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Tanzania seems to have opted out?

Sunday 6th February 2011

Tanzania seems to have opted out?

A while ago, I wrote a blog on another website asking the question – Whose wildlife is it anyway?

Consider the question carefully. Our collective nations duly attend Conventions on Biodiversity where politicians express woe at the constant loss of species on our planet and “promise” to do more to save them. At CITES conferences the impact of trade in greatly distressed wildlife species is discussed and then disregarded. The IUCN sits back and refuses to upgrade species to their due endangered status -  as those species have not lost enough members over the last artificially IUCN designated number of years to “qualify”. Certain conservation organizations produce glossy reports based on hype and spin and there is little positive progress.

Is it really “our” heritage?

Meanwhile, we are losing our collective wildlife heritage at a great rate. Or is it really ours to consider collective? The answer would appear to be no.

Despite our wish to conserve global biodiversity, it is individual nations who are entrusted with the care of species within their borders. Some do well, and others do very badly. For those that do badly, well, it is your country, but just let the rest of us know that you have other priorities. It would save money and effort that could be spent elsewhere for greater positive outcomes. But meanwhile you will be held accountable.

African nations rely on utilization by tourists and hunters to justify the existence of their wildlife. In the absence of utilization it has no value they say, and we are all supposed to accept that. Meanwhile, huge amounts of dollars and euros and pounds are donated to the concept of conservation.

Tanzania especially seems to be souring on any such concept. Over the past years, many facts have emerged that should lead us to suspect that the Government has either given up on efforts to conserve wildlife and forests, or is cashing in on what remains for short-term gain. Among these reports are the following:

• Many tonnes of illegal ivory shipments have been seized in Hong Kong for example, all originating from Tanzania. This indicates not only a very high level of elephant “poaching” (can it be called poaching if the Government is involved?) but also a very high level of complicity by wildlife authorities and customs officials at least. It would seem to me difficult to ship container loads of ivory out of a country unless aided and abetted by authorities?
• There have been reports emerging of private hunting reserves in Loliondo with airstrips large enough to handle private jets flying hunters in and out from Gulf States. Private security guards patrol the area to keep things a bit secret, and members of local communities caught trespassing are dealt with severely. Animals are allegedly shot with automatic weapons, and trophies exported without any controls.
• Tanzania has long allowed hunting in the Selous Game Reserve, and recent reports have emerged that excessive levels of lion hunting there has effectively destroyed the population. The author of the report broadly hinted that Tanzania is using trophy hunters to decimate lion populations in the Selous and other hunting blocks as a means of population control verging on eradication, earning considerable sums from trophy fees in the mean time. In response to criticism, the Tanzania wildlife authorities recently imposed rules for shooting underage males with penalties for professional hunters who allow clients to do so. It remains to be seen if there are the means and the will to enforce this new rule – the penalties are small compared to potential earnings, and the means by which a “legal” age will be established for a trophy require equipment and expertise seemingly not available.
• Tanzania, despite international protests by the public and many scientists alike, will continue with plans for construction of a highway across the Serengeti National Park. Despite dire warnings that this vehicle traffic will severely affect one of the few remaining mass seasonal migrations involving millions of animals on earth, and despite alternate (albeit more expensive) routes for the highway being available, the Serengeti highway will go ahead.
• Marine fish from fragile coral reef environments are allegedly regularly harvested with the use of dynamite, despite the practice having been declared “illegal” some time ago.
• Tanzania ranks among nations with the highest level of corruption. Given the pervasiveness of such corruption, bribery, and influence-peddling among all other nations, this achievement of a world level of corruption has to be seen as a worry.

Tanzania is not alone

There are probably more examples than these that can be given to reinforce my opinion that Tanzania has opted away from interest in terms of conserving wildlife. I hasten to add that in Africa there is a depressingly long list of similarly uninterested countries from North to South and from West to East. To LionAid the seeming trend in Tanzania is especially worrisome as this country was considered 10 years ago as home to the largest number of lions on the continent. Maybe not anymore, as nobody knows the current status?

So I come back to my statement – whose wildlife is it? Is wildlife a world heritage involving a responsibility for those nations like Tanzania that still have significant populations to conserve for all? As a national responsibility even without the input of finance from international tourism? Maybe. African nations will not conserve just because their delegation has attended a world Biodiversity Conference. If they express an interest to adopt a realistic and positive long-term conservation vision backed by their active promise of involvement it is up to us to support and aid. But as I said above, please let us know if your nation does not want to participate and give us your reasons why. Clarity always makes for better informed decisions where to place funding, tourism, and effort?

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Posted by Pieter Kat at 20:48

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