Your Excellency the President of Tanzania, congratulations on your election to the Presidency.
We write today as concerned citizens of Tanzania to bring to your attention an issue that causes us great concern: the drastic decline in Tanzania’s elephant population due to poaching for the illegal ivory trade.
Fifty years ago, there were up to 300,000 elephants in Tanzania. In 2009, there were 109,000. Today, there are only an estimated 43,000 elephants left – a dramatic loss of 60% in only 5 years (TAWIRI official census results 2014).
We mourn the loss of these thousands of elephants, each of whom had family and friends, and who in their lifetimes formed long-lasting memories, celebrated the births of new calves, and grieved deaths of companions.
We mourn, too, the losses that these thousands of carcasses represent to our country and to our people. Elephants form an integral part of Tanzania’s natural and cultural heritage. They feature in our stories and our art, reflecting that people and elephants have co-existed for thousands of years. The ecosystems of East Africa have co-evolved with elephants – they shaped the savannahs and the woodlands, and many of their paths became our roads. To lose our elephants would be to lose a cherished facet of our national and historical identity.
The elephant poaching crisis also threatens one of our country’s biggest money-makers: the tourism industry. Over 1 million people visit Tanzania’s protected areas every year, contributing to an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people and constitutes 14% of our nation’s economy (WTTC 2015). One does not have to love elephants to recognize that the poaching crisis is a grave threat to the economic potential of our country.
We recognize the progress that has been made to address the elephant poaching crisis. The formulation of a national anti-poaching strategy, the work of the Task Force of the National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU), and increasing the resources for our wildlife authorities are important steps. Yet this poaching crisis will continue if we fail to address the ultimate driver of the poaching crisis: the trade in ivory.
Despite the scale of the poaching crisis, the problem has clear solutions which only the Tanzanian government can implement. We call on the government of Tanzania:
1. To arrest and prosecute the major ivory traders operating in the country, regardless of their nationality, status or position.
By prosecuting the major ivory traders, we remove locally the incentives and means to poach elephants. The prosecution of traders will break down poaching networks, and deter others from becoming involved in poaching and the illegal ivory trade.
2. To use Tanzania’s long-standing friendship with China to close the Chinese ivory markets.
Up to 90% of Tanzania’s ivory goes to China, where a legal domestic trade in ivory acts as a cover for the illegal ivory trade that is the ultimate driver of the elephant poaching crisis. We must urge the government to convince China to follow up on its promise to close all its ivory markets now, and thereby win long-term security for our country’s elephants. As the leading consumer of ivory, a ban in China would lead to the rapid collapse of the ivory trade in the rest of the world.
3. To publicly destroy Tanzania’s ivory stockpile – the largest in the world.
Bound by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Tanzania cannot currently sell its ivory stockpile. In 2014, Tanzania signed up to the Elephant Protection Initiative, placing a moratorium on selling ivory for 10 years. However while the stockpile exists, it provides encouragement to illegal ivory traders that trade will resume. The sale of ivory stockpiles is incompatible with a global ivory trade ban, and past sales of ivory stockpiles have driven the illegal ivory trade. Destroying the stockpile sends a strong message to elephant poachers, ivory traders, and consumers that ivory has no monetary value, and that the poaching of elephants is an unacceptable crime.
Tanzania’s stockpile is expensive to maintain and secure – to store this ivory indefinitely is a drain on the national budget. Many African countries have shown their commitment by destroying stockpiles. They were widely applauded for doing so, and destruction of the stockpiles catalyzed donor support for conservation and anti-poaching.
Many more conservation dollars can be won through wildlife tourism – a revenue source that is growing, sustainable, and beneficial to many Tanzanian citizens in the long-term – than through the one-off sale of the nation’s ivory stockpile, which would only fuel more poaching and accelerate the extinction of elephants in Tanzania.
Our country has been a leader in elephant conservation before. In 1989, Tanzania led the effort to ban the global ivory trade – when we took action to end the killing of elephants, the rest of the world followed. We must renew our commitment to this promise made on the global stage over twenty years ago by bringing all ivory trade to an end.
Tanzania’s record on elephant conservation not only matters to our international reputation, it also matters to the citizens of Tanzania. Over 50,000 people support the “OKOA Tembo wa Tanzania” campaign on Facebook, and it is on behalf of the citizens of Tanzania that we reach out to you, Your Excellency, and ask that you save our elephants.
To bring peace to Tanzania’s elephants and her protected areas, and to secure a thriving wildlife tourism industry that benefits all Tanzanians – this can be your legacy.
- Benson Kibonde Manager, Selous Game Reserve
- Prof. J.R. Kideghesho Department of Wildlife Conservation, Sokoine University of Agriculture
- Prof. B.M. Mutayoba Faculy of Veterinary Medicine, Sokoine University of Agriculture
- Prof. C. Nahonyo Department of Zoology and Wildlife Conservation, University of Dar es Salaam
- Vanessa Mdee WildAid Ambassador
- Millard Ayo Journalist, Clouds Media Group
- Dr. Dennis K. Ikanda Director TAWIRI–KPR Centre
- Ponjoli Joram Natural Resources Project Officer, Delegation of the European Union
- Charles Hillary Journalist, Azam Media
- Noah Mpunga Director, WCS Southern Highlands Conservation Program
- Vedasto Msungu Environmental Journalist, ITV and Radio ONE
- Wallace Maugo Editor, The Guardian
- Florence Majani Assistant Editor, Mwananchi Communications
- Imani Kajula CEO, EAG Group
- Wasiwasi Mwabulambo Program Manager, Azam Media
- David Kabambo Director, Peace in Nature
- Lasway Romane Lecturer, Chuo cha Taifa cha Utalii
- Josiah Mshuda Director, DONET
- Monica Lumambo Chairperson, KINET
- Damien Kosei Secretary, BAENET
- Dativa Kimolo Chairperson, DACENET
- Said Mjui Tutor, Mtamako
- Beda Kihindo Education Officer, TALGWU
- Pierre Nyakwaka Planning Officer, Jiendeleze Trust
- George Mtemahani CEO, Sun Sweet Solar
- Arafat Mtui Project Manager, Udzungwa Ecological Monitoring Center
- Pima Nyenga Director, Association Mazingira
- Lameck Mkuburo Elephant Researcher, Southern Tanzania Elephant Program
- Jenipha Mboya Researcher, Southern Tanzania Elephant Program
- Shubert Mwarabu Activist, Me Against Poaching