By Lindy Taverner
An elite task force in Tanzania is making progress in the war against poaching, apprehending illegal traders and wildlife trafficking kingpins responsible for the deaths of thousands of animals.
Tanzanian game scouts and law-enforcement officers operating near the Mozambique border on July 22, 2016, raided a poachers’ encampment after being tipped off about its existence. They apprehended two poachers in possession of bush meat of a number of wild species.
The victory came at a price, however: two scouts, James Nchimbi and Shamiri Amiri Deusi, were attacked with an axe and had to be rushed to hospital. Shamiri was struck near the mouth; Nchimbi was cut on his arm. These are the perils of fighting the war against poaching.
Tanzania has lost more than 100,000 elephants in the last decade. Clearly, conventional anti-poaching tactics were not working; the country had reached a critical juncture. But of late there has been a dramatic reduction in wildlife killing, and some of the biggest ivory traders have been arrested.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism’s wildlife has set up a dedicated wildlife crime unit. It operates with the National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU) and partners with the Protected Area Management Solutions (PAMS) Foundation.
The multi-agency innovative approach to wildlife protection targets poachers, buyers and high-level traders in urban areas, followed by thorough and professional case-preparation and prosecution.
The NTSCIU is responsible for arresting several notorious ivory smugglers over the last year, including the infamous elephant poacher “Shetani,” aka “The Devil,” Boniface Matthew Mariango, and the “Queen of Ivory,” Yang Feng Glan.
The specialized task force seized 1.2 tons of wildlife contraband on the June 26, 2016. (See the picture above.) It is thought to be one of the biggest seizures in the Tanzania’s history. Seven people were arrested in connection with the confiscation, including two Ugandans and two Guineans, each potentially facing up to 40 years in prison. Police and wildlife officials also detained and interrogated dozens of people, ultimately leading them to the prolific heads of the poaching network.
Effective enforcement strategies rely on a complete program in which all levels of syndicates are targeted by appropriate experts, including rangers on the ground, aerial surveillance, prosecutors and investigators.
Engaging the support of the community is also an integral part of enforcement. Their involvement demonstrates how poaching networks can be dismantled most effectively by a coordinated network of investigators and informants.
“An intelligent, fully integrated multi-agency approach is the only sensible way to wage a war against poaching and expect to be able to win it,” says Wayne Lotter, co-founder and director of the PAMS Foundation, an NGO that helps sustain and conserve biodiversity, wilderness, habitats and ecological processes through actions that benefit nature and communities. “Intelligence-gathering adds impetus to traditional paramilitary strategies focused primarily on protected area protection. Where well-resourced, conventional interventions often fail, extensive progress can be achieved with relatively modest budgets with the multi-agency approach,” he says.
The tactic is proving a viable alternative to drastic measures such as translocating endangered animals to highly secure strongholds and exotic offshore locations.
Krissie Clark, Co-founder and Director of the PAMS Foundation, sums up the strategy: “The NTSCIU and Wildlife Crime Unit collaboration demonstrates how the intelligence-led multi-agency approach to endangered species protection offers an efficient and cost-effective solution to the urgent issue of wildlife security.”
Lindy Taverner is the director of TOM Productions a PR and events company based in Cape Town, South Africa. She has specialised in elephant conservation over the last five years, including production of a documentary, fundraising events and managing online media presence for various conservation NGOs.