Tanzania's $2 billion-a-year tourism sector, which depends heavily on wildlife safari, is the biggest foreign exchange earner, but there are growing clashes between wildlife populations, farmers and livestock keepers.
Conservationists described the latest mass poisoning of lions and endangered vultures near the Ruaha National Park as a "devastating scene," with the scavengers killed after eating a poisoned cattle carcass.
"Six lions ... had been killed, apparently from poison, as they were all found close to a scavenged cattle carcass," the Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP), part of Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), said in a statement.
"This event had additional tragic consequences, with dozens of critically endangered vultures found dead or badly affected ... they eventually found 74 dead vultures as well as the six lions."
Four other sick vultures were taken to the Ruaha National Park for treatment. One died shortly after arrival, but the others are currently doing well, it said.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism has confirmed the wildlife carnage, saying authorities were investigating the poisoning of the lions and vultures.
"It appears as if someone poisoned a carcass after lions attacked cattle. Alarmingly, poisoning is a common response to conflict," said the Ruaha Carnivore Project, which is monitoring lion populations in Tanzania.
"Cattle are extremely important to local people and carnivores can cause major economic and cultural hardship when they attack stock – and when people don’t benefit from lions, it is unsurprising that they resort to killing them."
This is not the first time that livestock keepers and farmers have poisoned “destructive” wildlife such as lions, leopards and elephants.
In 2014, a herdsman near the Ikona Wildlife Management Area (WMA) poisoned to death seven lions after they attacked his cow.
“It is also vital to secure the Wildlife Management Areas and – probably most important of all – make sure that local people receive real benefits from wildlife, so they eventually see them as more of an asset alive than dead,” the RCP said.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Maj. Gen. Gaudence Milanzi, said the lions were possibly poisoned after they attacked cattle.
An investigation launched by the government has been able to nab one suspect, with samples of the poisoned lions and vultures taken to the Chief Government Chemist Laboratory to identify the type of poison used.
“I can confirm that six lions were poisoned in the wildlife management area just outside of the Ruaha National Park. We are investigating this incident,” he said.