Arusha — Tanzania has authorised the use of drones in Tarangire National Park in a hi-tech battle against poachers who threaten the country's multi-billion dollars wildlife tourism industry.
Covering an area of 2,600 square kilometers, Tarangire National Park in northern Tanzania, is best known for its large herds of elephants that can be seen in groups of several hundred individuals along the main river valley during the early wet season.
An initial six-month deployment of Super Bat DA 50 and the required ground and monitoring equipment at the sixth largest national park in Tanzania, is expected to provide real time information about poaching raids.
The move follows an extensive trial taken place late last year over Mkomazi National Park near the border with Kenya and the results were overwhelming, apparently encouraging the Ministry to expand the scope of the project.
In an exchange of letters with the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation (TPSF), the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism has sanctioned a drone in an anti-poaching operation in Tarangire, to start with.
"I would like to inform you that the ministry has authorised the proof of concept to go ahead," reads a letter to TPSF signed for ministry's permanent secretary by one Keraryo H.W dated April 21, 2016.
This operation will be carried out by Bathawk Recon, a Tanzanian start-up intending to develop and deploy this technology in countries affected by poaching.
To assist with procedures and other security issues, the letter seen by BusinessWeek reads, officials from Tanzania People's Defence Forces (TPDF) will be attached at each station where Un-manned Aerial Vehicles (UAV's) will be deployed.
Experts agree that aerial surveillance is one of the required capabilities to defeat the poaching threat and to maintain wildlife security in the longer term.
But what type of surveillance is most effective amongst all the choices? Bathawk Recon director Mike Chambers says UAVs are the surest way of the future as the cost benefit is hugely advantageous.
Bathawk Recon's operational plan is called big ground because they are proposing a larger UAV with greater range, endurance and most importantly detection technology.
"We have selected the Super Bat DA-50 made by Martin UAV in the US in the six month operation that will include, a fully functioning operation, fully trained operational personal and a ranger protocol program" Mr Chambers told BusinessWeek here.
According to Mr Chambers, this kind of drone has day and night capability which will enable surveillance to be deployed any time, any place in the protection area leaving no place for poachers to hide.
"This will enable us to survey greater areas and protect larger parks and reserves. The concept will find poachers and illegal intruders and lead rangers to the location." Mr Chambers explains.
Bathawk Recon's plan for the Tarangire is to establish UAV anti-poaching as a viable technology and the best choice for wildlife protection aerial surveillance.
However, this initiative could face a hurdle as Tanzania National Parks (Tanapa), an autonomous custodian of all 16 parks in the country, says that they wouldn't allow drone in the national parks' skies.
Tanapa spokesman Pascal Shelutete told BusinessWeek that the ban against all kind of UAVs imposed two years back was still valid and there was no way the drone could be allowed to fly over any national park.
Indeed, since 2014 Tanzania's national parks' airspaces had been declared no-drones flying zone, as the authority banned the high-tech machines in its bid to intensify security in the wake of escalating poaching.
"As of November 6, 2014, the use of the UAVs of different sizes for any purposes is not allowed in the national parks for security reasons," reads part of Tanapa's statement.
Tanapa though didn't specify the so-called security reasons; there was a speculation that poachers could use the gadgets for mapping out places where elephants and rhinos concentrate in the sprawling national parks.
Mr Shelutete says UAVs are the latest high-tech tools with which officials are not conversant with its operations, leading to the fear of jeopardising security.