The United Nations earlier this month voted to work harder to combat the poaching of endangered species, and expressed concern over what it called a steady rise in the level of rhino poaching and alarmingly high levels of killings of elephants in Africa.There are now an estimated 470,000 African elephants living in the wild, compared to 550,000 in 2006, said the NGO Elephants Without Borders. China meanwhile accounts for 70 percent of world demand for ivory, NGOs say. They say Chinese hunger for ivory is responsible for the death of 30,000 African elephants each year
Dar es Salaam. It took only 10 minutes – between 7.30pm and 7.40pm – on July 5 for three Chinese nationals to cart through Julius Nyerere International Airport eight travel bags concealing ivory worth over Sh826 million, The Citizen can exclusively reveal today.
The ivory weighing 262 kilogrammes was netted at Zurich Airport the following day, though. The consignment had left Dar es Salaam aboard a Swiss Air flight. Video footage captured by CCTV cameras show how the Chinese nationals, in collusion with two army corporals assigned to Tanzania Airports Authority to oversee security inspection at the airport, evaded detection and boarded a plane headed for Zurich in Switzerland with the ivory haul.
In what would amount to a serious breach of security at the country’s largest airport, the two Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) soldiers on duty looked the other way as the foreigners smuggled the ivory past the state-of-the-art detectors.
One of the corporals, who was in-charge of the screening desk on that Sunday night, appeared restless and frantically made phone calls shortly before the Chinese arrived at the airport, CCTV footage shows. Investigators are piecing together information in an attempt to find out who helped stage the crime.
The Citizen has learnt that the officer in charge of the screening facility was not on duty on that day but arrived a few minutes before the men arrived with their cargo. He left immediately after they boarded their flight.
The TPDF official, who is being watched closely at the Ngome TPDF headquarters, was apparently in charge of drawing up the duty roster for security personnel guarding the screening machines. His colleague, who has since gone underground, was also at the scanning point.
The CCTV footage shows the Chinese nationals placing the bags on the detectors. One of the TPDF soldiers lets the bags through. The suitcases, registered in the names of three Chinese citizens, were intercepted at Zurich Airport during a routine inspection of tourists arriving from Dar es Salaam.
Surprisingly, according to sources privy to JNIA operations, sniffer dogs used to detect contraband cargo on international flights were not at the airport on that particular night. Officials from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism were also not at their duty stations at the airport as the hidden ivory was carted away.
The absence of the sniffer dogs undermines a recent joint exercise by the Tanzania’s Wildlife Division and the WWF to train special dogs to detect ivory hidden in vehicles, buildings and luggage. The dogs graduated recently and are trained to disrupt the flow of illegal ivory smuggled to markets abroad.
The ivory scandal appears to follow a template from the July 2013 case when Tanzanian socialite Agnes Gerald alias Masogange was arrested with 120 kilogrammes of drugs in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The two soldiers and a security manager at the airport are among those being investigated. The manager, who had been held in a cell since Monday, was released on Wednesday.
The government launched an investigation over a week ago to establish how the 262 kilogrammes of ivory worth $413,000 (Sh826 million) were smuggled out. The case gives credence to reports that Tanzania is at the centre of elephant poaching and is also a transit point for contraband trophy.
A recent survey ordered by the government revealed that the elephant population in the country has plummeted as much as 40 per cent in less than five years. The mapping also revealed that 10 per cent of the animals could not be accounted for.
The government, development partners and tourist operators in the national parks and game reserves have taken several measures, including more surveillance and patrols using the latest technology, in an effort to fight poachers and reverse the deadly trend. The government now has more aerial and ground power to protect the animals but human collusion, such as the case at JNIA, may defeat the project.
There are now an estimated 470,000 African elephants living in the wild, compared to 550,000 in 2006, said Elephants Without Borders. China reportedly accounts for 70 percent of the demand for ivory worldwide. According to some non-governmental organisations, the Chinese “hunger” for ivory is responsible for the death of about 30,000 African elephants each year.
Last year, President Jakaya Kikwete said he was not happy with the security at key airports in the country.