With cameras in tow and binoculars ready, I embrace the Tanzanian tourist trap I fell into and peer out the roof of our truck to admire two lions and four baby cubs relaxing in the midday sun, not far from their zebra leftovers.
As amusing as this rare sighting is, I’m aware of the darker side of animal parks. To kill and be killed may be the nature of wildlife, but poaching should not be a part of the game. Though Tanzanian park officials deny the problem still exists, recent newspaper coverage and an investigation by the international organization, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), suggest otherwise.
“So what can you tell me about the latest poaching of elephants in Tanzania?” I ask our safari guide as we circle down a windy road toward the crater floor.
Caught off guard by my question, he mumbles back with hesitation, “Oh, that’s not a problem. We don’t have poaching in our country anymore.”
Someone should tell my driver he’s been misinformed—in 2009 alone, about 11,678 kilograms of seized African ivory originated in Tanzania. On top of that, all of sub-Saharan Africa was targeted for mass seizures between January and November of the same year, totaling over 20,000 kilograms.
What’s more, a 2010 report released by EIA documents discussions between Tanzanian traders and ivory dealers about how they illegally smuggle ivory using bribes to quiet officials. According to the organization, Tanzania’s elephant population fell by 24 per cent between 2006 and 2009—more than 33,000 elephants in total.
After viewing the lax security at the park gates—a few rangers and the odd ranger car patrolling the grounds—it’s evident how poaching persists.
Sadly, when the sun sets on the Serengeti plains and camera-toting tourists disperse, some animals have more than nature’s predators to fear with poachers on the prowl.
Tanzania’s main trading partner in the smuggling of illegal ivory is a country that has had its own poaching problems in the past: China. About two years ago, China faced accusations when ivory from 11,000 elephants mysteriously disappeared into the country’s black markets.
Fears of illegal ivory trading became the focal point of discussion at this year’s International Elephant Conservation and Research Symposium in January, when Tanzania and Zambia presented a proposal to alter their elephant populations from Appendix I, which bans commercial trade, to Appendix II, which allows regulated trade subject to certain conditions.
Tanzania’s request was not granted, but there is still a long way to go regarding illegal trading. On Sept. 9, 2010, a shipment of 1,550 kg of ivory tusks was confiscated by port officials in Hong Kong. The ivory originated from Tanzania.
It would be a lie to say the safari wasn’t an amazing experience, but part of me still wonders, if poaching continues at this rate, how many elephants will I see roaming Tanzania’s supposedly protected game parks in five years?