Serengeti faces yet another silent but deadly poaching threat

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Once subsistence poaching has become large-scale and commercial, putting the Tanzania’s flagship national park of Serengeti under renewed pressure after a lull of two years.

Wildlife in Serengeti, the World heritage site, had started to recover from a decade-long ivory poaching spree, which almost wiped out the elephant and rhino population.

The Tanzanian Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) conducted the ‘Great Elephant Census’ in seven key ecosystems from May to November 2014 when it was discovered that the ‘poachers bullets’ had assassinated 60 per cent of the elephants’ population in just five years.

In actual figures, the final results of the census revealed that the Tanzania’s elephant population dropped from 109,051 in 2009 to merely 43,521 in 2014, representing the decline of 60 percent over the period under review.

The most likely cause of this decline is a dramatic upsurge in poaching in both controlled and open areas, which Tanzania has been struggling to contend with in recent years albeit with insufficient resources and technologies.

A report by the Environmental Investigation Agency has exposed that Chinese-led criminal gangs have been conspiring with corrupt Tanzanian officials to traffic huge amounts of ivory.

The illicit trade dubbed one of the most serious environmental crimes of the decade has led over a half of Tanzania’s elephants to be poached in the past five years.

Silent, but deadly Poaching

As if that is not enough, the probably forgotten, silent but deadly bush meat poaching within Serengeti Park is now putting the world’s greatest annual wildlife migration across East Africa’s plains under new threat.

The planet’s largest wildlife migration — the annual loop of two million wildebeest and other mammals across the Tanzania’s legendary national park of Serengeti and Kenya’s renowned Maasai Mara Reserve — is a key tourist lure, generating multi-million-dollar annually.

The Serengeti National Park Chief Warden, Mr William Mwakilema, confirmed that a yet neglected subsistence poaching is becoming a real threat, as local people have adopted wire snares to catch massive animals indiscriminately, thanks to human population growth.

According to Mr Mwakilema, official data shows that from July to September 2017 alone, a total of 790 various species of wildlife have been killed by the wire snares within Serengeti National Park, painting a clear picture of the scale of the threat.

Tanzania National Park’s (TANAPA) document seen by eTurboNews shows that a total of 500 wildebeests were killed during the period under review, followed by 110 Zebras and 54 Thomson gazelle.

Other slain wildlife animals included 35 Topi, 28 Buffalo, 27 Impala, 19 warthog and 17 Eland, the document indicates.

July was the worst moth as it saw a total of 376 wildlife animals slaughtered, compared to August and September when 248 and 166 were killed, respectively.

Yet another new report documented the snares-related wildlife catch by Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) from mid April to early October 2017, indicates that a total of 7,331 snares have been discovered and removed in Serengeti national park, meaning that in every months bush meat poachers set nearly 1,222 snares to hook animals.

FZS is, along with Tourism Investors, Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) other stakeholders, pioneering the De-Snaring program in Serengeti –– to suppress the new fatal poaching method.

Presenting the findings at the Tanzania’s founding Father Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s 18th death Anniversary organized by Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO), FZS Project Manager, Mr Erik Winberg, the De-snaring Program, which started in Mid-April, 2017, had discovered 384 animals trapped in snares of which about 100 were successfully rescued alive.

Going by the statistics, this means that at least 64 animals were being slaughtered every month by snares at Serengeti national park alone.

The magnitude of the challenge demonstrates the need for acting fast, given the high rate of snaring and losses incurred during the annual migration season.

Mr Winberg said that May, June and July were critical months, as poachers actively set snares along well-established migration pathways leading to the North, particularly at the Kogatende and other hot spots on the North Western part of the Serengeti.

“The De-Snaring initiative can mitigate huge losses of migrants and also give TANAPA rangers space to apprehend poachers,” he stressed.

The threat has left conservationists and tour operators stunned, prompting them to come together in their attempt, to not only remove, but also curb rampant snares to save the habitual migration – one of the most extraordinary movements of animals on earth, which has occurred without interruption for thousands of years.

This globally unbeaten spectacle has led Serengeti to be named the 7th Wonder of the World in the year 2008.

