GOVERNMENT trophies worth 618.4m/- were seized at Tunduru, Ruvuma Region, in an on-going operation by a special joint task force formed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism.
The operation, which was launched in July this year, impounded 297 firearms, 370 rounds of ammunition and 150 shell castings.
The type of firearms seized included 47 submachine guns, 225 homemade guns (gobole), 23 rifles, two SARs, one SMG, and one Egyptian G3.
Trophies seized include elephant tusks, tails and other paraphernalia worth 260m/-, 10 hippopotamus teeth worth 2.4m/-, 19 pieces of Buffalo meat worth 1.94m/- and a total of 10,183 pieces of timber worth 377.3m/-.
Other items seized include a binocular, four chain saws, two motor vehicles, (RV4 registration) number T699 AXY and Toyota Corolla (registration number T577 APT), one Honda water pump and four SANLG motorcycles with registration numbers T879 BGR, T633 BBC, T829 CBP and T902 CBP.
The Task Force apprehended 163 suspects in connection with poaching and being in possession of government trophies. Fifty-five out of 123 cases have been filed in court. Five of them have been concluded. Two of the five convicts will serve 10 years in jail each and one criminal will serve three months for sabotaging the economy.
One of the remaining two convicts will serve five years in jail and the other will be incarcerated for five years and six months. The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ambassador Hamis Kagasheki, who visited the district at the weekend to inspect the operations and see the seized trophies and weapons, stressed the need for much sterner penalties of up to 60 years imprisonment.
These, according to him, will serve as a lesson to would-be future criminals. He noted that his ministry is in the process of reviewing the current laws, to have poachers serve more time in jail, including those who are found in possession of trophies and illegal weapons.
"Recently Kenya and South Africa sentenced a rhino trader to 40 years in jail. This is what we want. Such offender should get between 50 and 60 years in jail," Ambassador Kagasheki said. Minister Kagasheki commended the task force and members of the public in Tunduru for its cooperation in revealing the names and identities of the culprits to the task force team.
He noted that the fight to curb poaching needs the cooperation of members of the public, since the culprits are people living among them. He also noted that his ministry would continue to provide public education to communities living near or bordering national parks and forest reserves on the importance and their responsibility in protecting the natural resources.
Earlier, briefing the minister, the Task Force chairman, Police Commander Emmanuel Kandihabi, said that 163 suspects had been apprehended and that 123 cases had been filed at Tunduma police station in connection with being in possession of firearms and government trophies.
Commander Kandihabi also explained the challenges the Task Force faces, including the firearms that are in the hands of members of the public noting that many people do not follow the laws of owning a firearm. "This is why a lot of these firearms are used in criminal activities, including poaching.
During the operation, many of those who owned weapons did not have them," he explained. Mr Manfred Hyrera, Ward Officer, reading a speech on behalf of the Tunduru District Commissioner, noted that the district faces a number of challenges including illegal harvesting and felling of trees, forests fires, lack of human resources in the forest division and a small budget that makes it hard to conduct frequent patrols in forests.