THE District Commissioner for Handeni, Mr Muhingo Rweyemamu, has said that forest officers at Gole and Kitumbi will undergo military training in a quest to sharpen their skills as custodians of forest reserves.
Trained guards, he said, will patrol and protect wildlife more professionally. The DC also says that the forestry authority plans to recruit more guards directly from graduating National Service soldiers who already may have requisite military skills. We must mention at the outset that Mr Rweyemamu’s move to protect wildlife is praiseworthy.
The effort should be emulated by all leaders who have wildlife sanctuaries in their districts. With the hundreds of poachers marauding in our game reserves, it certainly should take military skills to flush them out. Some poachers, we are told, have equally smart military skills.
Many come swaggering into our national parks armed with military style weapons. Others drive deep into animal territory in all-terrain motor vehicles. They tot frightening high-velocity combat rifles. So, it will take trained soldiers with smarter combat skills to defeat them.
Ordinary game wardens appear to have failed. It is also apparent that Tanzania has apportioned to wildlife a vast area in square kilometres. At the same time the nation has a shortage of wildlife management officers. This is a stiff challenge in anti-poaching efforts.
About 40 per cent of the country’s territory has been dedicated to wildlife and forest conservation, which is approximately 159, 817.02 Sq km out of 945,000 sq km of national territory.
So, due to a lack of manpower in conservation, one guard has under his patrol an area of 168 square kilometres which is quite high compared to International standards which require one person to manage only 25 square kilometres. This shows that the size of the area under conservation at the moment is a huge challenge.
We need more human resources. The current workforce in game and forest reserves covers only 24 per cent of the actual requirement which stands at 4,000 people.
The government’s goal is to have all 4,000 guards on the ground by 2016. These should be trained and equipped adequately.
Poaching in this country has reached dangerous proportions with the elephant population plummeting to 13,084 from about 38,000 in 2009.
This is alarming, to say the least. Anti-poaching efforts must be scaled up. Several campaigns in the past have seen temporary success.
Campaigns such as Operation Kipepeo and Operation Tokomeza brought down nearly all poachers. More than 2,000 suspects were apprehended and a lot of guns, ammunition and other implements of war seized.
But the campaigners have laid down their weapons and the felons are out of their lairs again. The campaigns should be re-ignited.