TOURISM & ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION

by Mark Gillies

The past few months have been a quiet time for Tanzanian tourism and conservation with no new crises to face, but plenty of on-going struggles.

Perhaps with an eye to the potential damage done to the Tanzanian tourism industry by cost increases of 2016, the Tanzanian Tourism Board was reported by ATC News on 14 March as being very busy at this year’s annual ITB trade show in Berlin, signing marketing representation agreements with companies in the three key source markets of the US, UK and Germany.

The job of these companies will be to promote the tourist destinations of Tanzania & Zanzibar whilst also liaising with tour operators and travel media in those source markets. Up until this point, hotel owners and tour operators have been forced to shoulder this burden privately with little support from the TTB. No details are yet known because the companies are only due to submit their business plans to the Tourism Board in the middle of the year, but it will be interesting to see if Tanzania’s story begins to be told in a more professional and comprehensive manner.

Although Tanzania’s appeal as a tourist destination remains strong, significant negative news stories remain available for the consumer to digest.

The widespread failure of the short rains last year and the subsequent drought across parts of East Africa has brought famine to Sudan, conflict to Kenya’s Laikipia Plateau and tension to Tanzania. Interestingly, echoes of Laikipia can be found in the 3 January Citizen report by Lilian Lucas that described the lake of rain in Morogoro Region and the reported death of almost 4,000 cattle. Responding to the deaths, Regional Commissioner, Dr Kebwe Steven Kebwe, consoled pastoralists who had lost cattle but ordered police in the region to co-operate with local militias in removing pastoralists cattle from farms. He also ‘turned down’ a request from local pastoralists to graze cattle in Mikumi National Park, advising instead that the applicants tend their pasture better next year.

Readers of TA and the wider media are now sadly familiar with the threat to the sustainable management of Tanzania’s natural resources posed by poaching. Elephant, lion and giraffe have all featured in the headlines of late, so it is with a certain glum weariness that we add the grumbling hippo to this tragic list.

IPP Media reported how in December, National Geographic released a report entitled ‘Fighting the Underground Trade in Hippo Teeth’ which detailed how poaching gangs in Tanzania, and other African countries, are killing hippo for their teeth, which are then carved into intricate patterns and sold to yes, you guessed it, the Chinese market.

The last census of the Tanzanian hippo population was conducted in 2001, so very little is known about current numbers and any losses from either poaching or reduction of habitat due to human expansion. When asked about the threat, the Director of Wildlife in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Prof. Alexander Songorwa, stated that no hippo teeth can currently be exported legally from the country, except those acquired as a result of licenced sport hunting, but that the Department was soliciting funds and working on methodologies to combat any problem.

If the news of a new victim is always down-heartening, then reports of new initiatives in the protection of Tanzania’s natural heritage are always good to receive. This is particularly so when the news puts Tanzania on the cutting edge of technological development.

For the past few years, drones have been an increasing menace when deployed above the herds of the Great Migration, to use but one example. However, Bathawk Recon (http://bat-hawkrecon.com/) are proving that a much more sophisticated version can definitely be a force for good.

Bathawk Recon is a new private initiative based in northern Tanzanian established with the aim of using drone technology and surveillance techniques to oppose poaching operations across Tanzania and other African nations. Capable of flying during the day or the night, the drones can cover vast areas, protecting the wildlife below by spotting poaching teams and directing law enforcement teams into the affected area with pin-point accuracy. Furthermore, when contact is made with the poachers, the eye-in-the sky makes sure that no poachers are able to escape; all the while remaining unseen itself.

Have a look at the company’s videos; the potential is very exciting. One just hopes that should Bathawk Recon prove to be successful, their use will be supported wholeheartedly by the governments of Africa.

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