Africa’s battle to save its wildlife and national parks

The Elephant And Rhino Poaching Saga (1970 – 2015) Part II

In the last issue we discussed, in the first of this sub-series, some surprising realities about post colonial Africa – concerning the many elephant poaching pandemics that have ravished the continent since 1970. It has been consistently alleged – promoted and pushed hard by the international animal rights brigade – that the cause of Africa’s seemingly uncontrollable elephant poaching, was the existence of

(1) a Far Eastern (Chinese and Vietnamese) ivory mafia; and

(2) countless “greedy” African peasants (rural village hunters).

The accredited animal rightist NGOs at CITES had to create this illusion in order to bring into force the 1989 ivory trade ban; and the placement of the African elephant onto the CITES Appendix I list – which effectively declared the elephant to be “an endangered species”.

There are issues that I must comment on about this:

  1. I have to constantly remind my readers that the ‘endangered species concept’ is invalid. Wild animals do not organise themselves at the species level – only at the population level. There are, therefore, only SAFE wild animal populations and UNSAFE wild animal populations.
  2. There are Chinese and Vietnamese Mafiosi on the African continent but they are not the people who pull the triggers. They are merely the buyers of at least some of the ivory contraband. Africans pull the triggers.
  3. Africa’s rural village hunters are not ‘greedy peasants’. They are amongst the most accomplished native naturalists on the continent. They know more about Africa’s elephants and other wild animals than do the Mafiosi and the animal rightists, combined. They are more often than not penniless and out of work, however, because there are few employment opportunities in rural Africa. They hunt Africa’s wildlife, therefore, primarily to eat and to survive. Furthermore, what most people fail to understand or acknowledge is the fact that the wild animals which these villagers ‘illegally’ hunt, historically, actually belong to them.
  4. The proposal that brought the ivory trade ban into force in 1989, and that resulted in the elephant being declared an endangered species, was compiled and written – not by the official CITES delegates – but by a principal of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) – an animal rights organisation registered in Great Britain. The EIA contrived to have the document they had prepared taken to the President of Tanzania by the chairman of that country’s Wildlife Society, who persuaded the President to sign it. His signature established that document as an official Tanzanian CITES proposal.
  5. The motivation for the ivory trade ban was what the animal rightists called ‘a loophole’ in the articles of CITES. Up until 1989 CITES permitted legal ivory to be sold internationally provided the sale was conducted under authorised CITES permits – which procedure was administered by the producer countries with the full cooperation of CITES. The animal rightists claimed that poached ivory could very easily be laundered through this loophole and they stated that until that conduit was plugged, the illegal ivory trade could not be stopped.

NB: Certainly the legal loophole could have enabled illegal ivory to be laundered through CITES – but it wasn’t. The same could be said of human beings. Everybody could be a murderer – but they are not!

However, not one case – that even a single illegal tusk had been laundered through CITES – was presented by the animal rightists NGOs, as evidence. Furthermore, they well knew that the tusks of several hundred thousand elephants had entered the illegal trade during the 1970s and 1980s from Kenya and Tanzania alone – none of which had been disposed of through CITES. Those animal rightist NGOs – who in 1989 had had offices in Nairobi for over 20 years – knew all this. They also knew that the poaching had been masterminded largely by Kenya’s and Tanzania’s political elite. Yet they failed to mention any of these details at CITES in 1989! So their motivation for the banning of the ivory trade, and their insistence that the elephant should be declared an endangered species, was based on a string of blatant lies.


Dr Rolf D Baldus, President of the Tropical Game Commission of the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) spent 13 years working in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve (SGR) (1987 – 2006). He claims that in 1976 the SGR had been home to 110 00 elephants and that, due to commercial poaching, this number had been reduced to 55 000 by 1986. He further 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.” And he further said: “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 entire country’s elephant population fell from 365 000 to 53 000 during this period. 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.”

NB: Baldus makes no mention of the much vaunted Far Eastern commercial poaching mafia! Nor does he bring CITES into his equation at all!

He goes on to say in a book (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!   He is a survivor! Nevertheless, thus are the identities of the principal poaching perpetrators protected. People who are in the know are not prepared to put their heads in nooses – by naming and shaming the criminals.

NB: 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 2000. This corroborates my assertion that elephant populations are capable of doubling their numbers every 10 years!

The outgoing President of Tanzania (in 2015), Jakaya Kikwete, according to world-wide media reports – and according to retrospective assertions by several Tanzanian residents – was the mastermind behind what is probably the third biggest incidence of commercial elephant poaching ever conducted in Africa’s history. Kikwete denies it, of course, but the government has openly admitted that during his presidency, on average, 11 000 elephants were killed annually in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve alone, by poachers, for four consecutive years (mid-2008 to mid-2012).

