Elephants in Tanzania

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Who can protect Tanzania's Wildlife?

In the last five to ten years, there has been a movement away from the community conservation that I believe in so strongly.

Firstly there is the move by ex-pats, foreign investors and even a well known wildlife NGO towards the Southern African model of private game reserves and ranches. The second is the move by the Wildlife Department to disenfranchise the local Masai  owners by legislating against communities being able to directly benefit from wildlife on their village lands.

To me this is asinine, because if the communities are not directly empowered then they will not have the will nor the resources nor the reason to protect wildlife and habitat in their lands.
Mzee Longidu, Lemooti village

Further I believe that the further removed from the people on the ground, those that live daily with the wildlife, in this case the Masai themselves, the greater there is for corruption to take hold and for elephants and other wildlife to be decimated.

This is only too true when we look at the levels of government within Tanzania looking after wildlife in Tanzania. Firstly there is the Tanzanian National Parks (TANAPA) that look after sixteen parks, and in my opinion are probably the most credible National park system anywhere in the world. It is rare for any wildlife to be poached when under the control of TANAPA.

The other organization which has control of all wildlife outside the parks is the Department of Wildlife, and they have had running battles and disputes with the local communities and photographic safari operators like ourselves from the mid nineties.  The Wildlife Department is also the governing body that issues hunting licenses, including licenses for elephants, hunting quotas, hunting concessions and now in a recent push are trying to take control of all monies usually paid to communities.

To have the organization that controls hunting to be also in control of quotas and concession allocation, only breeds fertile ground for corruption. I have seen this with my own eyes.

Wildlife outside the parks has become big business, now photographic tourism accounts for 70% of all tourist revenue whilst hunting is the balance. This is the exact opposite to what it was ten years ago.

To see how detrimental this is to Africa’s elephants, almost half of all the elephants in Africa occur in Tanzania, out of that 110,000, approximately one third are found in the Selous Game Reserve and surrounding Game Control Areas.

Bull elephant, near the Sand River, Radilen WMA

Unlike the National Parks, the Selous is run by the Wildlife Department, with a smaller northern area set aside for photographic tourism and the rest for hunting. It is here that 30,000 elephants have been poached or hunted in the last five years. The population had decreased in the Selous from 70,000 in 2006 to just over 35,000 in 2010.

Compared that with the parks that are managed by TANAPA. Ruaha in the south has over 36,000 elephants and in the north of Tanzania, in the Serengeti and Tarangire, where there are about 7,000 elephants, and these populations are growing. The elephants that are killed in the north are usually those that  strays outside the park into game reserves, game controlled areas or hunting blocks, all under the direct control of the Wildlife Department.

The further we head away from grass roots conservation and hands on management, the closer we get to corrupting influences. With me, everything is about involving the communities at the ground level, and I believe this is why we have been successful with the local communities in the north of Tarangire over the last 20 years.

July 1996, Community Conservation Area Foundation 
meeting, Boundary Hill, Tarangire

The only effective way to stop poaching on a wholesale scale is by empowering the communities not only with the training of community game scouts and rangers, but by allowing them to manage the revenues generated by the tourism and the wildlife on their lands.

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