Conservation interests in the Selous should not be compromised: TAWA

27Nov 2016
The Guardian Reporter
Guardian On Sunday
Conservation interests in the Selous should not be compromised: TAWA

In 2014, the Government of Tanzania established Tanzanian Wildlife Management Authority (TAWA). This is through the requirement of Section 8 of the Wildlife Conservation Act Number 5 of the year 2009 made by the Parliament of Tanzania.

The major mandate of the authority is management of wildlife resource outside the Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority.

The authority has taken over the wildlife management roles formally undertaken by the Wildlife Division in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. The Wildlife Division remained with the policy, cordination and regulatory role of wildlife resources management in the country.

On October 16, 2015, the government inaugurated the Authority and its Board of Directors, to reinforce conservation activities including the fight against poaching. In this regard TAWA is entrusted to overseeing all 28 Game Reserves, 42 Game Controlled Areas, four Ramsar Sites and 38 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs).

The land coverage is close to three times larger than the area managed by TANAPA and Ngorongoro all together. Among the game reserves that TAWA is overseeing is Africa’s largest game reserve—the Selous Game Reserve, a World Heritage Site with 50,000 square kilometres. However, the game reserve is facing a number of challenges. TAWA Acting Director General Martin T. Loibooki granted an interview to LUCAS LIGANGA where he explained various challenges facing the game reserve. Excerpts…

Q: There are plans to mine uranium in the Selous Game Reserve, to source water from Kidunda Dam and to develop hydropower generation from Stiegler’s Gorge. Don’t you think the development of these projects could interfere with the conservation of this reserve, which is a World Heritage Site? Aren’t there any alternatives to undertake these projects outside the Selous Game Reserve?

Provided the government is the initiator of such undertakings, the Wildlife Conservation Act No: 5 of 2009 allows exploration and exploitation of uranium and hydrocarbon (oil and gas) in game reserves including the Selous Game Reserve.

Moreover, prior to the undertaking, environmental impact assessment should be conducted according to the Environment Management Act and all relevant costs and fees paid.

On a similar note, the exploration and exploitation of uranium and hydrocarbons and other similar development undertakings such as the Kidunda Dam project and the Stiegler’s Gorge hydro-electric power project conducted in the game reserve are subjected to environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA).

Project proponents are obliged to implement the Environmental Management Plan developed during the EIA to mitigate all the environmental impacts.

In the case of the Selous Game Reserve which is a World Heritage Site the EIA and ESIA process should be done in consultation with the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and its advisory bodies. TAWA together with the National Environment Management Council (NEMC) monitors the implementation of the Environmental Management Plans.

In the context of uranium exploration, as a preparatory measure, a national inter-ministerial team of multi-disciplinary experts has been formed with a key duty of monitoring the operations of the Mkuju River Project. The team comprises of experts in areas of radiation physics, biodiversity, mining, water resources, sociology and occupational health and safety.

With reference to disaster preparedness, detailed information was provided in the approved ESIA for Mkuju River project report, which was shared with the World Heritage Committee. Both ground and surface water monitoring has been undertaken at Mkuju River project to obtain baseline information and facilitate subsequent monitoring.

Generally, we are determined to cooperate with our conservation partners to adhere to the Wildlife Conservation Act No. 5 of 2009, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Convention and other legislations pertinent to conservation and sustainable wildlife utilisation to ensure that conservation interests in the Selous Game Reserve as a World Heritage Site are not compromised.

In future it is our plan to undertake strategic environmental assessment (SEA) for the Selous Game Reserve to comprehensively identify the cumulative impacts of the various existing and proposed developments both within and outside the reserve.

Q: During my recent visit to the Selous Game Reserve I saw a good number of elephants and other animals, a sign that the situation was returning to normal following President John Magufuli’s new anti-poaching drive. Generally what is the current situation of poaching in the Selous? Could you propose best measures to completely curb poaching in the game reserve?

A: Surely, conservation efforts made and in progress by his Excellency President Magufuli are bearing fruits. The fact that he recognises great efforts made by our game rangers during day and night is giving us strength. The government has from time to time given support in bringing down the poaching syndicates.

In his inaugural speech of the 5th Parliament of the United Republic of Tanzania, the President openly and strongly showed his political will to fight poaching, especially elephant poaching. With the added support from the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Prof Jumanne Maghembe and the Permanent Secretary, Major General Gaudence Milanzi, poaching in the Selous Game Reserve is almost contained.

