After several attempts by conservation groups to push the government of Tanzania into burning a huge stockpile of ivory, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism says it won’t happen, with Minister Jumanne Maghembe saying the tusks will be used for scientific research.
“Our position is clear, that, we are keeping them for scientific research to detect diseases that attack our elephant population through DNA tests carried out on these tusks,” Prof Maghembe said.
He added that the tusks will help researchers to determine biological development of the jumbos through DNA observations and the life of elephants in different environments.
Members of elephant conservation group, Okoa Tembo wa Tanzania, have been lobbying the government to destroy the 118 tonnes of ivory, estimated to be worth over $230 million. They are stored in a heavily guarded strongroom in Dar es Salaam.
Save the Elephant said that, by burning the ivory, the government would save $75,000 spent on protecting it each year.
“Burning the ivory would rescue the quoted amount for other conservation purposes,” Save the Elephant said.
Kenya destroyed its entire stockpile of elephant ivory and rhino horn in April 2016, a month after Malawi destroyed its 2.6 tonnes of ivory worth $3 million.
Elephant range states
Tanzania, Kenya and Malawi are neighbouring elephant range states, all sharing cross-border elephant movements.
Poaching has been a major source of tusks confiscated from poachers and traders. Other tusks are collected from elephants that died from natural causes and those killed by rangers for conservation purposes.
Aerial wildlife censuses carried in Tanzania showed a sharp decline in elephant numbers from over 39,000 to 13,000 jumbos in the six years between 2009 and 2015 while 4,692 elephant tusks were seized at overseas ports during the same six-year period.
Selous Game Reserve, for example, has lost almost 90 per cent of its elephant population from 115,000 in 1975 to just over 15,000 in 2015, a report by the World Wildlife Fund said.
Poachers kill 20,000-30,000 African elephants each year for the illegal ivory trade, funded by global organised crime syndicates and fuelled largely by demand in China and elsewhere in Asia. In just the past 10 years, Africa’s elephants have declined by more than 20 per cent.
A 2017 report released by Tanzania National Parks shows a drop in elephant poaching in national parks, game reserves and open areas this year after the government launched a nation-wide anti-poaching drive.
“By investing in elephant conservation, the Tanzanian government will ensure sustained growth in direct revenue from tourism sector,” Dr Amani Ngusaru, country director of WWF-Tanzania, told The EastAfrican.