Tanzania: Serengeti Ecosystem - Ikorongo/Grumeti Protection for Economic Benefits

THE Western Corridor, or Serengeti west as you might call it-is a stretch of land following the course of the Grumeti River from Serengeti Central for about 100 kilometers out towards Lake Victoria.

Once here, as far as ecology and tourism in Western Serengeti might be concerned, there is no other option if you love nature, but to only think of sustainable conservation of the Ikorongo/Grumeti Game Reserves (IGGRs).

Here, the wildlife-rich reserves form integral part of the great Serengeti ecosystem, which is home to the big five (Lion, Rhino, Leopard, Elephant and Buffalo - roaming freely in their own habitat is something you will never forget) and further make Tanzania the most eligible wildlife conservation area any serious stakeholder should think of.

By their nature, the IGGRs are also part of the Serengeti - Maasai Mara ecosystem through which migratory herds, including wildebeest, zebra and Thomson gazelles, from Ngorongoro and Serengeti National park, pass every year from May to July on their way to Maasai Mara in Kenya.

Thus, any destruction of these reserves may lead to disruption of the great migration. In an exclusive interview with this newspaper recently, Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority (TAWA) Manager Laurent Martin Katakweba in the Lake Zone was of the opinion that "the ecology of Serengeti is incomplete without the presence of Grumeti/Ikorongo Game Reserves."

He further described the game reserves covering approximately 993.4 square kilometers as potential in terms of wildlife population, investment and income generation.

"The situation of wild animals in the game reserves is excellent. Most importantly, both game reserves have the Big Five, besides other beautiful wild animal and different species of birds worth watching.

"These animals were named the Big Five because they are not only among the most poached animals, but also the most difficult and dangerous to hunt on foot," he added.

Ikorongo and Grumeti were declared Game Controlled Areas (GCAs) vide Government Notice No. 209 published on 8th November 19974.

The purpose of these GCAs under Mara Regional Administration was to form a buffer zone with the Western part of the Serengeti National Park and to protect the migratory route. Ikorongo GCA had an area of 3000 km2 and Grumeti GCA 2000km2 together making a total of 5000km2.

For effective protection of wildlife and migratory route, IGGRs were upgraded to Game Reserves status vide Government Notice No. 214 published on 10th June 1994.

In the course, there were further reductions of boundaries, including evacuating some local communities, leaving Ikorongo GR now to cover an area of 558.9km2, while Grumeti GR covers an area of 484.5km2 together making a total of 993.4km2.

The game reserves are also unique due to a beautiful landscape of large plains with short grasses which make good visibility for wildlife viewing.

"Any game reserve sheltering the big five definitely attracts investors," the seasoned Tanzanian wildlife expert pointed out.

The scenic beauties of plains, hills, riverine forests and abundant wildlife species as well as rare and endemic species present including great migration of wildebeest are exceptional tourist attractions in the reserves.

"Photographic tourism is much dominant in the reserves. Activities that are being carried out mostly here are game viewing, birds watching, walking safari, bush breakfast, sun down and balloon safaris.

Also due to good terrain of the area, night game drives are conducted," further said a TAWA report.

In the past decades, the game reserves have been lucky to have a role model investor, who has had significant contribution to conservation and local development in Western Serengeti, which includes Ikona Wildlife Management Area (WMA).

Mr Katakweba named the investor as Grumeti Reserves Ltd, an eco-tourism company that operates world class luxurious lodges and photographic tourism within the concession areas of Ikorongo/Grumeti and Ikona WMA.

Ikona is tipped to be Tanzania's wildlife rich, according to WMA in terms of wildlife and income generation.

In the past five years (between 2015 and 2020) for example, the WMA generated more than 8.5bn/- as revenue to the government, and directing also a great part as support to community development projects.

Elaborating, Mr Katakweba said the American investor has valuable contribution to the community development, prevention of poaching and sustainable conservation at IGGRs and the WMA.

He added, "We are planning to introduce a new product called SWICA (Special Wildlife Investment Conservation Area) and Grumeti Reserves qualifies for this special investment."

In his remark, he pointed out that part of Grumeti Reserves investments income goes to Serengeti and Bunda District Councils to support the development projects, including improvement of social service, adding that as much as 25 per cent of revenue goes to Serengeti and Bunda.

Equally, Serengeti District Council has been getting an approximately 200m/- from hunting revenue every year.

Interesting however, much as the American investor has invested in tourist hunting in the concession areas, his main concern is conservation of wildlife and not hunting them.

"As Tanzania marks 60 years of independence, we are proud of this huge investment that continues to give us foreign currency for national development," the TAWA official said.

Despite income generation, sustainable conservation of the game reserves is imperative in protecting the Serengeti National Park given their geographical location.

In other words, IGGRs act as a buffer zone with the Serengeti National Park that is one of the most important and famous protected area on earth.

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