DAR ES SALAAM: A line of guns that look as if they have been leftover from a war is just one haul from one of the many gangs who are wiping out Africa’s elephants.
In just five years, gangs have killed 60 per cent of Tanzania’s elephants, and are now one of the world’s biggest trafficking syndicates.
But Tanzania’s top police unit is fighting back with intelligence and new training. In the last year they have arrested nearly 1,000 suspects and so far, nearly 150 have gone to prison.
“As far as the supply end of this illegal business is concerned, we have the upper hand now and we are climbing the ladder,” said Elisifa Ngowi of the Transnational Serious Crimes Unit. “If we stay at the same pace as we are now, five years will be too far. We can be sure of huge success in the next three to four years.”
His unit was responsible for the arrest of the so-called “Ivory Queen”. Chinese woman Yang Feng Glan is accused of running one of East Africa’s biggest ever ivory trafficking rings. She denies the charges.
While detectives investigate who they believe to be the big players, the dogs do the work on the ground. The unit is supported by PAMs Foundation, who also support Finnish charity Team Rokka. They train police dogs to sniff out ivory within minutes.
The intelligence units work with dog teams who do the nitty-gritty work of identifying suspects and tracking down ivory. They believe that by working together they can target criminal syndicates at every single part of the supply chain.
“We have made a number of progress in the catching of ivory,” said Egyne Emanuel from the dog and horse unit. “And I think in the couple of months to come, you’ll see great success compared with what we have done.”
The unit hopes that their work will effectively beat poaching in Tanzania within four years, but there are still many challenges such as corruption, soft sentencing and funding.
There is also the issue of time. East Africa’s elephants are dying by the day, so success against the syndicates cannot come soon enough.