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 the charges laid against him demanded the death sentence.

A long term and permanent resident (who wishes to remain anonymous) – who was in Tanzania when this happened – reported that the president’s response was to jump into a government plane and wing his way to China, there to obtain his son’s release. The report further states that, on its departure from Tanzania, Kikwete’s government aircraft was heavily laden with ivory.

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

Whether there is any truth in these allegations, or not, the fact remains that Kikwete was head of state in Tanzania when all this poaching took place; and it doesn’t take a genius to put the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together. First of all, noting the massive scale and prolongation of the poaching, Kikwete must have known all about what was going on. The big question, therefore, is: ‘Why, with all the resources of the state at his disposal, did Kikwete not bring the poaching to an end?’

 He didn’t, many Tanzanians say, because he was the chief instigator!

 The British-based animal rights group, The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reported on this – the Selous Game Reserve elephant slaughter – and in a Q&A interview with National Geographic, asserts that there was “collusion between the Chinese and Tanzanian governments at the highest level.”

 At one point the IEA’s report states that: ‘in 2005 there were some 142 000 elephants in Tanzania (as a whole) and that when President Kikwete leaves office in 2015, this overall population will have dropped to some 55 000.”

 When asked during this Q&A interview: “Is EIA saying that Kikwete is personally culpable for this decline?” the NGO spokesperson side-stepped the question and responded by saying: “We know that corruption takes place at all levels. We are asking: ‘Why hasn’t the president done more to curb the decline?’

 The EIA report was presented to the government – which failed to respond.

 Kikwete has cleverly circumvented many suggestions and implications made by many people that he masterminded the slaughter and the illegal trade in Tanzania’s ivory. The internet is full of this information; and leading newspapers from all around the world have reported on these allegations. He has consistently refuted all involvement.

For readers who want to know more, they can start surfing the internet; and they can make up their own minds about what really happened in Tanzania – vis-à-vis the elephant poaching controversy and the illegal ivory trade out of Tanzania between 2008 and 2012.

 What Kikwete DID do was to call for a global banning of all trade in ivory and rhino horn – stating that this is the only way to stop the poaching. Excuse my lack of mirth!

Now, a quote from a letter dated June 03, 2015, addressed to Andre Degeorges, by Benson Obdiel Kibonde, Chief Warden, Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania:

QUOTE: “When I left Selous Game Reserve in 2008 there were approx 70 000 elephants according to projections based on the 2006 TAWIRI census. I went to 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. 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.

“My challenge, as the second time Selous Chief Warden, was to stop the carnage and to reverse the population trend. I did it. Poaching has been stopped in Selous. The TAWIRI 2014 census has it that we (now) have 15,000 elephants in the reserve. While so many people complain that it is not possible to contain poaching, I still believe that this can be done.”  NB: “Andre,” Kibonde then emphasized in his lengthy missive, “remember that 100% of the poaching in our protected areas in Tanzania is 100% of the making of Tanzanians”. (Now I wonder: Just what did he mean by that pointed remark? Kibonde knows exactly what happened!)  Kibonde continued: “They could stop poaching overnight if they could seriously decide. I am soon leaving Selous for my terminal public service retirement after serving as Selous Game Reserve Chief Warden on contract after my compulsory retirement in November 2012. 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 endeavor. 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 protection of elephants in Tanzania. Conservation in Tanzania is now griped with politics. There is more politics in conservation of wildlife in Tanzania than there is conservation in its politics. Africans are paying a price for their laxity and complacence in stopping poaching in their range areas. If it is possible to stop poaching in Selous and some other few areas, why can it not be possible for other areas?

“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.” UNQUOTE


NB: I now wish to pose a question: “Why was Kibonde – who appears to have been an honest and dedicated Game Warden with a passion for his work – shipped out of the Selous by his government masters, on a lateral transfer, for the exact four year duration period of the Selous Game Reserve elephant slaughter (2008 to 2012)?” I will leave you to ponder what I believe to be the pretty obvious answer.


The Selous Game Reserve is 21 100 square miles (54 600 sq kms) in extent. Some people say its sustainable elephant carrying capacity is 100 000 (or 5 elephants per square mile). That is a wild guess that I doubt very much. My experience with elephants in miombo woodlands (such as those extant in the Selous) is that elephants very quickly decimate the mature trees, and convert the habitats to scrub (regenerated, for a time, from root-stock). Nobody, however, seems to have made a study of the sustainable elephant carrying capacities of Africa’s different habitats – yet this is a vitally important ingredient of elephant management.


Michael Angelides (Executive Officer of the African Professional Hunters Association) states that elephant poaching in the Selous has not stopped – but it has subsided.

