Tanzania’s Modest Proposal: Shoot Elephant Poachers On The Spot

The illegal ivory trade could be as much of a boon to armed rebel groups as it is bad for elephants. But is summary execution ever a good idea?

Tanzania, ground zero of Africa’s elephant poaching epidemic, is considering a controversial bit of legislation aimed at punishing the hunters that are wiping out 30 to 70 Tanzanian elephants a day. It’s just a teensy more severe than a regular old fine or jail time: On Friday, Tanzania’s Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Khamis Kagasheki, suggested that the only way to get rid of poaching was to shoot poachers on the spot.

Tanzania boasts as much as a quarter of all the elephants in Africa, but by some estimates, the country’s lost more than half its elephant population since 2007. Between 2009 and 2011, Tanzania ranked as the top exporter of black market tusks in the world.

"I am very aware that some alleged human rights activists will make an uproar, claiming that poachers have as much rights to be tried in courts as the next person, but let's face it, poachers not only kill wildlife but also usually never hesitate to shoot dead any innocent person standing in their way," Kagasheki told AllAfrica.com.

Kagasheki’s position, and the bill itself, marks a quick about-face from this time last year when the Tanzanian government asked the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) if it could sell off more than 100 tons of its massive ivory stockpile and decrease protection for the elephants still roaming the country’s ample grasslands. After already having been rejected by CITES in 2010 for requesting a similar move, Tanzania withdrew the proposal in January of this year.

Check out these amazing photos of forest rangers doing their best to protect Africa's endangered animals.

Kagasheki’s modest proposal also comes on the heels of a $10 million investment from the Obama administration in African anti-poaching efforts. The U.S. government likely isn’t only concerned about the welfare of the elephants: Non-governmental organizations like the Elephant Action League draw attention to the fact that ivory trafficking often funds armed rebel groups, including al-Shabab, the group behind the horrific attacks on Nairobi’s Westgate mall.

Just last month, Hillary Clinton announced an $80 million investment from the Clinton Global Initiative to combat African ivory poaching. The former Secretary of State also mentioned al-Shabab as a link to the lucrative, ecologically devastating trade.

Tanzania wouldn’t be the first country to allow shooting poachers on sight. The Indian state of Maharashtra has also decriminalized shooting poachers of tigers, but the efficacy of that policy is questionable: This past year, Maharashtra hit a three-year high in the number of tigers killed for their skins.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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  • Dan

    Could they create a hunting license to kill the poachers?  I mean, $1000 to hunt for 1 week and kill all the poachers you can?  Sure, you'll get some freaks who want to do this (pro-elephant, pro-death, pro-gun, and rich enough to fly to Tanzania and pay for the whole week of hunting which would require vehicles, guides, food, etc.) but it could prove interesting!  And if you have no takers or if it gets out of control, well, just shut it down.

  • Anthony Reardon

    I watched a pretty amazing documentary about this and it is clear that killing the poachers will not solve the problem. It's a demand side issue that is so compelling, nothing you can do will stop it. You kill one and another will step in to take the risk. Yet, if you can relieve the economic hardship or match the profit incentive, you can go a long way to mitigate poaching. In the documentary, a lot of the rangers getting paid to protect the elephants were actually former poachers that jumped at the opportunity to work for the other side.

    Back to the demand issue, the documentary points out that the demand from Asia was the predominant culprit, and that illegal smuggling was occurring by taking advantage of political relationships and diplomatic confidentiality/ immunity. That is solvable IMHO. The harder part of the problem is affecting the traditional religious and socio-cultural dynamic in Asia that promotes the ivory industry. Some efforts are being made in that direction, but they are truly half-assed. We can do better as a society to focus on the root cause.

    Best, Anthony