The government has made and continues to take decisive actions in combating poaching, and TAWA is in the forefront of the war against poaching. Progress made so far made by TAWA together with other key stakeholders in fighting poaching includes:

• Formation of the National Multi-Agency Task force Team (MATT) in 2015 on intelligence and investigation incorporating the Ministry of Home Affairs, Wildlife Sector, Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Energy and Minerals and State Security. Together with other responsibilities, the task force is dealing with illegal trafficking of wildlife products.

• Approval of the national anti-poaching strategy (2014). The East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), of which Tanzania is a member, are also finalizing their own anti-poaching strategies.

• In 2015 the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) to train and use sniffer dogs for inspection of ivory and other wildlife products at exit and entry points such as airports, harbours, bus terminals and warehouses. This initiative has led to the confiscation of illegal trophy of different animals at the Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam.

• Formation of a national task force on intelligence and investigation that comprised of the Tanzania Police Force, TAWA, state security, Attorney General’s office and players in the wildlife sector.

• Conducted several cross-border meetings between Tanzania and Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia, and Malawi. These meetings have variably facilitated a regional sharing of information on intelligence crime networking, enforcement operations, and crime investigations and allowed planning for joint and/or concurrent operations.

• In November 2014, the government of Tanzania in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF) hosted a regional summit on stopping wildlife crime and advance wildlife conservation in the eastern African region. The summit deliberated on actions that the region would take to stop illegal trade in wildlife and better manage migratory wildlife and shared ecosystems. Among key successes of the summit was the adoption of the Arusha Declaration on Regional Conservation and Combating Wildlife/Environment Crime. Tanzania was able to attract development partners committed to providing financial and physical resources support for fighting poaching.

• In an effort to combat illegal wildlife trade from the source country to destination, the United Republic of Tanzania and the People’s Republic of China signed a bilateral cooperation on wildlife crime prevention in July 2015. This is in accordance to CITES convention where it encourages countries to cooperate in fighting against illegal wildlife trade.

• In June 2014 the government undertook an aerial elephant census in major ecosystems across the country. This was done jointly with the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, Vulcan from the United States and the Frankfurt Zoological Society from Germany. The census in Selous-Mikumi ecosystem revealed an estimate of 15,217 elephants which is high compared to the previous estimate by 16.3 per cent. This indicates that the elephant population is stable, since last census.

Back to your question, TAWA thinks that the best measure to eradicate poaching in the Selous is by disbanding and bringing down all poaching syndicates in the country, tightening laws by giving heavy punishment for the poachers, strengthening intelligence, investigation and prosecution.

Other ways and means of fighting poaching in the Selous Game Reserve include:

• The financial and technical support from the German Government through KfW, FZS and WWF in which the government is undertaking the Selous Ecosystem Conservation and Development Programme (SECAD). The project worth 18.8 million Euros is aimed at strengthening law enforcement, developing and improving infrastructure for both law enforcement and tourism, and supporting local community.

The preparation of this programme is currently in final stages. The priorities of this programme include:

• Collecting baseline information for both elephant and rhinoceros populations which will help in the improvement of the management of the Selous Game Reserve.

• Preparation of a Desired State of Conservation for the Removal (DSCOR) of Selous Game Reserve from the list of World Heritage in Danger.

• Preparation and implementation of the Emergency Action Plan (EAP) to halt poaching within the large Selous ecosystem.

• Strengthening intelligence and undercover operations to make sure all poaching groups around the reserve are disbanded.

• Working with communities around the Selous Game Reserve to collaboratively curb poaching. This will be fruitful through strengthening conservation efforts in the established Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) around the reserve and along the wildlife corridors. The WMAs are Mbarang’andu, Chingoli, Kisungule and Kimbanda located in the Selous Niassa Corridor.
• Strengthening cost benefit sharing of the wildlife resources with communities around the game reserve.
• Media involvement to help raise conservation awareness to communities.

TAWA is inviting all stakeholders to work together in the provision of field gear required by game rangers to undertake their work to protect the wildlife. We further appeal to communities to reveal information that will lead to the arrest of the poachers and disrupt their syndicates. The media will be a very great tool to fighting poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking both inside the country and abroad.

Q: The Rufiji Basin Development Authority (RUBADA) was entrusted to develop hydropower generation from the Stiegler’s Gorge but that idea was dropped in 1978 reportedly because of the Uganda war. Surprisingly, RUBADA abandoned a garage with worn out vehicles and buildings in the reserve, making the place look like a war torn area with lots of debris. How do you think this place could be cleaned? Is there any way of forcing RUBADA to clean the area?

