TANZANIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR HUNTING DOWN IVORY KINGPINS

Tanzanian President John Magufuli on Saturday directed a special anti-poaching unit to go after ivory kingpins, saying no one was untouchable.

The kingpins are accused of financing criminal networks behind elephant poaching activities in the east African nation.

Magufuli issued the directive after making a surprise visit to the headquarters of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam.

"I am behind you ... arrest all those involved in this illicit trade, no one should be spared regardless of his position, age, religion ... popularity," said a statement from the president's office quoting him.

Magufuli added: "Go after all of them ... so that we protect our elephants from being slaughtered."

Magufuli was shown 50 tusks that were seized by authorities over the weekend, plus vehicles impounded for involvement in ivory smuggling.

Officials said eight suspects were arrested in connection with the latest ivory haul.

"These 50 tusks that have been seized means that some 25 elephants were killed," said Magufuli.

He added: "This is unacceptable ... we cannot allow our natural resources to be lost because of the greed of a few people."

Magufuli applauded the work of the inter-governemntal National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU) in the fight against elephant poaching and ivory smuggling.

The NTSCIU anti-poaching team is comprised of officials from the Tanzania Intelligence and Security Service (TISS), police, army, immigration, judiciary and the national wildlife service.

The team has thus been able to help with the arrest of more than 870 poachers and illegal ivory traders, the seizure of over 300 firearms and 20 motor vehicles used in wildlife crime and the successful prosecution of more than 240 people engaged in these activities.

Sentences for these crimes have included several perpetrators being given prison terms of 20 years and a few of even longer.

Africa's elephant population fell around 20 percent between 2006 and 2015 because of a surge in ivory poaching, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said in a report last month

Switzerland-based IUCN is regarded as one of the most authoritative sources on wild fauna populations and the report's release at a United Nations conference on the global wildlife trade will lend a sense of urgency as some countries seek to keep the global ivory trade shut while others want to reopen it.

Tanzania, which relies heavily on wildlife tourism, has seen a 60 percent decline in its elephant population.

Elephant poaching has risen to meet red-hot demand among fast-growing consumer markets in Asian economies, where ivory is a coveted commodity used in carving and ornamental accessories.

Another recent report from the World Wildlife Fund revealed that more than two-thirds of the world's wildlife could be gone by the end of the decade if action is not taken soon.

Since 1970, there has already been a 58 percent overall decline in the numbers of fish, mammals, birds, and reptiles worldwide, according to the WWF's latest bi-annual Living Planet Index.

In the report, the rapid extinction is blamed on habitat loss, over-exploitation of resources, pollution, and climate change.

Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK.