The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ms Shamsa Mwangunga, is expected to face a hard time at the ongoing international convention in Doha when conservationists corner her to explain Tanzania's controversial move to seek a lifting of the ivory sale ban.
Opponents of the proposed sale of ivory by Tanzania and Zambia took fresh hope and made snide remarks over comments attributed to Ms Mwangunga, when she let it slip that only part of the proceeds were to go to conservation, leaving the question open where the balance - and in fact what balance, major or minor – was to go.
Opponents of the application to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), have in the past alleged that the two CITES members, Tanzania and Zambia, were not paying enough attention to the regular trend of increased elephant poaching.
They noted that just as soon as the ban on trade in ivory was partially lifted, as seen most recently when Southern African countries won such concessions, poaching of elephant increased fourfold over the space of two years in Kenya, in spite of increased anti-poaching patrols.
The same opponents also asserted that the proceeds would in any case not benefit conservation bodies and activities 100 per cent, an allegation now apparently confirmed by the poorly thought-out comments of the Tanzanian minister.
The opponents were expected to use this lapse by Mwangunga to make more noises at the March 13-25 CITES Doha conference, while others may yet seek clarification from the minister exactly what proportion of the proposed sales proceeds was to go to conservation, where the balance of such funds would be diverted to, and why not all such funds to go to conservation.
As one delegate asked: "Just where are we with poaching numbers in Tanzania? And when poached tusks are confiscated, is this also then becoming legal ivory stocks by government definition?"
Some 11,615 signatures have been procured on a petition against the sale by leading East African and international conservationists.
The Kenyan minister responsible for wildlife has been exempted from a travel ban imposed on the Kenyan cabinet by President Kibaki to permit him to attend the meeting.
Kenya is expected to lead the opposition formulated by 23 African nations against the lifting in any form of the ban on the trade in ivory, which has been termed in some quarters as a showdown between Kenya and Tanzania.
The row is part of a much wider struggle between different schools of thought when it comes to conservation and in particular the protection of elephants.
Anti-sale pressure groups were already in full action to lobby support from major global players, with several of them just concluding a tour of the United States and Europe, while the pro-sale groups were largely counting on the support of countries like China and Japan.
As the CITES conference progresses, observers said it would be interesting to see how the debates go and if the CITES secretariat will be able to stay fair and just, contrary to allegations made in the past that it (secretariat) is biased towards selling ivory stocks.
Delegates at the Doha meeting were expected to decide, among other proposals, whether to grant requests by Tanzania and Zambia to lower the protection status of their elephants, allowing them to conduct one-time sales of stockpiled ivory.
Such sales, however, according to an international team of scientists and conservationists, could lead to the increased slaughter of elephants for their ivory throughout Africa.
CITES is an international agreement between the governments of 175 member countries. Its goals center on ensuring that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
Scientists argued that the convention should reject requests to conduct the sales, which are supposed to be on ivory taken from dead animals or those culled under legal animal control efforts.
In the past, such sales, they argued, have created a demand for ivory on the black market, where the substance fetches prices 10 times those obtained in legal auctions.
This leads to poaching and threatens to reverse the recovery of African elephants observed since the ban on international ivory trade was put in place two decades ago.
The scientists said that Tanzania and Zambia are major sources and trafficking corridors for Africa's illegal ivory, demonstrated by tons of contraband ivory seized in 2002, 2006 and 2009.
DNA sampling on the 2002 and 2006 seizures traced the majority of that ivory back to those two nations.
In the last 30 years, African elephants have declined to about 35 per cent of their original numbers, and their population today stands at less than 500,000.