New thinking needed in the war on ivory poachers

Elephant poaching is an ongoing problem in Tanzania Credit: PAMS Foundation

Wayne Lotter, director of Tanzania's PAMS Foundation and Vice President of the International Ranger Federation, writes about the onngoing challenge of tackling poaching of the country's elephants.

It is hard to describe the exact feeling, but my stomach still knots every time I see an elephant carcass. I have seen hundreds over the last three years.

When we started our first project, in a large conservation area in southern Tanzania, we initially found an average of 14 carcasses a day with the help of our small aircraft. Field patrol teams brought photos and sighting records of more dead elephants than alive.

It had nothing to do with subsistence or the need for meat. This was totally destructive of the populations and there was no element of sustainability in it. The meat of elephant bulls, cows, adolescents and even infants lay rotting in the sun - even the scavengers could not keep up. Poachers would shoot the youngest first, giving them a better chance to target whole groups, up to 14 at a time, as the adults would stay to try and protect the young.

We sought advice from anti-poaching units, help from specialists who deal with organised crime, considered strategies from military campaigns, and asked for help from everyone who played any role in law enforcement within the area.

Since August 2011, 563 poachers have been arrested and 805 firearms seized. We now see very few fresh carcasses and a consistent number of live animals. The decline has stopped.

An elephant lies dead with much of its head removed by poachers. This imaged has been blurred. Credit: PAMS Foundation

The February 2014 London Symposium represents a last chance for the African elephant. We believe the conservation world has been dealing with a complex problem by addressing the symptoms but neglecting the causes.

Conservation authorities and NGOs have failed to protect African elephant and rhino populations, yet we continue to look to the same institutions for a solution to the problem.

Wayne Lotter has seen a decline of poaching of elephants but warns more most be done. Credit: PAMS Foundation

Poaching is a societal problem not just a conservation issue. Ivory money is used to fund political campaigns and create and maintain financially powerful business empires. Conservation ministries and departments cannot be expected to tackle the problem on their own.

It is imperative that we:

  • Involve expert strategists to plan and oversee anti-poaching programmes.

  • Work as much outside of wildlife reserves as within them, to address the poaching problem.

  • Recognise limitations within every agency and NGO in terms of mandate, expertise and resources.

  • Recruit competent and appropriate partners to complement one another’s efforts.

  • Involve more than one agency, implement routine as well as surprise cross-checks and ensure there is a measure of unpredictability at all times to keep the enemy guessing.

One can’t help but be pained to see the amount of money that is wasted on all the wrong things by rich and famous conservation organisations while there are so many areas that are in dire need of and could make more effective use of the resources.

  • Wayne Lotter's views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News

Read: ITV News goes undercover to expose Tanzania's illegal ivory trade