In recent months there have been increased incidents of wildlife crimes where animals like elephants, giraffes, buffaloes and many others are killed by poachers against the law. The Guardian reporter Gerald KitabuU interviewed Jamal Juma, a legal Officer at Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team (LEAT) on wildlife crimes and their effect to the nation.
QUESTION: What is wildlife crime?
ANSWER: Wildlife crimes can generally be explained as the situation where people buy, sell, harm or disturb wildlife flora and fauna that are protected by the law. In other words, it involves taking, trading, exploiting or possessing of the world’s fauna and flora in contravention of local, national and international laws: These crimes include: smuggling protected species like tortoise shells, ivory and caviar (teeth), illegally trading in endangered species, poisoning of animals, disturbing or killing of wild birds or taking their eggs such as ostrich eggs, poaching of games and fish, cruelty to animals like illegal snaring and violence towards animals and birds.
Q: What is the current situation of wildlife crime?
A: Wildlife crimes are increasing from time to time in our country. It is reported that Tanzania loses about 30 elephants to poaching every day and about 10,000 every year. For instance it was reported that a number of elephants has decreased from 74,900 in 2006 to 43,552 in Selous Game Reserve. A live example is the recent arrest of some defense and security forces who were arrested in connection with ivories and giraffe meat.
Another example is the incident that happened few years back of exportation of two zebras to the Arab Emirates via Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA) from Serengeti game reserve and the killing of two elephants that were brought to Tanzania from London and South Africa.
These animals were received by President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete at Mwl. Nyerere International Airport, but two days later, they were reported to have been killed. All these incidents indicate that the situation of wildlife crimes in Tanzania is on the increase.
Q: Why do you think this is so?
A: There are a number of reasons that facilitate wildlife crimes, first it is rampant corruption. Some of our officials collude with game wardens and criminals to easily transfer ivory, tortoise shells and animal teeth among many other wildlife products.
Secondly, it is market demand: – crimes like poaching are driven by market demand in Asia, Japan and other countries. For instance it is estimated that one kilo of ivory is sold between 1,000 and 1,100 USD in the world market. Research shows that a kilo of ivory bought at 20 USD in Africa can fetch over 1,000 USD in wealthy markets like Japan. Therefore the rise of ivory price increases poaching of elephants.
Third, shortage of legal mechanism to mitigate the crimes:- in Tanzania, for instance there is no specific law on wildlife crimes. There is only Act No. 5 of 2009 that contains general provisions on wildlife conservation. Even the sections on the offences are not adequately providing for wildlife crimes.
Fourth, Lack of institutional capacity:- it is argued that there is little institutional capacity to mobilize and link activities within and between sectors. The law enforcing agencies or bodies is not well coordinated to mitigate the problem.
Fifth, social and political factors:- There is no political will by decision makers to take that issue with the sense of urgency. Six, Failure to engage key environmental stakeholders:- at the national level, the Ministry of tourism does not labour itself to engage environmental stakeholders specifically on the ways and techniques of mitigating environmental crimes.
Q: What does the law on wildlife protection say?
A: In Tanzania there is no specific Acts on wildlife crimes compared to other jurisdictions like USA and India. However the Wildlife conservation Act of 2009, Act No. 5 which is a governing law on wildlife establishes general offences and penalties under Part XVII. These offences include, possessing of weapons in wildlife reserves and duty to take care of licenses.
Other offences under the Act include: restriction on hunting without a hunting permit or license, killing or wounding of animals intentionally, capturing of animals without a license or permit. The Act provides generally that any person, who kills, hunts, captures animals without a permit or authority from the Director is liable to imprisonment of a term not less than two years but not exceeding five years or to a fine of the amount not less than twice the value of the animal captured, killed or hunted.
These offences are not categorically provided in the Act as crimes. They are scatted in different sections and do not adequately address wildlife crimes, therefore provide loopholes for committing more wildlife crimes.
Very surprisingly, it is believed that some culprits are colluding with some officials working at game reserves, at the borders, airports and even customs offices. For instance in animal trafficking, some officials collude with a syndicate of criminals to easily ferry the animals like goods through the region via official border crossing.
So you find that there are a number of effects such as reduction of rare animals and plants; wildlife crimes may be linked to serious crimes like drugs, money laundering and firearms offences; cruelty to animals causes pain and suffering of animals and it is against animals’ rights; and least but not last, it affects tourist attractions and reduces foreign exchange
Q: What should be done to address the crimes?
A: There are a number of measures that can be taken such as public education on the wildlife, its causes, effects, and their roles and responsibilities to combat the same. There should be engagement of environmental stakeholders in mitigating the problem such as NGOs, CBOs, and enactment of laws specifically on wildlife crimes that would impose heavy punishment and fines to whoever is found guilty of any wildlife crime.
Also on the list is, recruitment of honest, non corrupt, professional and committed staff at all levels in order to combat the crimes, address the problem at international forums in order to discourage market demand at the world market. PCCB must play its vital role as far as this problem is concerned especially at all exit points like airports, and borders.
For its part, the government through its Ministry of natural resources and tourism together with other stakeholders has very important roles to play in order to make sure that these increasing crimes are mitigated.
The government is the main actor in this issue and should make sure that the big muscles used to promote tourism in the country should also be lined with combating of wildlife crimes. For instance the government must come up with a bill specifically on wildlife crimes which will later be discussed in Parliament for it to become a law.
The government should also encourage its departments to come up with regulations on wildlife crimes that will be strong to address the problem; the government must make sure that its staff are well equipped with the knowledge and skills on wildlife crimes and the mitigating measures.
It must also impose heavy punishment to any staff alleged to have engaged in such illegal business and also stakeholders like NGOs and other organizations should make sure the community is aware of the crimes.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN, GERALD KITABU