Who is the Poacher in Modern African Mythology? EPISODE 2


Dr Rolf D Baldus, President of the European Tropical Game Commission of the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC), spent 13 years working in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve (SGR) (1993-2006). And he studied, closely, the history of his new responsibility.

He reports that in 1976 the SGR had been home to 110 000 elephants and that, due to commercial poaching, this number had been reduced to 55 000 by 1986. He claims that “the poaching had its roots in political and business circles in Tanzania, in the villages bordering the SGR, and partly within the conservation system itself”.

He further stated: “During this time the plight of the African elephant became an international issue.”
In another report Baldus (2005), commenting on elephant poaching in Tanzania over a much longer period (1977-1993), claimed that the country’s elephant population fell from 365 000 to 53 000. And he had this to say about the perpetrators: “Village poachers and game scouts did the shooting, but big people – politicians, civil servants, businessmen and even hunting operators – masterminded the slaughter.”

In these reports Baldus makes no mention of the much vaunted Far Eastern commercial poaching mafia, much blamed for the poaching by the resident animal rightist NGOs in East Africa at that time. Nor does he make any reference to CITES.

But he knew more than he was prepared to say because he goes on to say (1993): “This is not the place… to reveal the details and names, some of which are known, as many of these people are still alive.”

Knowing Africa and Africans as I do, I don’t blame Baldus for not being a whistle-blower under the circumstances of his employment at that time. He is a survivor! Nevertheless, thus have the identities of the principal perpetrators of Africa’s several post colonial poaching pandemics been protected over the years. The people who know what went on, people like Rolf Baldus, have not been prepared to risk their lives by divulging all that they know.

It is interesting to note that Baldus (much later) stated that the low number of elephants in Tanzania in 1989 (30 000) had recovered to 60 000 by the year 2000. This corroborates my assertion that elephant populations are capable of doubling their numbers every ten years!

A recent president of Tanzania who left office in October 2015, Jakaya Kikwete, according to international media reports and according to retrospective assertions by several offended nature-loving Tanzanian residents was the mastermind behind what is probably the third largest incidence of commercial elephant poaching ever conducted in Africa’s history:

The Selous Game Reserve (SGR) killings (2008-2012)! Kikwete denies it, of course, but the government has openly admitted that during his presidency, on average 11 000 elephants were killed in Tanzania’s SGR by poachers every year, for four consecutive years (mid-2008 to mid 2012). The total kill, therefore, according to guessed government statistics, was 44 000 elephants.

Within this period, another Tanzanian scandal erupted regarding the arrest of Kikwete’s son, Ridhiwani in China, for his alleged involvement in the illicit drug trade. According to Chinese law, apparently, the charges against him demanded the death sentence.

A long term and permanent Tanzanian resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, but who was intimately involved with several senior government officials and politicians, confidentially reported to me on this state of affairs. This man was, he said, variously working as a tourist guide and as a professional hunting guide in Tanzania at that time. He reported that, after being appraised of his son’s impending execution in China, the president’s response was “jump into a government plane and wing his way to China, there to obtain his son’s release”. He further stated that, on its departure from Tanzania, Kikwete’s government aircraft was heavily laden with ivory!

Nobody knows what transpired in China but on his return to Tanzania, Kikwete was accompanied by his delinquent son. So his journey to China was successful.

Later, in a media communiqué released by the Directorate of Communications at Tanzania’s State House, Kikwete refuted claims that the 12 investment contracts that he signed with the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, during his visit to Tanzania in 2013, was part of a deal to free what the report called Kikwete’s and Tanzania’s First Son.

Whether there was any truth in these allegations, or not, the fact remains that this story confirms that Kikwete was head of state in Tanzania when the SGR poaching took place. Considering the massive scale and prolongation of that poaching event, Kikwete must surely (?) have known all about what was taking place in the SGR.

The big question, therefore, is: “Why, with all the resources of state at his disposal, did Kikwete not bring the poachers to book?”

“He didn’t”, many Tanzanians said, “because he was the Chief Instigator of that SGR poaching event!”
The British-based animal rights group, The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), in a Q&A interview with National Geographic regarding this, Tanzania’s most recent (at that time) elephant poaching pandemic, asserted that there was “collusion between the Chinese and Tanzanian governments at the highest level.”