De-snaring Project

As a result, tour operators have resolved to contribute a multi-million dollar towards De-snaring campaign to honor an outstanding contribution of the Nation’s founding father, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere on the drive.

Dubbed, ‘De-snaring Progam’, the project’s objective is to fight against the rampant snares set by local bush meat mongers to catch massive wildlife within the country’s flagship national park of Serengeti.

Being funded by tourism investors, the project, the first of its kind, was inaugurated in Arusha, the country’s designated safari capital, during the commemoration of 18th Anniversary of Mwalimu Nyerere death, organized by Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO).

“The de-snaring project is a dedication for Mwalimu Nyerere, our revered nation founding father, for his incredible efforts in conservation drive, through which we currently harvest tourists dollars” said TATO Chairman, Mr Willbard Chambulo.

Mr Chambulo, credited as the brain behind the project, made a passionate call to all tour operators to donate only a dollar to support the Serengeti De-snaring Program, as part of their appreciations to Mwalimu Nyerere’s outstanding contribution in conservation drive.

“Mwalimu Nyerere had a myriad options, but decided to keep abundant natural resources, until we Tanzanians are knowledgeable enough to benefit. He conserved flora and fauna where we are now reaping tourist dollars” TATO chief explained.

Mwalimu Nyerere had left a legacy which today made nature based tourism the top foreign exchange earner in the country as the industry brings home $2.05 billion annually, equivalent to 17.2 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Indeed, Tanzania has dedicated nearly 30 per cent of its surface area of 945,203 square kilometers to wildlife conservation, an area bigger than German country, thanks to late Mwalimu Nyerere’s insight.

Serengeti De-snaring project is being implemented by, among key stakeholders in Serengeti such as Frankfurt Zoological Society and Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA)

According to TATO’s Councilor spearheading conservation drive, Ms Vesna Glamocanin Tibaijuka, Serengeti wildlife population is facing yet another deadly threat as local people are silently using snare to catch massive wildlife.

Snare is a small-scale poaching method targeting wildlife species for bush meat, including the abundant wildebeest.

Deadly traps in use, however, catch many other wild animals mostly elephants and predators waylaying the wildebeest.

At the helm of the team with members from villages surrounding the Serengeti ecosystem, mostly ex-small-scale poachers themselves, is a retired ranger with the TANAPA, explained the FZS Program Manager for Africa Region, Mr Gerald Bigurube.

The teams zoom around the ecosystem in collaboration with the Serengeti National Park’s rangers to collect the snares before they cause harm to wildlife animals.

The gains the De-Snaring initiative has so far registered call for the backing of various stakeholders for it to cover other areas of the Serengeti ecosystem as well, noted the Program Coordinator, Ms Vesna Glamocanin.

Much as the tour operators’ activities heavily rely on the welfare of the Serengeti ecosystem, concerted efforts towards conservation of the ecology is the surest way of sustaining both the Tanzania’s wildlife heritage and the tourism industry, said Chief Executive Officer with TATO, Mr Sirili Akko.

Voluntary donations and those accrued from hoteliers’ bed night fees as well as camp operators’ charges will also contribute to the funding of the unique and useful conservation cause with a sustainable future for the tourism value chain.

The plan is also expected to reduce rampant poaching in western Serengeti where the TANAPA Director General, Mr Allan Kijazi, said between 200 and 500 wildebeests were slaughtered annually.

“This is the minimum figure, but the number can be even higher. We’re worried that if this trend goes unabated, the wildlife survival will be at great risk,” Mr Kijazi noted.

A UN Conservation Program (UNEP) and World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) joint report indicates that at least 200,000 various animal species are killed annually in western Serengeti.

The document says the rise in appetite for bush-meat has also been partly driven by the growing local population.

Official statistics shows that the Serengeti’s sprawling western boundary is densely populated with the number of farmers and herders settling on the buffer zone estimated at 3,329,199 in 2011.

Agriculture has encroached on the park’s boundaries and consequently what once was subsistence poaching has now turned into a large-scale commercialized vice.