Dar es Salaam — Tanzania is taking steps to combat the rise in elephant and rhinoceros poaching by deploying army personnel and camera-equipped drones to engage in anti-poaching operations.
According to the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, poaching has drastically reduced the elephant population to fewer than 70,000 in 2012 from about 109,000 in 2009.
Amid outcries from lawmakers about the increase in poaching, Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism Khamis Sued Kagasheki told parliament on Thursday (May 2nd) that President Jakaya Kikwete has authorised the deployment of army units for anti-poaching operations.
"The president has issued the order," Kagasheki told parliament. "I have talked to Minister of Defence and National Service [Shamsi Vuai Nahodha] and we are at the final stages. I do not say when, but we are going to do something that will be remembered by generations to come."
This is the second time the military has aided against poaching. In 1989, "Operation Uhai" helped the elephant population rebound after it reached a low of about 30,000, when it had been about 110,000 in 1976.
Parliamentarians welcome decision
Opposition lawmaker Peter Msigwa said he supports the president's decision to send in troops to ward off poachers, but said the government should have taken this action five years ago.
"In 2008, the poaching problem was as big as it is now," he told Sabahi. "The public outcry to deploy the army was high, but the government did not want to listen to us."
Countries should unite to stop the worldwide trade in "dirty tusks", he said, as this fast-growing illicit trade comes at the expense of Tanzania's natural resources.
Before parliament on Friday, Gosbert Blandes, a lawmaker representing Karagwe district, said the proposed military operation should begin immediately.
"I want the minister to say now when is the operation starting? What are we hiding? It has to be immediate and not otherwise," he said.
Kagasheki declined to reveal details about the plans for the military, saying that disclosing every detail could end up aiding poachers. However, he said it would start "soon" and that this time troops would use sophisticated equipment to help them ambush poachers.
Opposition leader Freeman Mbowe said he was satisfied with the government's intention to use the army to fight poaching, but said the government should do more.
"As a deterrent measure, we should change our laws to say clearly that whomever is caught involved in poaching should be sentenced to death," he told Sabahi.
Drones to monitor park land
Tanzania National Parks spokesperson Pascal Shelutete said the park service will use drones -- small, pilotless, remote-controlled aircraft equipped with cameras -- to monitor who enters the parks.
"It is a kind of improved closed-circuit television camera, which will facilitate monitoring all parks 24 hours," Shelutete told Sabahi, adding that the cameras are connected to computers via satellite.
Similar projects have been implemented around the world. The World Wildlife Fund has a fleet of pilotless planes, which have helped protect Nepal's elephants, rhinoceros and tigers.
In addition, projects in other African wildlife reserves are aided by the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), which helps fund the acquisition of drones for conservationist efforts.
"We are fighting a war against well-armed and informed poachers," the IAPF said on its website. "In the context of reducing poaching in dangerous environments, [unmanned aerial vehicles] provide a broad-reaching, safer and more cost-effective solution, allowing rangers to monitor a much greater mass of land whilst reducing their own exposure to dangerous and armed poachers."
Tanzania's Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism Lazaro Nyalandu asked citizens to join the efforts against poachers by reporting to the authorities anything they see or hear linked to poaching.
"The government cannot fight poaching war in isolation. We need to join hands as Tanzanians to fight poachers as a way to preserve our natural resources," he said addressing parliament on Friday. "Let us build the habit of reporting anything we are seeing likely to endanger our elephants, rhinos and all other natural resources."