Angelides makes this other very important contribution: “The (poached) ivory (from East Africa) is all exported. There are four exit points in Kenya and Tanzania. (So) why is it so hard to stop the export? The local customs officials are, of course, corruptible, so why can’t CITES (instead of always pursuing the ‘banning’ route), or the alike, put their own task force at (these) exit points. Locals poach ivory and sell it to a middleman. (The) middleman sells it to the exporter – who has (pre-) sold it to whoever imports it (to his own country) and so on. If the exporter cannot sell he will not buy. And if the poacher cannot sell he will not kill. Seems relatively simple to me! Road blocks and a special (CITES/INTERNATIONAL) customs unit – both – should be led by someone from outside Africa!” (WHY? Is it because Angelides believes that Africans are so badly corruptible?)

NB:  This is one of the most practical and realistic ideas to come out of my researching this story. It is certainly infinitely superior to anything that CITES has ever produced regarding this issue. And it is much better than the ‘prohibit everything’ that the animal rightist NGOs at CITES are demanding.

It appears that – to stop the poaching – it might ultimately be necessary to invite all responsible nations to help establish and finance a permanent international undercover operation. Its function would be to pay high rewards to anybody prepared to whistle blow on the heads of state, government ministers and senior civil servants, who are involved in the corrupt poaching rackets. If informants could be assured of a truly handsome reward – and protection from exposure – they might well be prepared to provide the evidence that would support the arrest (or impeachment) and the conviction of even state presidents. In Africa money talks!

NB: The existence of such a well-funded organisation, targeting wildlife-related corruption at the highest political and government levels in Africa – if it became general knowledge – would probably prove to be the greatest and most effective poaching deterrent of all time.

 If in 2014, the elephant population of the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania was, indeed, 15 000 strong, it will quickly recover (provided there is no more poaching). Remember that when nutrition levels are high – and they will be high after such a heavy poacher-induced population reduction – elephant populations can double their numbers in 10 years. So, by the year 2024 the Selous elephants could number 30 000; and by 2034 there could be 60 000.


Steven Broad, TRAFFIC’s (The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network) executive director, states in a recent report: “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.”

It is easy to draw this conclusion but when the most senior politicians and civil servants in the land, are the people who are actually directing the poaching – and benefitting the most from it – it is not difficult to understand why it 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 it shut.

I cannot emphasise enough that jobs with reasonable government salaries are few and far between in rural Africa!


I would ask readers to consider the fact that there are far too many unanswered allegations and circumstances for anybody to doubt that elements of the higher echelons of Tanzanian society were involved in this poaching pandemic. The police turned blind eyes to everything that was going on and that could not have happened without instructions from above. There is also definite evidence that Tanzanian military weapons were sometimes used. And the level of poaching was so high that Kikwete could not possibly have been unaware of what was going on. That being the case – as Baldus determined was the case in a previous poaching pandemic – I must assume that, this time-round, the elephant poaching in Tanzania was conducted as a clandestine national enterprise with which senior elements of the military, the police, the political hierarchy, the civil service and big business, were all involved. And I believe the EIA is probably right when it says that there was collusion at the highest level between the Tanzanian and Chinese governments.   Read the internet reports and draw your own conclusions!

The other important thing to understand is that the bulk of the ivory – tons and tons of it – was shipped out by sea from Tanzania’s own seaports – and it was sent direct to the markets in the Far East (probably mostly to China). There is also no doubt that a lot of it was flown out in government aircraft with diplomatic immunity. The tusks left Tanzania without legal papers of any kind but with the full connivance of the Tanzania government and its seaport authorities. And it was also accepted at its destination(s) without legal papers.

None of this ivory was traded under any form of CITES authority. Indeed, this particular illegal enterprise, purposely and specifically avoided any involvement with CITES. This, then, begs the questions: (1) How could the CITES ban on legal trade in ivory have changed the circumstances of this colossal crime? And (2) how can the maintenance of the CITES ivory trade ban stop a repetition of these events?

All the CITES ivory trade ban has accomplished is to render it legally impossible for perfectly responsible, important and legitimate ivory dealings to be transacted between honest producer countries (such as those in southern Africa) and the consumer countries in the Far East (which have been criminalized by the animal rightist contrived CITES trade ban).

Footnote: By convention, on the last Sunday of October in 2015, Jakaya Kikwete was replaced by John Magafuli as Tanzania’s head of state. During his first month in office, President Magafuli began what he claims will be an ongoing clamp down on corruption. This included arrests of port officials involved in current ivory smuggling. It is a hopeful sign that may just lead to a reversal of commercial wildlife poaching in this East African country. I, for one, will be waiting with bated breath to see if he can succeed.


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