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Looking to protect wildlife and forests from poachers, the Tanzania government plans to change from civilian to paramilitary strategies in wildlife protection, aiming to equip rangers with better skills in combating poaching of wildlife and forests.
The special training to involve key personnel in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, will transform mode of operation for wildlife and forest institutions into paramilitary units to reinforce the anti-poaching drive.
Anti-poaching training to compose military intelligence strategic plans will target protection of wildlife, mostly elephants and rhinos living in protected areas and those roaming freely in areas outside wildlife parks and game reserves and forests.
Protection of tourism resources through paramilitary tactics will also touch historical sites conserved for tourism development in Tanzania.
The Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA), and Wildlife Division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism are key government-controlled wildlife protecting units which have been equipped with the training.
TANAPA controls 16 national parks, NCAA operates independently as a conservation authority for the Ngorongoro Area which is comprised of the Maasai cattle herders, wildlife inside and outside the Ngorongoro Crater, and the Olduvai and Laetoli pre-historical sites.
The Wildlife Division controls 38 game reserves and open areas inhabited by wild animals within the boundaries of Tanzania.
Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Mr. Japhet Hasunga said over 100 civilian staff members in the Ministry of Natural Resources were trained on paramilitary last month.
Mr. Hasunga said the new approach would equip the staff under his docket with skills to protect wildlife, forests, and historical sites threatened by poachers and vagabonds.
The conservation staff members include managers from key departments who have completed an intensive paramilitary training recently in the Katavi region in western Tanzania and where poaching of elephants has been frequently reported involving Burundian poachers.
Introduction of paramilitary training for wildlife rangers and managers was necessitated by changes which poachers have been applying through high-tech communications and the application of military equipment to kill elephants and other endangered species.
“The paramilitary training encompasses a wide range of skills such as wildlife and forest conservation skills, proper use of weapons to curb poaching incidents as well as leadership and ethics,” the Deputy Minister said.
Infiltration to Tanzania of military weapons, mostly high-caliber guns from war-torn countries that neighbor to the Western Tanzanian regions of Katavi, Rukwa, and Kigoma has been a noted factor for rampant killing of African elephants in those areas.
The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Dr. Hamis Kigwangala, said earlier that the Tanzanian government, through his ministry, has been planning to introduce paramilitary training in key units charged with wildlife protection.
Poaching is an increasingly serious threat to wildlife in Tanzania, in particular the poaching of elephants for ivory. Controlling this problem has proven difficult due to a number of factors including the sheer size of national parks and lack of clear boundaries, as well as limited manpower and equipment to monitor and manage activities within wildlife-conserved areas.
The latest aerial wildlife census has determined that elephant numbers in Tanzania has declined from over 120,000 in the early 2000s to about 50,000 just 2 years ago.
More than 17,797 kilograms of illegally-exported Tanzanian ivory (4,692 elephant tusks) were seized at overseas ports during the same period.
There were 350,000 elephants in Tanzania when this African destination gained its independence from Britain in 1961, but the wave of intense poaching between 1970 and 1987 has left only 55,000 jumbos alive.
A recent census of the Selous-Mikumi ecosystem, one of the country’s biggest wildlife sanctuaries, revealed the elephant population had gone down to just 13,084, from 38,975 in 2009, representing a 66 percent decline.
A recent wildlife conservation study by the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) has indicated a decline in elephant poaching. The study attributed the decline in poaching in Tanzania as a result of the application of paramilitary strategies involving wildlife officers.
Research undertaken by scientists from WWF, the University of Vermont, and the University of Cambridge said there are economic losses that the current elephant poaching surge is inflicting on nature-based tourism economies in Africa.
The research shows that tourism revenue lost to the current poaching crisis exceeds the anti-poaching costs necessary to stop the decline of elephants in Eastern, Southern, and Western Africa.