The Elephants of Tanzania: Victims of an Idle Nation

"Over 60% of the country’s elephant population, obliterated for ivory. But that’s just the tip of this Tanzanian iceberg."
Courtesy of Unsplash 

Courtesy of Unsplash 

By Jacalyn Beales

Africa is home to some of the world’s most revered species, and a few of its most corrupt governments. For Africa, corruption often revolves around the notorious exploitation of the its iconic widlife. Whilst we watch documentaries and narratives about the captivating landscape of Africa, over 100,000 elephants on that landscape have already been poached in the past three years alone. Shocking new figures reveal that Tanzania has lost more than half of its elephants in the past 6 years. That’s over 60% of the country’s elephant population, obliterated for ivory. But that’s just the tip of this Tanzanian iceberg. 

The East African country, which has seen significant losses to its elephant population, is possibly the world’s largest source of illegal ivory. A third of all elephants killed in Africa originate from Tanzania, with more than a third of all ivory confiscated in Asia having emanated from there. Some of the country's notorious game reserves and heritage sites have also been disastrously ravaged by illegal ivory poaching. For such a popular tourist destination, one might assume that Tanzania would be seriously invested in saving this species. But that would denote Tanzania caring about its elephants.

And so far, it doesn’t. 

© David Llyod, Wildlife Photography

© David Llyod, Wildlife Photography

Enter ivory poaching & Chinese demand. Tanzania is not a target of China’s demand for ivory, but rather its willing partner in crime. In 2014, the EIA (Environmental Investigation Agency) released a detailed report concluding that many corrupt Tanzanian officials were involved with Chinese criminal groups, working together to illegally poach, trade and traffic elephant ivory in Asia. According to these reports, such corruption in Tanzania is the key facilitator in every aspect of ivory trafficking. There, money is the name of the politics game; and that's where it all begins. 

Like many issues facing Africa’s wildlife, the ivory crisis and Tanzania’s elephants are regrettably tied together by politics. Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania’s current president) has had much success in changing the landscape for the people of his country, but not for its elephants. He has done little, if anything, to prevent nor bring an end to the poaching crisis which sees one elephant killed every 15 minutes. Since Kikwete took up office in 2005, Tanzania's elephant population has dropped from 140,000 to less than 50,000. Such decline is alarming given the population was previously the second largest in Africa. Locals recognize the value of Tanzania's wildlife, conscious of its key role in the country's ecotourism industry - profits from which are in the millions. Despite this, and being fully cognizant of such corruption and decline, Kikwete has made empty promises as his government downplays the scale of Tanzania’s elephant poaching. 

Anyone who brings into question this crisis and seeks a solution for it is quickly taken off the proverbial table and shuffled into obscurity. Khamis Kagasheki, Tanzania’s internationally respected (now former) Minister of Natural Resources & Tourism, was reportedly fired soon after he declared that he would find the corrupt, powerful individuals responsible for Tanzania’s elephant crisis. Apparently, it does not serve any Tanzanian government official well to actively work against wildlife corruption. Sorry, Kagasheki.

© David Lloyd, Wildlife Photography

© David Lloyd, Wildlife Photography

The wildlife crises in African countries like Tanzania are directly attributed to the corrupt governments who themselves would be in crisis if not for their links to other corrupt groups and syndicates; this, we know, is a “no brainer.” Organizations and activists have attempted to take on such corruption but, for the most part, such attempts have been futile. We must consider just how untouchable the corrupt individuals at the top really are, in direct relation to the influence which money and politics have over many an African, and in this case, Tanzanian official. Elephants are continuously subjected to the never-ending corruption and must rely on the fortitude of those willing to stand up and fight for their survivial. The future of Tanzania's elephants remains unclear, yet one thing is evident: asylum from the poaching crisis for this species seems far from near. 


David Lloyd is a New Zealand born, London based photographer. He has won several awards for his photographry, including Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2011 & 2014. To view his photography, or to order prints of his work, please visit his website for more information. 

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