ELEPHANT poaching in Tanzania’s game reserves and national parks is back in full swing as international poachers with local connections kill an average of 20 elephants for their ivory every month.
Wildlife officials say a well-organised group of poachers has been slaughtering elephants for their tusks, which make their way to ivory markets in Asia.
The latest attack occurred last week when eight elephants were poisoned near Tarangire, the country’s third largest national park in western Arusha, taking the death toll to 87 in the first four months of 2012.
Analysts said the continued poaching could hurt tourism, one of the country’s biggest foreign exchange earners. Tourism earnings increased by 11 per cent in 2010 to $1.28 billion, helped by the global economic recovery.
Wildlife experts say the current elephant massacre is a stark reminder of 1970s, when well-armed poachers decimated elephant populations, often with impunity.
African Wildlife Foundation director Saleh John said the killings in the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem suggested that poachers have embraced poisoning as an effective method of mass slaughter of elephants.
Nebo Mwina, acting director of the Wildlife Division in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, said, “The surge in elephant poaching is triggered by a sharp rise in the demand for ivory in China.”
According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the price of raw elephant tusk in China has more than tripled in the past year, from $270 a pound to more than $900 a pound.
Ms Mwina said, between 2008 and March 2012, poachers have killed a total of 776 elephants in various national parks. In 2008, 104 elephants were killed, while in 2009 and 2010 poachers slaughtered 127 and 259 jumbos respectively. The figure for 2011 poachers was 276.
Tourism Minister Ezekiel Maige told The EastAfrican that poaching has assumed alarming proportion mainly because of limited resources on the part of the government. “We need a $77 million budget per year to be able to ensure all our national parks are sufficiently secured, while the current budget stands at $38 million annually,” Mr Maige explained.