Channel 4 is one of the UK's principal TV stations and its "Unreported World" programme has gone undercover to investigate how the increased Chinese presence in East Africa has lead to a huge increase in elephant poaching, with potentially devastating effects on tourism and the local economy.
A summary of its findings can be seen at the station's webpage and the following is some of the more shocking findings :
The team are told that poaching is highly organised and fuelling other crimes. Poachers are armed by criminal gangs, and then use money from their proceeds to buy more weapons.
They saw the mountain of ivory in two strong rooms - 65 to 70 tonnes, worth millions of US dollars. The tusks were impounded to take them off the market in the hope of killing demand, but an illegal trade continues. Officials tell that the Chinese are behind the trade, in which ivory is smuggled to the Far East to be made into trinkets such as chopsticks. It's alleged that Chinese embassy officials smuggle ivory out of the country in diplomatic bags that don't get checked. Then, astonishingly, it is alledged that when President Hu Jintao came on a state visit to Tanzania in February 2009, his officials left with up to 200 kilos of illegal, smuggled ivory.
Tanzania has a well-managed elephant population but the programme investigates claims that the government has covered up the loss of 30,000 elephants in the Selous Game Reserve. They travel to the village of Mloka, which is at the centre of poaching in the reserve. Criminals in the capital Dar es Salaam organise expeditions of up to 30 armed poachers, who travel in military vehicles so that they are not stopped in roadblocks, and leave with up to 300 kilos at a time.
One safari operator claims that the Tanzanian wildlife department is aware of what's happening and may even be turning a blind eye to the illegal trade. He also confirms allegations that buyers from China and the Far East are fuelling the trade.
The Chinese Government said that they are against the illegal ivory trade and denied allegations that Chinese diplomats illegally purchased and exported ivory by misusing diplomatic immunity in 2009.
Tanzanian's Acting Director of Wildlife, Obedi Mbangw refused to comment but the government has subsequentlyindicated that it will investigate the evidence gathered in the film.