By Adam Ihucha
TANZANIA (eTN) - The community wildlife management areas are facing an uncertain future, as Tanzania moves to enforce a new rule that by implications, will deny the local folks a multi-million dollar business.
Recently, Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) announced to effect a new regulation, which experts say will confine tourists within the national parks.
If enforced, the regulation will compel tourists who wish to visit communities or stay outside the parks, after game driving, to pay multiple entry fees.
Currently, tourists pay a single fee in a particular park and which is issued with a permit that can be used for multiple entries within 24 hours.
As a result, the 24-hour permit has been serving an incentive for tourists to visit or stay at the community-based wildlife management areas (WMAs) where, in turn, they transfer an estimated $24 million per year.
“We have been directed by the ministry to strictly enforce the new regulation, where double or multiple entries with a single permit will cease to exist,” TANAPA Director General Allan Kijazi announced.
Although Mr. Kijazi didn’t specify the exact date, inside sources indicate that the rule will be enforced anytime between January and March 2015.
This means that tourists will be discouraged to visit WMAs or stay outside the parks, as they will be subjected to pay yet another entry fee on their way back to the park for a game drive.
Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO) CEO Sirili Akko says that the new rule implies that the entry permit expires immediately after a tourist crosses the national park border.
However, the rule didn’t auger well with the local community and other key stakeholders, saying the proposed system casts a bleak future to the 32 WMAs established through a USAID’s $17 million support funding.
The idea behind the WMAs was to empower communities’ bordering national parks to participate in conservation and derive benefits from the sustainable utilization of the natural resources, but for many, the new regulation will defeat the entire concept seen as the best model of transferring tourists’ dollars to the community.
Last week, thousands of villagers in the western Serengeti national park convened and vowed to poison wildlife in retaliation, should the new regulation enforced.
“We have started to see the benefits of WMAs, and suddenly the same government wants to take us back; we will poison the animals to lose all of us and turn the areas into farms,” John Kisiroti told the Ikona WMA extraordinary meeting in the Serengeti district.
Official data shows that Ikona WMA, which was formed by Nattambiso, Nyichoka, Makundusi, Park Nyigoti, and Ikoma Robanda villages in the western Serengeti, harvests nearly $750,000 per annum from tourists bed-night fees, land rent from hunting, and photographic companies.
Ikona WMA that borders Tanzania’s flagship park of Serengeti offers attractive locations for hotel and lodge investments.
Its authorized association (AA) secretary, Steven Makacha, says that the area is a haven to 17 investors, employing 714 locals with substantial multiplier effects to the 5 villages and beyond.
Ikona WMA’s Vice-Chairman, Jacob Begha, said that the proposed numerous fees will discourage tourist flow to the community establishments, and investors also will lose interest, and ultimately the whole concept of WMAs will become a white elephant.
“Through WMA, we have seen poaching declining because people now see direct benefit from the wildlife, but with the new regulation, Western Serengeti will reclaim its infamous name of poachers paradise,” Mr. Begha explains.
Willy Chambullo, an investor-cum-TATO Chairman, says that should the TANAPA go ahead with the new rule, there will be no option other than to close down their lodges and camps.
Mr. Chambullo was of the view that the planned regulation should be abolished altogether as it goes against the spirit of WMAs and the noble motive of injecting direct benefit to the local people who are the first conservators.
He warned, “If community does not feel direct benefit of the wild animals in the areas they inhabit, then overall outstanding value of our parks will be at stake.”
Indeed, a natural resources and environmental law lecturer at Tumaini University Makumira, Elifuraha Laltaika says, “If the community in and around wildlife-protected areas significantly benefit from the resources, they will fight poaching at a cheaper and more sustainable manner.”
The WMAs make a particular and important contribution to conservation in Tanzania as most of them are adjacent to national parks, they provide buffer zones around the parks, link corridors used by migrating animals, and conserve special areas important to specific species.
But as important as these areas are to the local wildlife, Tanzanian people are the biggest beneficiaries of all, in more ways than just increased income.
The current tussle is not the first, as TANAPA in 2013 attempted to enforce the regulation, but thanks to the former Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ambassador Khamis Kaghasheki, for suspending the move.
In his letter of November 20, 2013 with ref. No. CHA.484/563/01 to TANAPA DG, Ambassador Kaghasheki termed the idea as detrimental to industry.