A: The Stiegel’s Gorge hydropower project involves governmental and non-governmental organisations and the private sector as well. Currently, some assessment including EIA and ESIA are underway to determine the impact of the project to the environment to ensure it does not compromise the conservation interests. The assessment processes are participatory as per requirements of the Environmental Management Act No 20 of 2004 and the World Heritage Committee operational guidelines. In line with these efforts we will be working in collaboration with RUBADA to implement the environmental impact management plan.

Q: After years of poaching, there is relatively stable condition following anti-poaching efforts. Do you foresee the return of animals, especially the African elephants, in large numbers in the Selous Game Reserve?

A: The recovery of large numbers of wildlife especially key species like elephants, rhinos and lions is our conservation milestone. With the current trend of controlled poaching, elephant’s population will be recovered to its former glory. Elephant’s gestation period is close to two years (1.8 months), envisioned doubling of the population is possible in 10 years. This is however, subject to other environmental factors like availability of pastures and breeding grounds. Further, TAWA in collaboration with other conservation and security agencies are implementing the national anti-poaching strategy, which has proved to be successful in combating poaching.

Q: Do you think there is political will in President Magufuli’s administration in fighting poaching? How? Were past administrations committed to fighting poaching?

A: Tanzania is among a few countries rich in wildlife managed in-situ (in protected areas) in Africa. Tanzania’s commitment on wildlife conservation was made clear in the Arusha Manifesto released in 1961 by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the founding president. Nyerere stated in the manifesto that “The survival of our wildlife is a matter of grave concern to all of us in Africa. These wild creatures amid the wild places they inhabit are not only important as a source of wonder and inspiration but are an integral part of our natural resources and of our future livelihood and well being.”

The commitment of Tanzania towards conservation of wildlife and its habitat is now reflected by size of its protected areas network. The wildlife protected area network covers over approximately 24 per cent of the total land area. It consists of 16 national parks under TANAPA, the Ngorongoro conservation area, 28 game reserves, 42 game controlled areas, four RAMSAR sites and 38 wildlife management areas (WMAs).

The poaching scourge has been emerging now and then for quite a long time. Different government administrations have also been taking responsive actions. For example in 1976 the elephant population was estimated at 109,416 but rampant poaching in 1970s and 1980s led to decline in population numbers.

In 1986 and 1989 elephants were estimated at 55,000 and 30,000 respectively. The government launched the famous Operation Uhai in 1988/89 which helped elephant populations to recover to an estimated 67,000 in year 1998.

Again in 2000s poaching re-emerged, the elephant population went down to 38,975 in the Selous-Mikumi ecosystem. The population was recorded at 13,084 and 15,086 in 2013 and 2014 respectively. The government again came out with stringent measures including the Operation Tokomeza. Each administration had its style of fighting poaching.

The current administration has come up with a more active way of fighting poaching. For instance, the recent reaction of President Magufuli when he visited the headquarters of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism to support anti-poaching efforts after arresting poachers with 50 tusks was enough inspiration. This has sent a clear message to the poachers inside and abroad that poaching in Tanzania has no more space.

Q: In 2014, if I am not mistaken, the World Heritage Committee inscribed the Selous Game Reserve on the List of World Heritage in Danger citing widespread poaching. What other reasons were given to inscribe the reserve on the list of World Heritage in Danger? What the government is doing to pull out the reserve from the list, especially now that poaching has to some extent been controlled in the game reserve? How long will that process take?

A: In 2014, the Selous Game Reserve (SGR) was inscribed in the List of World Heritage in Danger. This decision was reached by the World Heritage Committee (WHC) in its 38th session following rampant poaching of wildlife that was threatening the Reserve’s Outstanding Universal Value. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee urged the government of Tanzania to collaborate with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to develop the Desired State of Conservation for the Removal (DSOCR) of the property from the List of the World Heritage in Danger. Further, in its 39th Session in Bonn, the World Heritage Committee urged the government of Tanzania to prepare a short term emergency action plan (EAP) to remedy the threats to the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. The EAP is specifically, required to focus on strengthening law enforcement and implementing a site-specific anti-poaching strategy aimed at halting poaching within the “Larger Selous Ecosystem” in 24 months.

In an endeavour to meet the requirement, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism with the assistance of FZS and WWF has developed and submitted DSOCR to WHC and the preparation of the EAP is at final stages.

TAWA emphasis is more actions on the ground to intensify intelligence, undercover operations, arresting of poachers to ensure that elephant population is regained. TAWA is also collaborating with other security agencies like police and immigration to make sure that poaching in the country is contained. Initial observations indicate that poaching is now reduced with 2013 and 2014 counts indicating that elephant populations have stabilised.

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