Tanzania: Govt Records Roaring Success in Curbing Poaching

One of the five rhinos translocated to Rwanda from European zoos feed on arrival at Akagera National Park on June 24, 2019.

The murder of Roger Gower on January 31, 2016 had put the tourism sector in jeopardy.

The British helicopter pilot had been tracking poachers on Friday in Maswa Game Reserve when elephant poachers fired on his helicopter, killing him after he managed to land the chopper and injuring Nicky Bester his South African colleague who took cover in a thicket.

Such an incident had somewhat tarnished the country's image, with players in the tourism sector questioning government's commitment to the anti-poaching drive.

The stakeholders of the 2bn/-a year-industry, voiced their concern on the future of tourism in the country in the wake of the attack, saying the government's anti-poaching drive left out much to be desired.

The players went further saying poachers had evidently become a real threat and it was crystal clear that they had overpowered the government if the tactics they used were anything to go by.

"Never had we witnessed such a tense period to our wildlife," recalls Dr Christopher Timbuka, Southern Zone conservation commissioner.

According to Dr Timbuka, poaching had become so rife in national parks and protected areas in the country, with wildlife criminals killing and butchering wildlife at will.

The situation changed, thanks to the government's crackdown on poachers.

To start with, Tanzania's park and game reserve rangers teamed up with members of the United States Army's 43rd Civil Affairs Battalion, a component of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, and North Carolina National Guard, to conduct anti-poaching training from July to September 2016 in Rungwa Game Reserve.

Training involved teaching field techniques like first aid and movements to increase the rangers' ability to catch poachers.

Tanzania also partnered with non-profit organisations such as the Grumeti Fund (GF) to rescue more than 1,000 wild animals in the Serengeti ecosystem.

The Fund, whose mission is to contribute to the conservation of the ecosystem, successfully removed 1,392 snares used by poachers in trapping and ultimately killing wild animals in the area.

The animals were mostly trapped and poached either for bush-meat and ivory, particularly from elephants.

"Together with our Tawiri and Tanapa partners we saved a number of injured animals from their human induced injuries in 2018, but snaring remains one of the greatest challenges in the Serengeti ecosystem," said the GF in a report published in April last year.

Apart from removing snares from the wild animals, the Fund also managed to seize 187 traditional weapons used by suspected poachers traversing the area as well as achieving a 50 percent success rate in arrests using covert cameras.

"Working with communities to manage human-wildlife conflict is critical, not only for the success of our day-to-day activities, but for the future of people and wildlife. With an increase in both human and wildlife populations comes more strained interactions and the pressure on organisations such as ours to find solutions for this impending crisis mounts," it added.

The icing on the cake, perhaps, was the 2019 sentencing of Yang Fenglan, a Chinese businesswoman nicknamed the "Ivory Queen", to 15 years in jail for smuggling hundreds of elephant tusks. Yang was accused of operating one of Africa's biggest ivory-smuggling rings, responsible for smuggling $2.5m worth of tusks from 400 elephants.

Two Tanzanians were also found guilty of involvement in the ring. Such convictions and arrests excited players in the tourism sector.

"We were happy to see the government going for the big fish in curbing the vice," asserted Sirili Akko, Executive Secretary of Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (Tato). Interventions indeed have paid dividends as the number of wildlife have started bouncing back.

While moving a speech to dissolve the Parliament in Dodoma last week, President John Magufuli said the number of Jumbos roaming national parks and other conservancies had risen from 43,000 in 2015 to 51,000 last year, while the rhino population, which in the recent past, decimated from over 10,000 individuals to just about 100 rhinos, rebounded from 162 in 2015 to 190 in 2019.

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