Saadani — EVEN during the colonial era, preservation of wildlife in Tanzania had been an issue which has, all along, been taken seriously on account of its economic and recreation benefits to the tourist industry.
In fact, it is for this reason and others that national parks and forest reserves were established to ensure sustainability of the ecosystem in which living organisms flourish.For example, in order to achieve desired, abundance of particular species of wildlife, authorities needed to seriously embark on habitat management.
At a small settlement lying between Coast and Tanga regions on the country's coastline, one comes across Saadani, an ancient township where a unique wildlife conservation - the now famous Saadani National Park is found.
The area, gazetted as a national park in 2002, covers 1,148 square kilometres of land and another 30 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean. Having been a game reserve prior to its establishment, Saadani is a combination of land and marine flora in that the tourism attraction borders the sea.
Before the area was turned into a national park, former Saadani Game Reserve, established way back in 1968, through Parliamentary Act in 1974, it covered a massive 260 square kilometres of land area. In time, Mkwaja Ranch, formerly owned by Amboni Limited, was added to form the rapidly growing industry.
The ranch covered an area of 210 square kilometres. In the words of Allan Kijazi, Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) Director General, the country has tourism potential next to Brazil - contributing to 17.5 per cent Tanzania income per capita.
"We still feel that what is presently on offer is too low" he said, adding that more strides were on the drawing board to perform better. "Tanzania is the best avenue in Africa as far as the tourism industry is concerned.
Tell the world the opportunities that abound in our parks," said Kijazi at the opening of a five day seminar of journalists in Pangani recently. The awareness seminar, organised by Tanga Rural Environmental Journalists Association (TARUJA) - a newly established media institution for journalists reporting on rural and environmental issues in Tanga Region, was financed by TANAPA.
Kijazi told the journalists that acting as bridge between the wildlife institution - an entity under the Ministry as National Resources and Tourism, the members should educate the populace on the benefits available at TANAPAWe realise your contribution towards development of this country. But you should extend your activities further and ensure roles vested on TANAPA are understood by the community wherever they live," he asserted.
He said: "Avail to the community whatever is done by TANAPA - good or bad, make the community feel that the institution belongs to them." Conceding on the current wave of big time poaching in the country's parks, he called on all 'wananchi' to join forces not only in areas bordering TANAPA but also elsewhere, in the fight against the deadly vice.
"Journalists particularly, should strive to track down the network maintained by the bandits and understand how they operate in order to report effectively for the benefit of the country.'
To succeed in this regard, he said, journalists should work closely with villagers living in the surroundings of national parks who may be able to spot any queer characters and avail such information to journalists.
He told the seminar, also attended by representatives from villagers living next to Saadani National Park that all that TANAPA expected was change towards a better relationship between the villagers and the wildlife institution.
"Our language should be one - development of the country," he said, referring to the current border conflicts between the villagers and his organisation - a phenomenon which may also be surfacing in a couple of national parks in the country.
At Buyuni village, a settlement with 205 people, the villagers claimed that the institution's regulations had limited their movements. "Whenever we travel to Mkwaja for either treatment at a dispensary or visiting relatives, our movements are restricted to 6 pm," said Juma Mweruwesa, a fisherman who lives in the village. Buyuni village, like several others, is situated within the TANAPA buffer zone - 5 kilometres from the institution's common border.
In effect, TANAPA maintains the distance to allow animals to migrate freely, in an unthreatened environment as well as helping keep poachers at bay. Another villager, also a fisherman, said on the whole, the institution was good - "Our leaders here are to blame. Presently we do not have village chairman.
The one we had elected in 2010 involved himself in sale of land plots without consulting us, so we ousted him at a members meeting before he had completed his term of office," according to Akida Ramadhani.
At Saadani, a village next to Buyuni, a retired teacher who opted for anonymity, revealed that what the villagers in most villages surrounding the park wanted was committed leadership.
"Unfortunately, leaders at villages surrounded by the reserve are selfish, communicating with the district council and even TANAPA, without involving us on various issues with regard to development.
" Hassan Nguluma, Saadani National Park Conservator, said in order to maintain harmony, village governments neighbouring the park should be closer to people they led and educate them, sufficiently enough on the benefits of conservation of wildlife habitats.
As for us, TANAPA, we are readily available to extend whatever assistance that may be required by the villagers, he said, adding that through good neighbourhood gesture, TANAPA had built several public structures in villages surrounding the park Some of the facilities provided are secondary school classes, water projects, girl hostels, laboratory appliances, teachers and doctors living quarters and land plan use.
Villages which benefitted from the institution's helping hand include Kwamsisi, Mkalamo, Mbulizage, Msata, Saadani Saruga, Golegole and Buyuni (land use). During one of the errands, the journalists came across two lions mating - with the third one standing by, a situation which was of great interest to the news makers.
It transpired that a woman journo, after having had glimpse of the situation, called for the driver to stop and made a propelling movement to a spot where some of the newsmen could have a clear view of what was taking place. Nearby, two tourists on a car were taking pictures. Indeed, this scenario removes the conception that the king of the jungle can only be spotted in bigger and traditional parks, such as Serengeti.