Tanzania has sacked the most senior official responsible for managing its wildlife and two others over the illegal export of more than 100 live animals and birds from the east African nation’s game parks, local media reported on Tuesday.
In a case likely to damage Tanzania’s reputation for looking after its exotic wildlife – a lucrative draw for tourists – Obeid Mbangwa, the director of wildlife, and two subordinates have been accused of involvement in the smuggling of animals to Qatar in a military plane in November 2010.
“They have already been served with letters of dismissal,” state-run Daily News quoted the country’s Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Hamisi Kagasheki as telling a news conference in Tanzania’s political capital, Dodoma.
The minister, who was not available for comment later, said a criminal investigation was underway.
“The investigating team will travel to Qatar and … question the pilots involved, ascertain the legality of permits used and physically see the animals that were smuggled out of the country,” the minister said.
Tanzania’s sweeping savanna plains in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, teem with wildlife, drawing tourists who pay hundreds of dollars a night to stay in luxury tented camps.
Its tourism sector earned $1.471 billion in the year to June, making it the second biggest source of foreign currency after gold.
Members of parliament last year accused senior wildlife officials of smuggling giraffes, impalas, gazelles, hornbills, vultures and other rare wildlife out of the country.
More than 130 animals and birds were smuggled out of an airport in the north of the country where there are several national parks.
Like other countries across sub-Saharan Africa, Tanzania has seen a rise in poaching in recent years with criminals killing elephants and rhinos for their tusks which are used for ornaments and in some medicines, mostly in Asia.