The two-day UN-backed conference, which opened Friday, aims to develop strategies to stem elephant poaching in Tanzania, a top safari destination determined to protect its prized wildlife but struggling to stop sophisticated organised criminal gangs.
“Approximately 30 elephants a day are killed… at this rate the population will be exterminated by 2020,” said the Tanzanian Elephant Protection Society (TEPS), an independent conservation group.
Tanzanian Vice President Mohamed Gharib Bilal painted a bleak picture as he opened the summit, asking for international assistance in battling the increasingly well-organised and equipped poaching gangs.
“Organised and intricate poaching networks in and outside the country sustain this illegal trade, thus making it difficult for Tanzania alone to win this battle,” Bilal said.
Tanzanian police late last year launched a crackdown on suspected poachers amid a spate of elephant and rhino killings, operating under what was reported to be a shoot-to-kill policy and making sweeping arrests.
While poaching rates dropped drastically, the operation was shut down because of allegations of harassment, rape and murder of suspected poachers.
At least 19 people were killed and over 1,000 arrested in the crackdown, according to a government investigation. Once it stopped, elephant killings soared again.