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.
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.