TOURISM & ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION

by Paul Harrison

Green Mile Safaris loses hunting concession
In January 2020, after several years of disputes which peaked in late 2019, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (MNRT) revoked the hunting concession of Abu Dhabi ba sed Green Mile Safaris and closed down the camp. The company had previously lost the licence to hunt in August 2019, having been accused of both violating hunting practices as well as not paying revenues to local communities. According to the Citizen, reports from Longido District at the time suggest that four company employees were arrested for allegedly failing to leave the camp. The hunting block then fell under the management of Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority. The move reflects an increasingly no-nonsense approach to the sport hunting industry in Tanzania, with ongoing attempts to clean up irregularities. It also reflects momentum to reduce hunting areas and convert reserves to national parks that can support increased photographic tourism.

Tanzania national parks taking regionalisation seriously

Map showing the latest game reserves to be upgraded to national parks in black – Nyerere (occupying part of the Selous Game Reserve), Ugalla River and Kigosi. (TANAPA tanzaniaparks.go.tz)

A boost in the portfolio of Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) to 22 parks has led management to take their position seriously and seize the opportunity, resources permitting. Whilst the area known as the northern circuit (Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Manyara, Arusha, Meru, Kilimanjaro) has been receiving the bulk of the benefit of tourism numbers and revenue, the newly developed ‘western circuit’ (the new parks of the north-west of the country, alongside places like Mahale, and Gombe Stream parks), the ‘eastern circuit’ (Usambara Mountains and Saadani parks in particular) and the ‘southern circuit’ (Katavi, Ruaha, Udzungwa parks, plus Selous game reserve/Nyerere national park) still lack funding and investment.

The national parks estate is thus divided in terms of investment between the wealthier north and everywhere else. TANAPA have worked with the Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB) and wider Ministry to try and attract tourism to these lesser known sites. The new focus on regionalisation should start a rebalancing, but it will take time. With the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, such plans will likely go on the backburner, yet remain important in the longer term.

After a strong start for tourism in 2020, Covid-19 brings the industry to a standstill
The Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB) have rebranded Tanzania as ‘Unforgettable.’ Several short promotional films were launched around February time. However, as momentum for #TanzaniaUnforgettable started to grow, boosting an already solid performance from the tourism sector, the global lockdown against the Covid-19 pandemic began. The TTB quickly relaunched their main film short at the beginning of April, changing the voiceover message from one of ‘welcome now’, to one of ‘stay safe—and we shall see you later’. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the global economy in unprecedented ways. The tourism sector in Tanzania has not been spared, with tourism now at a complete standstill.

In early March, as reported in The Citizen, the Government of Zanzibar banned visitors from Italy to the archipelago, despite the considerable importance of the Italian market to Zanzibar’s predominantly beach tourism. Tanzania decided to halt tourism promotional work and provisional bookings began to be cancelled. By the end of March, the Serengeti was all but closed. Bookings were cancelled, vehicles grounded, camps and hotels shut, staff were sent home. Zanzibar’s hotels were almost all closed. Mount Kilimanjaro’s constant stream of hikers had stopped. Conference centres like the Arusha International and the Julius Nyerere International in Dar es Salaam, amongst other businesses affected by tourism and business travel, have also shut for the time being. Parks are receiving zero visitors and therefore have no income. This is a major setback in several sectors including park management, air transport, hotels and hospitality, and for tour companies.

The effects to the industry are considerable and will become more pronounced over time as companies need to decide whether to keep staff or indeed to keep going at all. The government’s flexibility towards the private sector in these pressing times will be important, though is not as yet a given.

Growing risk of threats to wildlife from poaching as tourism oversight drops.
Inevitably, this will have a negative impact on conserving Tanzania’s biodiversity. Tanzanian authorities and conservationists fear that a that whilst tourism drops, there will be no such operational pause for poaching and wildlife trafficking. Indeed, the lack of eyes on the ground (tourists and guides as well as fewer guards) may well open up new opportunities for poaching and trafficking. The increase of unemployment in the formal and informal sectors can also fuel the problem of illegal offtake of natural resources as an alternative means of livelihood.

Monitoring on the ground has reduced yet ports remain open and smuggling modes will continue, with some adaptations. A key question is whether demand will continue with slumped economies, reduced buying power and greater pressure on countries like China, internally and externally, to crack down on illegal wildlife trade. Given the well-publicised apparent links between the rise of Covid-19 and some unregulated, unsafe ‘wet markets’ that have been selling wildlife, there may be a crackdown on illegal and unregulated wildlife trade. The government of Tanzania will want to keep a close eye on the potential rise in poaching, especially given recent successes to counter it.

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