Tanzania: Political Will in War Against Poachers Is Slowly Paying Off


Attilio Talagile, The Citizen (Analysis)

Date Published

The statement by the permanent secretary in the ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism about the government’s intention to establish a paramilitary force to deal with poaching must have sent cold shivers in the spine of poachers.

Speaking to state broadcaster TBC in an interview on Thursday last week, the permanent secretary, Major General Gaudence Millanzi, said the government was going to introduce paramilitary unit in order to turn poaching into history.

General Millanzi’s statement appears to be the ministry’s implementation of a directive issued by President John Magufuli at the end of October this year, when he said the fight against poaching must get to a stage where would-be poachers would run away, whenever they see an elephant in the wild, instead of going for its tusks.

The President made the statement when he was visiting the ministry of Natural Resources headquarters at the Mpingo House, in Dar es Salaam.

In the course of his discussions with the army general, the president asked, “Do you fear poachers?

And the army general responded, “With your support, I don’t… I will go for them.”

When the President was announcing his new cabinet early this year, he said he had decided to appoint an army general as permanent secretary in the ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism because he wanted him to go for poachers.

Through his statement to the TBC, it’s clear the army general has finally laid his war plan on the table.

And the would-be poachers would be best advised to look for other activities if they want to keep their precious lives.

A few months ago, Prof Jumanne Magembe, minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, advised would-be poachers to look for other jobs if they cherished their lives.

What was encouraging about General Millanzi’s statement last week was the government’s plans to improve the living conditions of those entrusted with the difficult task of protecting animals, and especially so, in the game reserves like the Selous where the situation is somewhat different compared to those working in national parks where conditions are far better on account of their structure.

The improvement of working conditions in the army general’s statement was extremely important.

Indeed, it does not make sense to entrust a young man or woman with the task of protecting dangerous animals in the wild under equally dangerous conditions.

For after military conflict, the second most dangerous job is to protect animals like elephants, buffaloes, rhino and others that equally see human beings as nothing more than enemies.

And it’s more serious in a wild like the Selous Game Reserve where animals like elephants and rhino are already used to being hunted by poachers for their tusks and horns.

Because of endless hunting for such animals, almost for the last three decades, elephants and rhinos in the Selous have become so used to seeing guns, hence their increased hostilities against human beings.

According to a wildlife expert, because being continuously hunted, elephants in the Selous Game Reserve were at one time reported to have even changed their eating pattern, preferring to feed at night and hiding in deep forests where human beings dare not get to during the day.

Now you don’t expect game rangers or the proposed paramilitary force to protect animals that know that they are being hunted by poorly, armed young men and women who live in poor working conditions.

The permanent secretary’s statement about the government’s intention to improve working conditions for protectors of wild animals reminded me to what I had witnessed in the Selous Game Reserve recently during a boat ride in the morning on Saturday, October 29th 2016.

We were riding downstream, away from the Stiegler’s Gorge, very close to the bank when we came across a naked, game ranger bathing, without a care in the world, with his feet standing on a rock protruding from water. It was scaring, to say the least, for barely a few metres away from the lone, bathing, young man, we had spotted a large herd of buffaloes, and before that, a group of crocodiles, enjoying the morning sun.

Of course, we all know that game rangers are well trained and they know how to tell from a lurking danger, moments before they are pounced on.

But what is so difficult in getting a piped water from the river which could ultimately save these young men and women from turning themselves into meals for crocodiles?

After seeing the young, bathing man, we all (in the boat) decided that, the man we had just spotted was a game ranger because just a few metres away there were game rangers huts.

Finally, we seem to be getting away from cavalier way with which we left our precious wild animals at the mercy of poachers.

Mr Tagalie is an author and media consultant based in Dar es Salaam.