At one point the EIA’s report states that: “In 2005 (which was the year Kikwete became president) there were some 142 000 elephant in Tanzania (as a whole) and that when Kikwete left office in 2015, this overall population had dropped to 55 000”.

NB: I have not tried to adjust or to question the elephant numbers here quoted (by EIA). I am merely repeating those that appear in my source of reference.

When asked during this Q&A: “Is EIA saying that Kikwete is personally culpable for this decline?” The NGO spokesman side-stepped the issue by responding: “We know that corruption takes place at all levels of government and society. We are asking: Why hasn’t the president done more to curb the elephant decline?”

The full EIA report was presented to the Tanzanian government, which failed to respond!

Kikwete has consistently and with great subterfuge, circumvented suggestions and implications made by many, many people over the years, that it was he who masterminded the elephant slaughter in the Selous Game Reserve (2008 – 2012) and that it was he who organised the illegal trade in Tanzania’s ivory. Numerous sites giving this information can be found on the internet, many responsible Tanzanians confirm it and leading newspapers from all around the world have reported extensively, on these allegations. Kikwete, however, continues to refute any personal involvement. Nevertheless,

it must also be said – and this is damning – that he did nothing whatsoever when handed the lists of names with evidence, indicating that many of his senior political cronies were involved.

I don’t believe a word of anything else other than the fact that Kikwete is as guilty as all hell!

Readers wanting more information can surf the internet and they can make up their own minds about what happened in Tanzania vis-à-vis the elephant poaching controversy in the Selous Game Reserve, and the illegal ivory trade out of Tanzania, between 2008 and 2012. You can also google: “Jakaya Kikwete – link to elephant poaching in Tanzania”.

What Kikwete did do, as a blatantly obvious deception when the accusing finger was pointed directly at him, was to call for a global banning of all trade in ivory and rhino horn, stating that this was the only way to stop the poaching. What kind of hypocrisy is that?


Now to quote from a letter by Benson Obdiel Kibonde, Chief Warden, Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania, dated 3rd June 2015. It was addressed to Dr. Andre Degeorges who spent most of his life involved in wildlife management positions in Africa, now retired in America.

Kibonde was transferred out of the Selous Game Reserve, by government decree, and sent (temporarily) to the Pasiansi Wildlife Training Institute which was many miles away from his home station (SGR). No explanation was given for this inexplicable turn of events. In retrospect, however, it seems to me, that that transfer happened just to get a good and honest senior game manager conveniently out of the way (for a while).

“When I left the Selous Game Reserve in 2008”, Kibonde writes, “there were approximately 70 000 elephants in the game reserve, according to projections based upon the 2006 TAWIRI census. I went to the Pasiansi Wildlife Training Institute. When I came back in July 2012 I was shocked by the extent of the poaching that had taken place during the four years that I was away”.

The Tawiri Census of October 2013 had it that there were only 13 084 elephants remaining in the Selous Game Reserve. This was the result of an average annual poacher’s kill of not less than 11 000 elephants. This equates to the fact that 44 000 elephants were killed in those four years. (NB. This is, however, really just a government guesstimate number).

“My challenge as the second time Selous Chief Warden was to stop the carnage and to reverse the elephant population’s downward trend. I did it. Poaching has since stopped in Selous. The Tawiri 2014 census has it that we now have 15 000 elephants in the reserve.”

There now followed a bizarre statement in Kibonde’s letter. “Andre”, Kibonde then emphasized: “Remember that 100% of the poaching in our protected areas in Tanzania is 100% of the making of Tanzanians”.

Now I wonder: What exactly did Kibonde mean by that out of the blue and pointed remark? Was he trying to get a hidden message across to Andre? I think he was. I think Kibonde knows exactly what happened in the Selous Game Reserve between 2008 and 2012 but he also knows, in the interests of his continued good health, that he cannot spit it out.
Kibonde continued, giving us some idea of his private bone fides:

“The SGR administration could stop poaching overnight if they could seriously decide. I am leaving Selous for my terminal public retirement after serving as Selous Game Reserve Chief Warden on contract upon my compulsory retirement. There are quite a number of illusory perceptions that grip the rangers in the protected areas in Tanzania. These are the functions of irresponsibility and inefficiency in the efforts towards elephant protection.

