Tanzania proud as principal lion habitat globally, but care is needed

21Sep 2020
The Guardian
Tanzania proud as principal lion habitat globally, but care is needed

JUST a few well exposed observers would have been in a position to know just how much the world owes to Tanzania in wildlife conservation, not firstly for our own efforts but natural endowment. But at present real effort is needed as the world now depends on Tanzania’s conservation-

-efforts to maintain, or perhaps also to boost, what is said to be rapidly dwindling lion populations worldwide. Tanzania is said to account for over 50 per cent of the biggest cats on earth, which presents a challenge on resource use, principally.


An example of what lies ahead, though an extreme case, is the way global hopes for conservation of the Amazon Forest both for absorption of carbon dioxide and also for its biodiversity are going up in flames. In other places around the world like the much less spectacular ecosystem in the western parts of the United States are also engulfed in fire for a different reason. In Brazil it is agricultural expansion by leaps and bounds, while in the US experts fault climate change for uncontrollable fires. We are still safe here.

Yet all is now well even in our case especially in relation to biodiversity generally and conservation in particular, with big cats like lions posing a special problem. To be able to maintain a semblance of primacy in conservation efforts, for instance if we are to specialize as the world’s biodiversity paradise for the sake of the tourism sector, some things will have to change as expansion of livestock rearing is incompatible with conservation. Settled agriculture is a problem as well, especially when we can’t move to intensive farming with high yield capacities, as different from expansive farming and low yields.

The conservation aspect in Tanzania, of big cats on the one hand and of the top five in the world’s endangered species generally, is in the second order of governance problems in that sector, the first being human-wildlife conflicts. With rising populations both of herders and farmers, it is hard to maintain conservation zones intact, so the government is having to reallocate portions of less important wildlife zones for farming and cattle rearing. The result is a gradual diminution of cohesive areas for wildlife movement out of seasonal needs, as water sources dry out in some spots and need to use other spots.

Outside direct reallocation of zones for agro-pastoral use, excessive proximity of settled areas and reserves is a problem, while its other more irritating face is proximity of agro-cultivators and nomadic pastoralists. A pernicious aspect of this problem is that it has a channel of exchanging coins where the sellers of cattle purchase peace from local administrators after any of their often repeated misdemeanors so peace is put at risk. Some will say there are fewer instances of that kind these days, but it still hurts.

Yet a note of alarm was being sounded by wildlife experts in the northern zone that at the rate at which the ferocious cats are being killed in ongoing human-wildlife conflicts on reserved corridors, Tanzania too could soon lose these important, but now endangered creatures. A seasoned researcher in the area,

Dr Bernard Kissui who studies lions within the Tarangire-Burunge-Manyara eco-system, says that the cats have been suffering attacks from local herders, along the Kwakuchinja wildlife corridor. If in nature substitute options don’t exist, when lions need corridors and can’t use them, what follows is decimation.

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