Army men link in seized ivory (Tanzania)


The Citizen

Date Published

As the World Elephant Day was marked yesterday, the world is presently witnessing brutality and annihilation of the African elephant at a shocking rate in human history. Poaching, habitat loss and other cruelty are alarming. The recent elephant census in Tanzania conducted in the main elephant ecosystems for seven months consecutively from May to November 2014, indicates a significant decline of current elephant population from 2009 to 2014 survey by 60 per cent. At independence in 1961 there were 350,000 elephants and in 2009 were 110,000 and by 2014 the number dwindled to about 43,521.

The increase in elephant poaching is highly linked to an increase of ivory prices and illegal markets in the Far East and South East Asia.
Dar es Salaam. A senior security manager at Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA) and two members of the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) have been implicated in the $413,000 (over Sh826 million) ivory haul seized in Switzerland last month, The Citizen can authoritatively report today.
One of the soldiers at the centre of the scandal has vanished along with his family, according to sources privy to the investigation. The other soldier is being held at the TPDF heaquarters in Dar es Salaam. The soldiers were in charge of the security screening system when the ivory was smuggled out through JNIA.
The Citizen has established that the JNIA security manager has been under arrest since Monday when the government ordered an investigation into how the ivory went through the system undetected despite state-of-the-art X-ray scanners.
The ivory haul, weighing 262 kilogrammes and packed in eight travel bags, was netted at Zurich Airport on July 6. The consignment left Dar es Salaam the previous night aboard a Swiss Air flight.
Closed circuit television camera (CCTV) images that detectives are studying revealed that the soldiers were on duty at the time. The airport’s security manager reportedly retrieved the CCTV footage that is expected to help establish what transpired. Tanzania Airports Authority (TAA) Director General Suleiman Saidi Suleiman declined to give The Citizen any details as the matter was still under investigation.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Daniel Nyambabe, who heads the National Task Force on Serious Trans-organised Crimes, also would not comment and referred The Citizen to the Director of Criminal Investigations, Mr Diwani Athuman–who then referred The Citizen to the police spokesperson, Ms Advera Bulimba. She had not responded as we went to press.
The government launched an investigation last week to establish how the 262 kilogrammes of ivory worth $413,000 (Sh826 million) were smuggled out through JNIA last month.
Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Lazaro Nyalandu said in a statement that the investigation was a joint effort between his ministry, TAA and security agencies.
It is aimed at identifying those who facilitated the smuggling of the haul so that “appropriate” measures could be taken against them, he said, and anyone with information that could be of help in the investigation should come forward.
Mr Nyalandu added that interception of the ivory and a kilogramme of lion teeth and claws was evidence that poaching was still a big problem in Tanzania despite the government’s efforts to stamp it out.
The ivory seized in Zurich was destined for China. The French news agency AFP reported last week that the ivory had been chopped up and stashed in eight suitcases, along with a kilo or so of lion teeth and claws. The suitcases, registered in the names of three Chinese citizens, were intercepted at Zurich Airport on July 6 during a routine inspection of tourists arriving from Dar es Salaam. “In light of the offences committed by the three men, they can expect to receive steep fines,” said a statement from Swiss authorities. Mr Heinz Widmer, chief of customs at Zurich Airport, said the ivory could have come from 40 to 50 elephants. A wildlife expert told The Citizen that the Chinese opted to ferry the ivory through Zurich hoping for lax security. “If there is an airport known for strict screening it is Zurich Airport and the ivory was probably detected by scanners,” said the expert, who chose to remain anonymous.
There is also the possibility that JNIA officials were bribed. “There is no other explanation why such a big quantity of ivory could have been smuggled through the airport,” Mr Widmer added.
The United Nations has voted to work harder to combat the poaching of endangered species and has expressed concern over what it describes as a steady rise in the level of rhino poaching and alarmingly high levels of killings of elephants in Africa.
There are now an estimated 470,000 African elephants living in the wild, compared to 550,000 in 2006, said Elephants Without Borders. China reportedly accounts for 70 percent of the demand for ivory worldwide. According to some non-governmental organisations, the Chinese “hunger” for ivory is responsible for the death of about 30,000 African elephants each year. Last year, President Jakaya Kikwete said he was not happy with the security at key airports in the country. He was particularly concerned about the continued use of Julius Nyerere and Kilimanjaro international airports as conduits for drug trafficking. He was speaking in Dar es Salaam during the laying of the foundation stone for the construction of JNIA Terminal Three, which is expected to significantly expand the capacity of Tanzania’s biggest and busiest airport. The President expressed his disgust at how easily drug kingpins were able to use local airports.