The price for smuggled ivory has significantly dropped in the Hong Kong black market, signifying a fall in demand for the prized trophy, success in the intensified war against poaching and impending collapse of the world’s biggest trafficking syndicate for the item.
Tourism and Natural Resources Minister, Professor Jumanne Maghembe, said on Tuesday that the value of illegal ivory in China had halved by 95 per cent to 150 US dollars (327,697/-) per kg - down from a record high in March, this year of 3,000 US dollars (6.554 million/-).
Hong Kong, which has been an epicenter of the illegal trade, announced early this year it would soon implement a complete ban on ivory trade, receiving a laud of applause from conservation organisation Save Elephants and WildAid.
But for Prof Maghembe, the price has dropped "thanks to the national war on poaching and operation to nab dealers." The latest figures released by the minister indicate the price of the illegal ivory had since been falling.
A report released late last year by a Kenyan-based conservation organisation - Save Elephants shows the value had dropped by 50 per cent in the previous year. Former Vice-President, Dr Mohammed Gharib Bilal, launched a national war on poaching in 2014.
Since the launch of the campaign, the Tanzania Police Force has arrested nearly 1,000 suspects, with as many as 150 being convicted to lengthy jail sentences.
"The anti-poaching campaign is showing positive outcomes," the minister said during a live programme ‘Tunatekeleza’ aired by Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) on Tuesday.
The minister said among those behind bars are a Chinese national, Yan Feng Glan alias ‘Ivory Queen’, who was accused of running the biggest ever ivory trafficking ring in Eastern Africa’s history.
Prof Maghembe said a special police unit had intensified operations using modern technology, including drones, to reach areas that were never reached before. "We have a limited number of security personnel to survey the entire country.
The use of drones, which are relatively cheap at 2,000 US dollars each, had allowed us to reach wider places to monitor wildlife," the Natural Resources and Tourism Minister had noted.
Despite the achievement, poachers are still hunting for elephant tusks and rhino horns in the country’s game reserves, the minister admits. "If (poachers) go unchecked it can threaten the tourism industry," he quipped.
This is why we have decided that all those arrested and found guilty must be convicted on economic sabotage charges," he added. The minister named Dar es Salaam as the centre for ivory dealers, vowing to nab all those behind the illegal trade. He maintained that tourism had a potential contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), pointing out, however, that should poaching continue, the sector can lose and continue contributing poorly to the country’s GDP.
"We’re targeting contribution by tourism to reach 20 per cent this year, up from last year’s 17.5 per cent," he detailed, adding; "contribution of the sector to the foreign currency earnings is also projected to reach one quarter of the total earnings."
Prof Maghembe pointed out that already there are positive trends. He said that records between June and August, this year, show that the number of tourist arrivals had gone up by 20 per cent, with earnings also increasing by 22 per cent.
"This sector accounts for 1.5 million jobs. We still want more people to be employed in the sector to improve their economy and livelihood," Prof Maghembe pointed out. Between 2010 and 2015, the ministry’s statistics indicate that Tanzania lost over 60 per cent of her elephants due to poaching.