Nor is pouring millions of dollars into wildlife aid projects sufficient to stop the travesty that threatens unimaginable suffering and ultimately, extinction of one of the Earth’s last remaining giant land mammals.
In the 1980s, when Tanzania’s elephants first suffered a drastic decline, international wildlife organizations started to campaign in earnest to bring the threat to the attention of the world. But it was the deployment of the Tanzanian army in the country’s national parks, reserves, and wider countryside — with a mandate to shoot to kill — that halted the slaughter.
For a time. The sheer scale of today’s organized criminality has overrun African resources. With 30,000 African elephants slaughtered over the past five years — killing that continues at a rate of 30 elephants a day, every day — an African military-style approach and a larger visible presence is desperately needed again.
Significantly, in October of this year, Tanzanian National Parks introduced an armed rapid-response team in Ruaha National Park. The park has one of the most significant populations of elephants in Africa. This model should be replicated right away, specifically in the Selous Game Reserve, which is not managed by the National Parks Department, but by the Department of Wildlife, which also licenses legal hunting in Tanzania.
Earlier this month, Khamis Kagasheki, the Tanzanian minister of natural resources and tourism, declared: “The only way to solve this problem is to execute the killers on the spot.” It was a frustrated outburst, but I’m afraid he’s right. Aggressive tactics must be employed as a first response. The desperate and ruthless nature of the situation demands it.
Now the link between ivory and terrorist organizations has been recognized, the illicit ivory trade has become an international security issue as well. Western nations should join the fight by utilizing their intelligence-gathering prowess to track the supply chain and interrupt the international smuggling routes the terrorist groups are using. This will help African nations with significant elephant populations by stemming the downstream ivory trade.
The success of similar international alliances against piracy in the Indian Ocean is a good example of the kind of solution that could help end the slaughter of Africa’s elephants. Australia and many other countries operate a joint naval task force off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean that specifically targets Somalian pirates. It is time for a similar international effort to halt the trade of ivory.
We lost three elephants to poachers in the Radilen Wildlife Management Area adjacent to Tarangire National Park last month. Although the quick capture of the poachers who killed the elephants at Naitolia can be construed as a small success, the middle men, those who provide the funding and the means for ivory to be moved across international borders, still remain at large. This is the exact situation where an international intelligence-led force could make a significant impact.