Tanzania has suspended its director of wildlife and two other officials over the illegal export of more than 100 live animals and birds from the east African nation's game parks, a government minister said.
Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Ezekiel Maige told parliament the government had also banned all licensed exports of wildlife for a year pending an investigation and review of procedures.
I have officially suspended the director of wildlife and two of his colleagues to pave the way for an investigation into the smuggling of the animals, Maige said late on Thursday.
Authorities allow game-hunting safaris and have licensed about 180 companies to engage in the export of live animals and birds.
Tourism, which fetched $1.28 billion last year for east Africa's second-largest economy, is the second biggest source of foreign exchange after gold exports for the country of 43 million people.
Parliamentarians had accused wildlife director Obeid Mbwangwa and two officials in his department of smuggling some of the animals they were supposed to protect, transporting giraffes, impalas, gazelles, hornbills and vultures valued at more than $100,000 aboard a military cargo plane from a Middle East country last November.
The 132 animals and birds were smuggled from an airport near Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak, in the north of the country where there are several national parks.
Like other countries across sub-Saharan Africa endowed with wildlife, Tanzania has suffered from increased poaching in recent years as criminals kill elephants and rhinos for their tusks which are used for ornaments and in some medicines.
Rampant poaching in the Serengeti -- a sprawling park in north Tanzania famed for its sweeping plains and vistas of Africa's most spectacular wildebeest migration -- in the 1960s and 70s saw the population of black rhinos in the country plummet from over 1,000 to just 70, denting tourist arrivals.