This comes in response to the increasingly aggressive approaches that poachers are taking to kill elephants and other endangered species, using high-tech communications and military equipment – mostly high-calibre military guns – brought in from war-torn countries that neighbour the Western Tanzanian regions of Katavi, Kigoma and Rukwa.
The special training is aimed at transforming the mode of operation for wildlife and forest institutions from civilian to paramilitary units, to reinforce the anti-poaching drive in the country. It will include military intelligence strategic plans, protecting not only wildlife – in particular elephants both in protected areas, and those roaming freely outside wildlife parks and game reserves and forests – but also tourism resources and historic sites conserved for tourism development in Tanzania.
Key government-controlled wildlife protection units including Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA), Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA), and Wildlife Division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, have already received training. Collectively, these organisations cover the majority of Tanzania’s wildlife-protection zones, with TANAPA controlling 16 national parks; the Wildlife Division controlling 38 game reserves and open areas inhabited by wild animals; and the NCAA operating independently as a conservation authority for the Ngorongoro area, which comprises the Maasai cattle herders, wildlife inside and outside the Ngorongoro Crater, and the Olduvai and Laetoli pre-historical sites.
Natural Resources and Tourism Deputy Minister, Japhet Hasunga, said that over 100 civilian staff members in the Ministry were paramilitary-trained last month: “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.”
Poaching has been on a frightening increase, with declines in wildlife numbers significant. The most recent aerial wildlife census showed that elephant numbers in Tanzania have declined from over 120 000 in the early 2000s, to about 50 000 just two years ago. During the same period, over 17 797kg of illegally-exported Tanzanian ivory (equating to 4 692 elephant tusks) were seized at overseas ports. Furthermore, a recent census of the Selous-Mikumi ecosystem – one of the country’s biggest wildlife sanctuaries – revealed that the elephant population had decreased to just 13 084, from 38 975 in 2009, equating to a 66% decline.
The challenges in controlling the poaching epidemic were due to the sheer size of national parks and lack of clear boundaries, and limited manpower and equipment to monitor and manage activities within wildlife-conserved areas.
But a recent wildlife conservation study by the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute showed a decline in elephant poaching, which has been attributed to the application of paramilitary strategies involving wildlife officers. This shows that such a tactic is delivering results, and is an assertive step forward in preserving Tanzania’s wildlife heritage.