STATEMENT OF THE HIGH COMMISSION OF THE UNITED REPUBLIC OF TANZANIA ON ALLEGATIONS RELATING TO POACHING IN THE RUAHA NATIONAL PARK AND ADJACENT GAME RESERVES
This statement relates to a letter received at the High Commission from ITV News on 13.12.2017. The letter informed that ITV News was going to broadcast a report on 18.12.2017 relating to poaching in the Ruaha National Park and adjacent game reserves. The letter said that in compiling its report ITV News had “spoken to a number of people including Dr. Colin Beale who has researched this issue on behalf of TAWIRI” and that the allegations “are supported by research and by interviews with credible sources”.
We are unable to comment on the people interviewed since we do not know who they are as yet – but we can confirm that key people in the ministry responsible for natural resources in Tanzania, such as the Minister, Permanent Secretary or relevant Directorates and others who would have given valuable information on the matter were not interviewed by ITV News.
As regards Dr. Colin Beale, we value his expertise in spatial statistical analysis but we are not aware of the research he is said to have done on behalf of TAWIRI. We know, however, that TAWIRI conducted censuses for three years consecutively from 2013-2015. In that exercise TAWIRI did, amongst other activities, undertake aerial surveys whereby Dr. Beale was invited at the end of the censuses for spatial statistical analyses. The analyses started in mid-2016 running into 2017.
Like many other countries in the East African region, Tanzania has been affected by elephant poaching and also by illegal wildlife trade. In the years mentioned TAWIRI conducted the censuses both as part of its monitoring mandate as well as to scientifically check trends in poaching. This has been a serious concern since the early 2010s when it was observed that the elephant population in the country had dramatically declined. While poaching has always been one of the government’s serious concerns, the 2013-2015 censuses exercise was not driven by any assumption that there was collusion between our game rangers and poachers or illegal wildlife traders.
Major Findings of the Spatial Analyses from the Censuses
- Aerial surveys observed that many elephant carcasses were located close to water holes indicating that they were specifically targeted as they came to drink water.
- About 15 ranger posts were surveyed. Out of these the survey observed that in three posts an unusually high number of carcasses were found fairly close – technically meaning within a radius of up to about ten kilometers.
- More elephants were killed during the wet season when travel by road is difficult. The Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem has an area of over 50,000 square kilometers of predominantly woodlands. These areas are largely patrolled by car with foot patrols done as circumstances permit.
- That an unknown number of rangers in the national park were complicit in the illegal wildlife trade in that they passed information to poachers and co-operated with them in other ways.
- That a small number of rangers in the national park may have been directly involved in poaching themselves.
- That an unusually high number of elephant carcasses were found in close proximity to some ranger posts.
- That these activities occurred under the watch of the SPANEST program which was partly funded by UNDP and GEF and which trained, equipped and otherwise supported the rangers in Ruaha at that time.
The TAWIRI census exercise did indeed establish a sharp decline in the population of elephants in the Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem in the three years mentioned. In 2013, for instance, there was an estimation of 20,090 elephants while in 2014 they were estimated at only 8,272. A slightly higher number was recorded in 2015 with 15,836 elephants. Standard sampling showed that in 2013 the number of elephant carcasses estimated from an aerial survey was 3,496 in 2013; 3,296 in 2014 and 2,863 in 2,863. In the absence of a major disease outbreak one may assume that this trend was due to human activity – poaching for illegal wildlife trade.
For allegations 1 and 2 – whether this particular development in the Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem was a result of game rangers’ involvement in poaching or illegal wildlife trade is not something that the Ministry or TAWIRI can confidently attest to. But it is obvious that in a basket of fish there could be one or two bad ones – however this should not be taken as an institutionalized system that operated with the tacit knowledge of the authorities.
For allegation 3 – that an unusually high number of carcasses were found around some ranger posts. This was in fact one of the findings from the TAWIRI conducted aerial survey. That the carcasses were within close proximity of the ranger posts could lead one to assume that there was collusion between the game rangers and poachers. This is a possibility – but there could be other factors too. It is well known, for example, that ecologically the concentration of carcasses can be attributed to activity pattern, habitat selection and availability of drinking water. The three ranger posts where large numbers of carcasses were found are close to the main perennial source of water, the Great Ruaha River, and also adjacent to community areas. Records have shown high concentration of elephants and other species in these areas. And the fact is, when animals, particularly elephants, are wounded in community Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) that are close to the park, they tend to take refuge back in the park. Some of these would die in areas along the river and close to the ranger posts – explaining for the high number of carcasses there. In the absence of any one known single cause it is our view the presence of an unusually high number of carcasses around these posts is an issue for further investigation.
For allegation 4 – the project on Strengthening Protected Areas Network in Southern Tanzania – SPANEST – the Ministry acknowledges the valuable support extended to our country under SPANEST. It should be remembered, nonetheless, that this project commenced in 2013 just at the time that TAWIRI had started conducting the censuses, and it did in fact help support the 2013 one. It should also be mentioned that training, capacity building and other kind of support rendered was a process that could not necessarily lead to immediate success. In the course of time the project proved to be very useful and our game rangers have progressively continued to improve their skills, work capacity and ethics with a clearly positive impact on the fight against poaching and illegal wildlife trade. This is evidenced by a remarkable decline in the number of fresh elephant killings. Statistics show that the number of elephants killed has dropped from 92 in 2012 to 18 in 2016. In this period there has been no recorded cases in the national parks with only occasional incidents in game reserves.
The government has been taking the issue of poaching very seriously. With the alarming downward trend of the early 2000s when Tanzania had over 120, 000 to only about 50,000 in 2015, the government could not have afforded any complacency. Between 2010 and 2015 the government conducted three major operations that showed reasonably satisfactory results in terms of arresting poaching trends, protecting the elephants and developing more integrated and robust strategies.
The Ministry and the government as a whole welcomes any credible study or research that will help to show the magnitude of the huge challenge of elephant poaching and illegal wildlife trade. We will follow with keen interest the report that ITV News intends to broadcast on 18.12.2017. We believe elephant protection and stopping illegal wildlife trade is not only in the interest of Tanzania but the world at large.
THE HIGH COMMISSION OF THE UNITED REPUBLIC OF TANZANIA