We should step up efforts to tackle wildlife smuggling (Tanzania)


Editorial / IPP Media

Date Published

Estimates of the money generated by wildlife smuggling vary, in part because of its illegal nature. Wildlife smuggling is estimated at $7.8bn to $10bn a year, according to the U.S. State Department. 

The U.S. State Department also lists wildlife trafficking as the third most valuable illicit commerce in the world. The illegal nature of such activities makes determining the amount of money involved incredibly difficult. When considered with illegal timber and fisheries, wildlife trafficking is a major illegal trade along with narcotics, human trafficking, and counterfeit products. 

Products demanded by the trade include exotic pets, food, traditional medicine, clothing, and jewelry made from animals’ tusks, fins, skins, shells, horns, and internal organs. Smuggled wildlife is an increasing global demand; it is estimated that the US, China, and the European Union are the places with the highest demand.

In many parts of Africa, the main demand for illegal wildlife comes from the consumption of bushmeat. Wild animals are a preferred as a source of protein and primates are considered a delicacy. 

It is believed that up to 40,000 monkeys are killed and eventually consumed each year in Africa alone via smuggling. 

Last year fifty-seven representatives of key port stakeholder groups have agreed on a collective way forward to tackle wildlife trafficking through Tanzania’s sea ports.

Specific actions discussed include improvement of risk profiling systems as well as mechanisms to strengthen inter-agency and public-private sector collaboration, investigative capacity and information exchange. The measures were discussed during a port stakeholders workshop hosted by the Traffic, UNDP and UNODC, in partnership with the Wildlife Division of Tanzania’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, the Tanzania Ports Authority and the Tanzania Revenue Authority. 

Wildlife resources are economically important and critical natural heritage in Tanzania. The country dedicates over 25 per cent of its land surface to wildlife protected area networks. 

Despite various efforts to conserve wildlife, iconic species such as the African elephant and rhinoceros are being poached to near extinction. Tanzania has previously been called “the epicenter of Africa’s elephant poaching crisis” after a government census revealed loss of 60 per cent of its elephants between 2009-2014. 

Each year, Tanzania attracts global tourists to view the seasonal migration of wild animals across the Serengeti grasslands, home to over 20 migratory species, including the African elephant. 

Tanzania is also a major gateway to the interior of East Africa. Dar es Salaam is one of the key African port cities on China’s ‘Ocean Silk Road,’ and about 95 per cent of Tanzania’s international trade is handled by the port of Dar es Salaam. 

As a biodiversity hotspot with reliable and efficient international transport chains, Tanzania’s seaports are highly vulnerable to illegal wildlife trade. In recent years, Tanzanian ports have been on the front lines of large-scale illegal wildlife seizures, intercepting shipments of ivory, leopard skins and shark fins, among other commonly-traded wildlife products. 

Over 10,000 unique pieces of ivory, cumulatively weighing more than 20.5 tonnes, were seized at Tanzanian seaports between 2009 and 2018. 

It is only through collaboration in sharing of intelligence, exchange of operational techniques, sharing of modus operandi used by poachers and traffickers, etc. that we can truly build a united front against them. We hope that the strategy agreed will serve as a template for other Tanzanian and African ports to follow.