Crime, Corruption, Funds: Tanzania’s Conservation Challenges

By Maraya Cornell

Recently, I interviewed the Tanzanian Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, Lazaro Nyalandu, for National Geographic News, inviting him to respond to charges that Tanzania isn’t doing enough to protect its elephants—charges that have surfaced with renewed urgency in the wake of catastrophic results from last year’s nation-wide elephant census.

Tanzania, which was estimated to have about why Tanzania’s elephants are disappearing.)

Nyalandu said that ivory poaching incidents were on the decline. But he also stressed that the crisis isn’t over, and more needs to be done for the elephant population to recover.

While I had Nyalandu on the phone, I asked him about some of the problems Tanzania has run into in its efforts to combat the elephant slaughter.

We talked about Tanzania’s notorious 2013 anti-poaching operation, legislation that would restrict research and freedom of information, an American NGO that was kicked out of the country earlier this year, and why Tanzania decided not to burn its ivory stockpile.

Tanzania used to be one of Africa’s elephant strongholds. Now it’s being called Africa’s “killing fields,” with more ivory flowing out of Tanzania than any other country. How did things get so bad?

We entered a very specific period of unprecedented poaching, unprecedented demand for ivory materials, but also much more coordinated illegal activities, with markets being in China and other Asian countries.

Those who were hired to go and slaughter these wild species, they were increasingly well-coordinated, very well-funded, using sophisticated equipment including military-grade weapons.

The poaching crisis really came to a climax in 2013 when the government ordered the Operation Tokomeza to get rid of the poaching cartels and poaching networks within the country.

Tell us about Operation Tokomeza.

It was a national anti-poaching crackdown, with game rangers, police, the military. But it was led by the military.

It didn’t go very well. There were —> Read More