Anti-poaching drive cripples ivory syndicates (Tanzania)

Date Published
FOLLOWING the success of a covert anti-poaching operation, dubbed Spider Net and the arrest of some of the big traders in ivory, it is feared that the syndicates may try setting up new operations in northern Tanzania, as southern Tanzania is becoming ‘too hot’ to operate in.
Operation Spider Net, as expected, yielded meaningful impact on the illegal ivory syndicates in Tanzania and will have crippled several of them, sources close to the operation told the ‘Sunday News.’
According to the sources, some are believed to have started moving to northern Mozambique, with some of their ammunition having been intercepted at Mtwara.
The sources added that several have moved their field operations and some trade routes, thus the need to keep up the pressure in Ruaha, Katavi and Selous ecosystems but, most importantly, launch similar operations in the north of the country.
However, it is believed that poaching isn’t as rife in national parks and games reserves in the Northern circuit as compared to the Southern parts of the country.
Poverty and ignorance among locals living in areas surrounding national parks and game reserves are believed to be the major causes for continued poaching of wild animals in the country, the sources said.
As a result, covert intelligence-led operations to protect elephants and halt large-scale poaching in Katavi Region have started yielding positive results, compliments to a fresh approach which also involves educating residents on dangers they pose to themselves, the nation and the environment
.A source close to the team operating in the field said that the new approach has helped in making people understand the extent of the problem of poaching and the importance of the anti-poaching drive.
“Most of those who take part in poaching in the field are people who live around the game reserves and national parks and they do so for very meagre pay which cannot sustain them long enough.
Thus they keep doing it for money,” he said. Contrary to previous operations that sparked controversy and led to the resignation of some senior government officials, operation Spider Net focuses more on identifying syndicates and arresting and prosecuting as many of their members as possible.
A recent report availed to the ‘Sunday News’ shows that the operation has been so successful that there are more than 40 cases pending in court which involve financiers of the syndicates.
The current operation differs from previous ones for a manifold of reasons. It is carried out by the National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (Task Force) which has carved itself a niche for integrity.
The task force is under the auspices of the police force and made up of members from various government agencies including the Tanzania Intelligence and Security Services (TISS), Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF), Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), Tanzania Prisons Department, Immigration Department and the Wildlife Department.
In the course of the operation, which started in mid January, this year, the task force established that the core issue behind wide-scale poaching was ignorance and poverty among people living in areas near game reserves and national parks.
As such, the task force has been able to set up a network of informers among the ranks of poachers who were unaware of the extent of damage they were causing for very little pay and risking their lives while in the field.
According to the report, the syndicates involved in poaching are financed by a single or a few individuals who themselves do not take part in the killing of animals, but simply facilitate the exercise from behind the scenes.
Teams of 70 to 100 people go into the field to undertake poaching. The teams are normally made up of a reconnaissance composed of 10 people and 5 weapons; a killing team (navigator, shooter, cooks, porters, tusk removers, etc.) involving 50 to 70 people and 15 weapons and a rear guard composed of 10 people and 5 weapons.
They can spend up to three weeks in the field before they are successful and return with trophies. The success recorded by the operation was evident early on; 95 suspects were arrested in the first 18 hours of operation (with no injuries); 7 firearms and 694 rounds of ammunition seized and 2 vehicles and 1 bus were seized.
During the operation, a large Free Pentecostal Church was found to be involved in coordinating, storing and transporting of ivory and arms (weapon manuals were found) and two pastors were arrested but were later released and are now under surveillance.