Sunday, 23 August 2015

Tanzania turns a blind eye to poaching as elephant populations tumble

As illegal poaching escalates in national parks from Selous to Ruaha, officials attempt to silence the crisis and many fear Serengeti herds will be next

Hannah McNeish in Dar es Salaam

Thursday 20 August 2015 10.17 BSTLast modified on Thursday 20 August 201510.42 BST

For tour guides in Tanzania, the results of a continental elephant census showing that the country had lost two-thirds of its herd in five years and become Africa’s ivory trading hub came as no surprise. 

They’d tried to prevent tourists from seeing the melting skins and drying bones littering the Selous ecosystem in southern Tanzania for years. But they couldn’t mask the shots heard from safari camps in a reserve once known as “the elephant capital of the world”. Last year it was named in the journal Science as Africa’s poaching hotspot, and a Unesco world heritage in danger site. 

“When you hear the gunshots next to the camp, you know that they’re [elephants] being finished,” said one safari guide in Tanzania’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

As people cried foul over Cecil, a 13-year-old lion shot to fame by a holidaying Minnesotan dentist in Zimbabwe, the slaughter of five elephants by Tanzanian poachers in Kenya’s Tsavo park passed almost silently. 

In Tanzania, it is not hunters who can freely take home trophy elephants, but illegal poachers, who have decimated herds in the Selous. Leaving behind mainly baby elephants waiting for tusks, they’ve followed disappointed safari-goers to Ruaha, Tanzania’s second greatest pachyderm-heavy area. 

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