses especially in Asian countries.
It has adverse effects on Tanzania’s tourism sector, which earns the nation at least $2 billion annually. Tanzania envisages becoming a middle income economy and an industrialised nation by 2025.
This means the government has to ensure all sectors of the economy operate as efficiently and effectively as possible to realise this vision. But this requires the political will to implement without which there will be no positive results.
After a few years of hardworking, the government has finally plugged some loopholes in poaching or smuggling of government trophies, thanks to the intervention of PAMS Foundation. Since the formation of a taskforce in November 2014 to investigate poaching, hundreds of suspected poachers or smugglers of government trophies have been arrested and prosecuted.
This has been facilitated by the National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU). As a result, there is an increase in cases related to poaching or smuggling of government trophies filed at and adjudicated on in courts of law, the seizure of weapons and a reduction in poaching or incidents related to smuggling of government trophies in the country.
This is a notable achievement! “Thanks to some excellent intelligent work implemented by the NTSCIU within a few ecosystems previously (done initially with limited funding), PAMS Foundation was able to secure a significantly large grant, which enabled the Special Intelligent Project for Elephant Protection to be expanded nationwide since October 2014,” says PAMS Foundation Managing Director (Protected Areas Management Controls) Wayne Lotter in a statement.
His statement further says that, through the NTSCIU project, more than 870 poachers and illegal ivory traders have been arrested, more than 300 firearms and 20 motor vehicles used in wildlife crimes have been impounded and more than 240 people engaged in such activities have been prosecuted and those found guilty sentenced to serve at least 20 years in jail.
A new and effective approach in the handling of cases related to poaching or smuggling of government trophies started since 2014 during the fourth phase government under President Jakaya Kikwete, who effective from October 3, 2014 appointed Biswalo Mganga as DPP.
Before his appointment, he was serving as Assistant Director in the DPP’s Office and Senior State Attorney. Although there were efforts to prosecute suspected poachers or smugglers of government trophies even before, notable achievements are seen in the fifth phase government under President John Magufuli.
Suspects are now seen being prosecuted and those found guilty are imprisoned or fined or both. Smuggling of ivory, lion nails, giraffe bones and horns, rhinoceros horns, crocodile and hippopotamus teeth and other government trophies, including unlawful possession of live animals, has been going on for years, but hardly there was any effective strategy to contain the problem.
This has raised questions why it was difficult to contain poaching or smuggling of government trophies even where the culprits were arrested and arraigned. DPP Mganga says the problem has been partly contributed to a wrong mindset among some Tanzanians, who think the government values more animals than its citizens, which he says is not true.
“Unfortunately, some magistrates, judges and lawyers have also this kind of mindset, which has been slowing down progress in the prosecution of suspected poachers or smugglers of government trophies in the country,” he says.
He states protection of fauna and flora has a significant contribution to the national economy. Yet, some people don’t see or don’t want to see this connection. He says the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania he swore to protect stipulates the duty to protect natural resources, including wildlife and there should be efficient and effective strategies to protect them.
“Article 9 of the Constitution articulates, among other things, that the state authority and all its agencies are obliged to direct their policies and programmes towards ensuring– (c) that activities of the government are conducted in such a way as to ensure that the national wealth and heritage are harnessed, preserved and applied for the common good and also to prevent the exploitation of one person by another and (i) that the use of national wealth places emphasis on the development of the people and in particular is geared towards the eradication of poverty, ignorance and disease.”
So, he says, “On the basis of this, living things, including wildlife, need protection and advocacy”. According to him, Article 9 is the starting point of what he is doing in his capacity as DPP. “Our natural resources, including elephants, rhinoceroses and giraffes, are protected for national interest and this is throughout the world.
We have to put in place better and appropriate strategies to protect our natural resources so that they are not depleted by the unscrupulous few for they are for both present and future generations,” he notes.
He notes further that the law on poaching or smuggling of government trophies is clear, but it has been applied differently to the different ac cused, which he says shows a double standard and raises doubts on the integrity of some judges and lawyers, who put personal before national interests.
“Between 2009 and 2014, there were 13 key accused, who were bailed, but jumped their bail. Seeing this, we have adopted a new approach to ensure all accused are available when their cases are being heard and determined in court.
This seems to be an efficient and effective approach for it has facilitated the hearing and determination of all 59 cases of poaching or smuggling of government trophies without any jump of bail and it is a great achievement,” he states.
One of the issues, which is being complained about by the DPP’s Office is that for some poaching cases even where the evidence is clear, the judgement given is not consonant with what the law says.
Section 86(2)(c)(ii) of the Wildlife Act No 5 of 2009 stipulates that, “where the value of the trophy which is the subject matter of the charge exceeds 1m/-, to imprisonment for a term of not less than twenty years, but not exceeding thirty years and the court may, in addition thereto, impose a fine not exceeding five million shillings or ten times the value of the trophy, whichever is larger amount”.
Yet, for some cases of this nature those found guilty were sentenced to two years in prison, which raises more questions than answers on judicial independence and integrity. However, the DPP says for the time being poaching or smuggling of government trophies cases are being heard and determined on time.
He says another thing that has speeded up the hearing and determination of cases is the establishment of a fauna and flora desk, which he says although it started during the time of his predecessor Judge Feleshi, it has been strengthened during his tenure of office.
He notes that cooperation with stakeholders in and outside the country, including neighbouring countries, the police, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism and the Judiciary and having focal persons in various parts of the country has also played a pivotal role in the speeding up of hearing and determination of the cases.
“You can’t believe that the number of elephants has started increasing and even a flock of elephants has invaded human settlements in Dodoma,” he says. On the other hand, the DPP sees there is a need to have judicial guidelines on bail conditions and judgement to avoid a double standard for the accused facing similar poaching charges.
“This double standard in judgement cannot be equated with judicial independence,” he explains. According to him, there is also a need to build capacity through training to make the fauna and flora desk more efficient and effective in the fight against poaching.
He notes that public awareness on environmental conservation and protection is extremely needed to curb pollution, which destroys animal habitats. He thus advocates environmentally friendly practices that put human, animal and plant life in a safer environment.
“A poacher-free Tanzania is possible if we all cooperate to protect our natural resources, including the fauna and flora,” he stresses. It is estimated that in 1961 (during independence), Tanganyika (now Tanzania) had 350,000 elephants, but the number dropped to 130,000 between 2002 and 2009.
In 2012, Tanzania had the second largest number of elephants in Africa (110,000) after Botswana, which had the largest elephant population (123,000) at the time. Another elephant census published in June 2015 shows Tanzania had 43,000 elephants left from 109,000 elephants recorded in 2009!
This sharp drop in the number of elephants and other rare species has alarmed the government and environmentalists both at local and international levels. If efforts made to curb poaching in the country continue, the elephant population will increase in the near future.
So, there should be no turning back in the fight against poaching!