“Saving elephants means being committed, dedicated and honest towards the endeavour. It is countering the poaching techniques that are used by poachers that makes for a practical anti-poaching strategy, not rocket science in anti-poaching. It is not so much academic knowledge, more money from donors, or increased budgets for conservation in Tanzania that will save its elephants. It is dedicated wildlife conservation staff who are ready to commit their hearts and minds to the protection of elephants.

Conservation in Tanzania is now griped (sic) with politics. There is more politics in wildlife in Tanzania than there is conservation in its politics. Africans are paying the price for their laxity and complacence in stopping poaching in their range areas. If it is possible to stop poaching in Selous, and in some other few areas, why can it not be possible for other areas, too?”

“Anyway Andre, poachers in Selous have been taught a lesson. They are now on the run. Selous elephants are currently breathing a sigh of relief. I am not sure for how long this will be.

“God bless Selous Game Reserve”.

There is a more accurate way to determine just how many elephants were (really) killed in the SGR between 2008 and 2012. Kabonde claims there were 70 000 elephants in 2008 (according to the relatively accurate Tawiri elephant census) and that there were c.13 000 counted in 2013 (again according to the relatively accurate Tawiri elephant census). So 57 000 was the actual number of elephants killed by Kikwete and his henchmen between 2008 and 2012.

Furthermore, wildlife management calculations tell us that if there were, indeed, 15 000 elephants in the Selous Game Reserve in 2014, the number would likely have increased to 30 000 by 2024 and to 60 000 by the year 2034. So, all is not lost. Elephants are capable of bouncing back very quickly.

As happened in Kenya, the bulk of the SGR ivory – tons and tons of it – was, so my information tells me, shipped out by sea from Tanzania’s own sea ports without any legal export papers, directly to the Far Eastern markets. CITES was conveniently forgotten!

None of the illegal ivory from either Kenya or Tanzania was traded under any form of CITES authority. Indeed, both Kenya and Tanzania purposefully avoided any kind of involvement with CITES. And this was the case with all the other major poaching events in both those countries from 1970 onwards.

This then begs the questions:

  • How could the CITES ban on legal trade in ivory have changed the circumstances of these colossal crimes?
  • How can the maintenance of the commercial trade-ban in ivory stop a repetition of such poaching events in the future? The African political elites are a law unto themselves! They don’t listen to CITES or anybody else!
  • How can proclaiming the elephant to be a so-called endangered species, and how can the maintenance of the elephant on the CITES Appendix I list, help to stop this type of poaching in the future?

Steven Broad, the executive director of TRAFFIC (The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network) at the time of the Selous Game Reserve poaching event, stated: “It is incredible that poaching on such an industrial scale (as that which occurred in the Selous Game Reserve recently) has not been identified and addressed before now.”

I am not surprised by this statement coming, as it did, from one of the CITES coterie of so-called expert NGOs. TRAFFIC, it seems, at the time of writing, had not even heard about Ngina Kenyatta’s twenty-year poaching onslaught on Kenya’s elephants (1970-1990) even though it killed five times more elephants and took five times longer to execute.

Neither, apparently, had TRAFFIC heard about the previous SGR poaching event (1976-1986) when 55 000 elephants were killed. Further, TRAFFIC has made no comment about the Tanzanian poaching that took place between 1977 and 1993 when the national herd was (according to Baldus) reduced from 365 000 to 53 000. So, I have to believe that TRAFFIC didn’t know about that last incident either.

It is easy to make such a statement (as Broad made) but when the most senior politicians and civil servants in the land are directing the poaching operations – and when they are benefitting the most from them – it is not difficult to understand why poaching continues without any kind of official government constraint. No matter how dedicated a game ranger might be, if his job, and the salary it provides to feed his family, depends on him keeping his mouth shut, he will keep his mouth shut.

I cannot emphasize enough that jobs with reasonable government salaries are very few and far between in rural Africa. And people who are blessed with having such a job will do anything to keep it safe and sound! That is why the poaching events in the SGR (2008 – 2012) were never exposed. I would have thought that TRAFFIC was well aware of these realities. Don’t they know TIA – This is Africa? This is how the world goes round on the Dark Continent even today.

There are bound to be individual people who poach elephants for themselves, such as the village hunters probably do! But those such people make no appreciable negative impact on the elephant numbers, not compared to the impacts that the political elite can and do make, when they go on the rampage.

Ron Thomson

CEO True Green Alliance

Who is the Poacher in Modern African Mythology?









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