For the first time in history, the tour and hotel operators have officially committed themselves to become responsible tourism players by supporting conservation initiatives in the country’s national parks.
They started walking their rhetoric by contributing a patrol vehicle worth $90,000 (about TSh200 million) to a conservation initiative dubbed Serengeti De-Snaring, the brainchild of Mr. Willbard Chambulo, the owner of Tanganyika Wilderness Camps (TWC).
“This program will spread all over the 16 national parks, but we’ve started here in Serengeti where snaring has become yet another major threat to our wildlife,” explained Mr. Chambulo, who doubles as the Chairman of the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO).
Snaring is a small-scale poaching method targeting wildlife species for bush meat, including the abundant wildebeest.
Deadly traps in use, however, catch many other wild animals, mostly elephants and predators waylaying the wildebeest.
The Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) is, along with other stakeholders, carrying out the De-Snaring program in Serengeti – the Tanzania’s flagship national park – to suppress the new fatal poaching method.
With the stakeholders’ initial contributions, the program has already set up 2 anti-snaring teams currently operating in the national park.
“The physical ground operations have been very successful, as over 350 snares have been discovered and dismantled in 3 weeks of ‘training’ operations, and 5 poachers’ camps have been reported to Tanzania National Parks’ (TANAPA) anti-poaching unit,” Mr. Erik Winberg from FZS said.
The magnitude of the challenge demonstrates the need for acting fast, given the high rate of snaring and losses incurred during the annual migration season, which is under way.
Mr. Winberg said that May, June, and July were critical months, as poachers actively set snares along well-established migration pathways leading to the north, particularly at the Kogatende and other hot spots in the northwestern part of the Serengeti.
“The de-snaring initiative can mitigate huge losses of migrants and also give TANAPA rangers space to apprehend poachers,” he stressed.
The hatched plan is to have 8 teams deployed within the Serengeti ecosystem alone.
At the helm of the teams with members from villages surrounding the Serengeti ecosystem, mostly ex-small-scale poachers themselves, is a retired ranger with the TANAPA, explained the FZS Program Manager for the Africa Region, Mr. Gerald Bigurube.
The teams zoom around the ecosystem in collaboration with the Serengeti National Park’s rangers to collect the snares before they cause harm to wildlife animals.
The gains the de-snaring initiative has so far registered call for the backing of various stakeholders for it to cover other areas of the Serengeti ecosystem as well, noted the Program Coordinator, Ms. Vesna Glamocanin.
Much as the tour operators’ activities heavily rely on the welfare of the Serengeti ecosystem, concerted efforts towards conservation of the ecology is the surest way of sustaining both the Tanzania’s wildlife heritage and the tourism industry, said the Chief Executive Officer with TATO, Mr. Sirili Akko.
It is in this backdrop that the TANAPA, FZS, and members of the private sector operating in the ecosystem have penned a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a view of flagging off the ambitious de-snaring campaign.
Voluntary donations and those accrued from hoteliers’ bed night fees as well as camp operators’ charges will also contribute to the funding of the unique and useful conservation cause with a sustainable future for the tourism value chain.
The plan is also expected to reduce rampant poaching in the western Serengeti where the TANAPA Director General, Mr. Allan Kijazi, said between 200 and 300 wildebeests were slaughtered annually.
“This is the minimum figure, but the number can be even higher. We’re worried that if this trend goes unabated, the wildlife survival will be at great risk,” Mr. Kijazi noted.
A UN Conservation Program (UNEP) and World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) joint report indicates that at least 200,000 various animal species are killed annually in the western Serengeti.
The document says the rise in demand for meat has also been partly driven by the growing local population.
Official statistics show that the Serengeti’s sprawling western boundary is densely populated with the number of farmers and herders settling on the buffer zone estimated at 3,329,199 in 2011.
Agriculture has encroached on the park’s boundaries, and consequently what once was subsistence poaching has now turned into a large-scale commercialized vice.