By Simon Calder
Having the world’s most extraordinary wildlife is crucial to the economy of the world’s poorest continent. The challenge lies in how to make that wildlife worth more alive than it is dead. The answer might be tourist dollars.
Tanzania’s national parks and reserves comprise the country’s most valuable resources – in two senses. The precious natural heritage of Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti and the Selous Game Reserve has been recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as possessing “Outstanding Universal Value”. As Unesco says, the chances of success for conservation depend on “ensuring sufficient benefits for the local communities through the wildlife management areas and the improved management of hunting and photographic tourism”.
Two years ago, some members of the community evidently concluded that their interests were not being given sufficient regard. There was a sudden rise in the killing of elephants on the fringes of Tanzania’s Udzungwa Mountains National Park. Unesco said: “Rapidly expanding human populations in areas around the park and the farming of land up to the park border have led to conflicts between people and wildlife, particularly elephants roaming within the park, [with] a rapid increase in the number of elephants killed as villagers lose patience with elephants leaving the park to forage in their fields, destroying crops.”
The Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania was given an emergency grant by Unesco. It was used for some unusual defences – such as fences smeared in chilli oil, and beehives on the park boundary. They largely succeeded in repelling and containing elephants, and tensions eased. The same dynamic applies to creatures both great and small.
Shooting fish in a barrel might sound easy, but for a more substantial catch blast fishing proves extremely efficient. Detonating underwater explosions in order to stun fish and make them easy to harvest has been practised in a wide range of locations, many of them tropical. It is a lucrative business: “One blast can lead to a catch of up to 400kg of fish and a profit of US$1,800 in market sales,” says the Washington-based World Resources Institute.
The Coral Reef Alliance says: “Dynamite fishing is practised in up to 30 countries in South-East Asia and Oceania and is also common in Eastern Africa.” In a predominantly low-income nation such as Tanzania, the temptation is understandable. However, the practice turns coral reefs into rubble – and traumatises the rich eco-systems that they foster.
Tanzanian law stipulates “imprisonment for a term of not less than five years and not exceeding 10 years” for perpetrators. In practice, though, enforcement is patchy. More....