Scores of livestock keepers and farmers who have invaded a forest reserve on Longido mountain in Longido district, Arusha region have been ordered out.
The striking massif, located about 20 kilometres from the Namanga border town and 80 km north of Arusha, is a protected area and source of water for the district headquarters and adjacent villages.
The officer in charge of Lands and Natural Resources department Eliya Samson Maiko told reporters last week that people who would not obey the order will be evicted by force.
"There is a significant number of people who have settled on the mountain to cultivate and graze cattle. That is unacceptable because this is a protected forest and a source of water", he said.
He added that overgrazing of animals was already a major concern there and was courting a disaster in the drought prone district where large herds of livestock perished in 2009/2011 after a prolonged drought.
Although he could not give figures, the official said there was a significant number of new settlers high on the mountain with the forest zone now having patches due to vegetation clearing.
The 2,637 metre high mountain also hosts wild animals, including members of the Big Five; leopards, elephants and buffaloes and is one of the three gazetted forest reserves in Longido district; the two others being on Kitumbeine and Gelai mountains in the Lake Natron basin.
The district forest officer Jacob Oforo Lyimo said tree felling for charcoal production was equally worrying and that it has been accelerated by the big demand of the fuel wood in Arusha city and Namanga town.
He added that the district authorities are working in collaboration with the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to enhance conservation of natural resources in the district through the wildlife management areas (WMAs).
In recent years, Longido has also attracted tourists, mainly tourist hunters bringing in the badly-needed cash to the local communities where the six hunting blocs are located and the district council.
The area also falls under the cultural tourism programme aimed to support the local Maasai people and support their lifestyle and culture. The programme is managed by the Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB) and covers a dozen other districts in the northern zone regions.
The district has two WMAs where villagers enjoy funds generated from hunting and tourism. Longido has 39 villages and 95 per cent of its inhabitants depend on livestock for their livelihood.
According to the official, 40 per cent of funds received from the ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism is channeled to conservation and 60 per cent for general expenditure.
The acting district executive director Ramadhani Musiba said the district has prepared a land use plan for all the villages and that it will include demarcation of village boundaries. The villagers are also sensitized to embrace participatory forest management (PFM) practices through the support of the African Wildlife Fund (AWF).