The large Chinese Government and business delegation on the visit used the opportunity to procure such a large amount of ivory that local prices increased.
The illegal ivory trade has caused half of Tanzania's elephants to be poached in the past five years, a new report reveals. Even diplomatic visits by high-level Chinese Government delegations have been used to smuggle ivory.
In Vanishing Point - Vanishing Point - Criminality, Corruption and the Devastation of Tanzania's Elephants, released on the eve of a major regional wildlife crime summit in Tanzania, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) details how the country's elephants are being slaughtered in vast numbers to feed a resurgent ivory trade in China.
According to the report, "international criminal syndicates are ruthlessly exploiting rising corruption and weak governance in Tanzania to plunder the country's unique natural heritage."
"Corruption is a key enabling factor at every stage of the ivory trafficking chain: from game rangers who provide information on patrol patterns and the location of elephant herds, to police officers who rent out weapons and transport ivory, to the Tanzanian Revenue Authority (TRA) officers which allow shipping containers of ivory to flow out of the country’s ports.
Chinese Presidential, naval vists boost ivory sales
In December 2013, an official visit by a Chinese naval task force to Tanzania's capital city port of Dar es Salaam spurred a major surge in business for ivory traders, with one dealer boasting of making US$50,000 from sales to naval personnel.
But not all were so fortunate: One Chinese national who was working with naval personnel was detained on the evening of December 30 "while trying to enter Dar es Salaam port in a truck loaded with 81 elephant tusks weighing 303kg concealed under wood carvings." He is now in jail on a 20-year sentence after being unable to pay a $5.6 million fine - ten times the value of the ivory.
Earlier that year, in March, the visit of a large official delegation accompanying Chinese President Xi Jinping to Tanzania created a boom in illegal ivory sales:
"The large Chinese Government and business delegation on the visit used the opportunity to procure such a large amount of ivory that local prices increased. Two traders claimed that a fortnight before the state visit, Chinese buyers began purchasing thousands of kilos of ivory, later sent to China in diplomatic bags on the presidential plane."
One of them explained to investigators: "The price was very high because the demand was high. When the guest come, the whole delegation, that’s then time when the business goes up." He added that the price per kilo in the market doubled to US$700 during the visit."
The trade cost Tanzania 10,000 elephants just in 2013
Tanzania is the largest source of poached ivory in the world and China the largest importer of smuggled tusks. Tanzania's world famous Selous Reserve has seen its elephant population plunge by 67% in just four years, from 50,000 animals to 13,000.
Based on available evidence, Tanzania has lost more elephants to poaching during this period than any other country - 10,000 in 2013 alone, equivalent to 30 a day.
EIA Executive Director Mary Rice said: "This report shows clearly that without a zero tolerance approach, the future of Tanzania's elephants and its tourism industry are extremely precarious.
"The ivory trade must be disrupted at all levels of criminality, the entire prosecution chain needs to be systemically restructured, corruption rooted out and all stakeholders, including communities exploited by the criminal syndicates and those on the front lines of enforcement, given unequivocal support.
Top Tanazanian politicians in on the deal
Vanishing Point further reveals how some politicians from Tanzania's ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party and well-connected businesspeople use their influence to protect ivory traffickers.
In 2013, former Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Khamis Kagasheki named four CCM MPs as involved in elephant poaching and stated: "This business involves rich people and politicians who have formed a very sophisticated network."
A year earlier, a secret list of the main culprits behind the crisis was handed to Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete by intelligence sources, containing the names of prominent politicians and businesspeople regarded as untouchable due to links to the CCM.
Most people on the list have not been investigated further or arrested.
Warnings about Chinese officials ignored
As far back as 2006, EIA investigators were told by suppliers at the Mwenge Carvers' Market in Dar es Salaam that some Chinese Embassy staff were major buyers of their ivory.
An official of Tanzania's wildlife department even offered to sell the investigators tusks from the Government's ivory storeroom and to put them in touch with a dealer who could provide ivory from the Selous Reserve.
Investigations in China also highlighted the role of the Government in the trade, particularly state-owned ivory carving factories and stores. EIA investigations exposed the dubious origin of ivory sold by a Chinese company in Guangzhou, Yue Ya, which supplied ivory to Government-owned Friendship Stores.
"Further", states the report, "it was reported that between 1990 and at least 2004, illegal ivory seized by the Chinese Government was sold to the domestic market and, in November 2004, authorities in Guangdong province auctioned almost a tonne of illegal ivory to domestic traders."
Mary Rice said: "All trade in ivory, including all domestic sales, must be resolutely banned in China which has failed to comply with CITES ivory controls."
The Summit: The Government of Tanzania's Regional Summit to Stop Wildlife Crime and Advance Wildlife Conservation takes place on November 7-8, 2014.