POLICE in Dar es Salaam are holding six people in connection with illegal possession of 377 kilogrammes of ivory tusks, while the government has condemned the killing of a leading elephant conservationist, Wayne Lotter (51).
Natural Resources and Tourism Minister, Prof Jumanne Maghembe told journalists in Dar es Salam yesterday that the seizure of the elephant tusks follows on-going investigations undertaken by a special joint task force formed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism.
Prof Maghembe explained that the 28 ivory tusks weighing 377 kilogrammes were seized on Thursday in a warehouse at Mbezi Beach. He said that the tusks were not fresh meaning that the animals were killed between 2013/2014.
Its value was yet to be established. The Minister named the suspects as the Mbezi Beach local government leader who is also an imam of Udah Mosque in the area, Bakari Seluni, Mohamed Mohamed alias Mpemba, Rashid Omar, both residing in Mbezi Beach.
Others are Juma Jebo, a resident of Manzese, Amir Shelukindo who is a resident of Morogoro and Ahmed Bakari of Mkuranga. International trade in ivory was banned in 1989 after the population of elephants dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to about 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.
China, Singapore and the United States have all banned ivory trade, with the mainland closing down all operations by the end of this year. "We caught them while still searching for buyers and we have discovered that as things are getting tighter, most of them search for their customers online," he said.
Prof Maghembe warned those who are thinking of involving themselves in the illegal business, saying they should consider other alternatives as the government was keener on anti-poaching war. The latest elephant census data suggests that the population fell by 30 per cent in Africa between 2007 and 2014.
Tanzania experienced one of the biggest declines in elephant numbers, where the census documented a 60 per cent decrease. Meanwhile, Prof Maghembe said that the government is shocked and saddened by the death of Mr Lotter who was a close partner in conservation and anti-poaching initiatives in the country.
"We are sending our condolences to his country, family and friends, as we don't know the motive behind the killing. Let us all stay calm and wait for a police report to unveil it," he noted. Mr Lotter was a director and co-founder of the PAMS Foundation, an NGO that provides conservation and anti-poaching support to communities and governments in Africa.
He was shot on Wednesday evening at Masaki area in Dar es Salaam. The wildlife conservationist was being driven from the airport to his hotel when his taxi was stopped by another vehicle. Two men, one armed with a gun opened his car door and shot him.
The PAMS Foundation funded and supported Tanzania's elite anti-poaching National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU) which was responsible for arrests of major ivory traffickers including Yang Feng Glan, the so-called Queen of Ivory and several other notorious elephant poachers.
"Wayne devoted his life to Africa's wildlife from working as a ranger in his native South Africa as a young man to leading the charge against poaching in Tanzania.