Minister: Newly bolstered task force to lead fresh anti-poaching crusade (Tanzania)


Felister Peter, IPP Media/Guardian

Date Published

 As part of its stepped-up efforts to clamp down on wildlife poaching activities in the country once and for all, the government is set to form a permanent multi-sectoral task force for the campaign, with members drawn from the police, the army, and all local conservation bodies.

Tourism and Natural Resources Minister Prof Jumanne Maghembe revealed this in Dar es Salaam yesterday when briefing reporters on the ongoing investigation into the recent murder by suspected poachers of British pilot Roger Gower (37) in the Maswa Game Reserve north of the country. 

The minister said the task force would be responsible for overseeing and coordinating daily, government-led joint operations to identify and apprehend wildlife poachers in all national parks and game reserves in Tanzania.
Apart from police and army, other representatives on the task force will come from the ministry itself and state-affiliated organizations like the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA), Wildlife Conservation Department, Tanzania Forest Service (TFS), and Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority (TAWA).
“We are determined to fight poaching from all angles…our teams of game rangers will also be enhanced. We will provide them with modern weapons with advanced technology” Prof Maghembe said, adding that this time it would not be a one-off operation but a sustainable exercise.
He said the technology to be applied would make it easier to identify poachers whenever they are and detect the kind of weapons they are using. 
According to the minister, anti-poaching patrols have been continuing countrywide, leading to the arrest last week of eight suspected poachers in the Selous Game Reserve.  Police also seized at least 400 weapons at different sites around the reserve in southern Tanzania, he added.
On the Gower murder investigation, Prof Maghembe said a number of suspects arrested in Maswa, Shinyanga, Dar es Salaam and Dodoma – following concerted efforts by police and national security officers, with help from other stakeholders – would be charged before a military court.
The Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ernest Mangu, said his force was planning to round up and conduct an audit of all weapons currently in private hands in the country, with the aim of repossessing those that are being used illegally.
According to IGP Mangu, preliminary investigations had found that most of the weapons seized during the anti-poaching drive were in fact legally owned by citizens, with official police consent, but were being clandestinely used in “criminal acts”.
He said the findings had shown that Tanzanians in general were no longer careful about the way they used their own, legally-acquired guns, and many of them were actually working in collusion with wildlife poachers.
If the trend continues, the police will have to suspend the issuance of weapons to civilians, Mangu asserted, saying such a move might help to control poaching and other criminal incidents. 
Gower was flying his helicopter over the Maswa Game Reserve when he was fired upon by suspected poachers who are believed to have just killed several elephants within the reserve’s boundaries.
Although he managed to land the aircraft inside the reserve, he succumbed to the gunshot wounds he suffered before rescuers found their way to the scene.
Mid last-year, the government released estimates from a countrywide aerial survey showing that the elephant population had declined by at least 60 per cent since 2009, with most of the losses occurring within the Selous-Mikumi, Ruaha-Rungwa and Malagarasi Muyowosi ecosystems.
The then tourism minister, Lazaro Nyalandu, said at the time that the 2014 elephant census had showed the country to have a total elephant population of 43,521, compared to the 2009 census number of 109,051 jumbos.
More than 10,000 elephants disappeared in the Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem alone, Nyalandu said