Environmentalists urge Obama to raise elephant poaching epidemic with Tanzania's President

Jun 25, 2013, 11:56 ET from Environmental Investigation Agency

WASHINGTON, June 25, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As President Obama visits Tanzania this week, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) urges him to press his counterpart President Jakaya Kikwete to take swift action against a poaching epidemic that could wipe out Tanzania elephants within a decade.

Tourism accounts for 17 percent of Tanzania's GDP ($1.3 billion in revenue in 2011), with 1.2 million visitors each year viewing the country's extraordinary wildlife, particularly its iconic elephants. The United States has been a strong supporter of Tanzania's economic development with over $698 million in aid channeled through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) in recent years and further aid has been promised. Decimating Tanzania's elephant population would undercut the investment the United States has made toward the nation's economic development.

"All the available evidence points to Tanzania having more elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade than in any other African nation. At least 10,000 elephants are being killed every year," said Allan Thornton, President of the EIA. "We urge the United States to withhold additional foreign aid until the Tanzania government has taken significant steps toward combatting the mass slaughter of elephants and enacting a sustained country wide crackdown on the illegal ivory trade and the syndicates that drive it."

In 1989, the United States strongly supported Tanzania's proposal to place all African elephants on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES). The success of the ivory ban led to a dramatic decline in demand for ivory and a major reduction in elephant poaching. In subsequent years, Tanzania's elephant populations almost doubled to an estimated 109,000 animals in 2006. Since 2006, however, Tanzania has proposed several times to remove its elephant populations from the strictest level of international protection under CITES (Appendix I) and to sell its ivory stocks. Each time Tanzania has either withdrawn its proposal due to international pressure or had its proposal rejected by CITES Parties.

Tanzania has taken this irresponsible approach against a backdrop of intensifying elephant poaching within and beyond its borders. In 2012, an estimated 25,000 elephants were killed across Africa for their ivory, much of it smuggled to China and Japan. Tanzania is a major exit point for ivory poached in other elephant range states. Large ivory seizures originating in Tanzania have been made in Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

"Tanzania should cease proposing to down-list its elephant populations as doing so promotes demand for elephant ivory and elephant poaching," said Thornton. "Corruption within government institutions is allowing organized criminal networks to thrive and operate with impunity across the country."

Jessica Forres, 202-716-8320 and jforres@eia-global.org

SOURCE Environmental Investigation Agency