By Giza Mdoe
Trial runs for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) meant to beef up the anti-poaching drive are set to begin late next month, the Tanzania National Parks (Tanapa) and the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation have confirmed.
They said the trial operations will strategically be carried out in Africa's largest protected natural reserve, Selous Game Reserve, a World Heritage Site where Tanzania's greatest population of elephants call home. The development is the direct result of efforts by the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation to utilise the private sector’s resources to Stop the killing of 10,000 of the countries elephants along with thousands of other endangered species including rhinos, antelopes and various species of birds reptiles and other wildlife. “TPSF is excited to move forward with its Private Sector Anti Poaching Initiative…this is a mechanism that will bring government and the private sector into partnership in anti poaching efforts,” TPSF CEO Godfrey Simbeye told the Guardian yesterday in an exclusive interview. “This partnership will make a stronger anti-poaching team and accelerate Tanzania’s response to the poaching crisis,” he went on to explain. ‘TPSF is confident the approach can find support both here and abroad with major conservation players and by tapping into international corporate social responsibility,” he said. “When wildlife is destroyed, everyone is a loser, the government, private sector and the public itself,” he cautioned. Seconding the TPSF CEO, TANAPA’s Protection Manager Stephen Kisamo expressed optimism in the use of unmanned aerial surveillance equipment to stop the senseless and in most cases irreversible destruction of wildlife. “The use of UAVs is very promising,” he said in a separate exclusive interview with The Guardian yesterday in Dar es Salaam. “By working together with the government and private sector, we can save our national parks and game reserves,” he added. “TANAPA is willing to be a part of any effort that will stop the destruction of our wildlife,” the Protection Manager said. The trials will be managed by Bathawk Recon a Tanzanian UAV service company and hosted by the mining company Mantra, who will participate within the framework of their Memorandum of Understanding with the Wildlife Department of the Ministry “The work in the Selous is in pursuit of an operational capability through which Tanzania can deploy a UAV surveillance solution to the scale of its wildlife resource,” explained Mike Chambers, Director Bathawk Recon. Speaking over phone interview from the tourist hub of Arusha where the trials will be conducted, he acknowledged the enormity of the task but remained confident that with continued partnership with key stakeholders, the job will be accomplished. “We are looking for aircraft (UAVs) that can be organised in groups of two or three, each one with the capability to cover thousands of square kilometers,” he detailed. “We will be bringing in the DT-26s, a more powerful version of the UAV recently flown in the Tarangire,” he added in reference to the pilot trials conducted late last year in the Tarangire National Park in Arusha. He said to find the right UAV that best fits the Tanzanian need given the size of the country’s parks and wildlife reserves, the DT-26s will be tried along with an American version of a similar unmanned aircraft. “We will put both of them to trial to see which fits the Tanzanian requirement best,” said the Director of Bathawk Recon. Since the trials are to be carried out at the Selous Game Reserve in Arusha where the mining company Mantra operates, officials from the company have also expressed commitment to support the efforts. “We are working hand in hand with all parties in the project…we are providing training, equipment and structural support,” said Mantra’s Security Consultant and Anti Poaching expert Kurt Steiner. He confirmed that Mantra who will participate within the framework of their Memorandum of Understanding with the Wildlife Department of the Ministry. “Mantra has always been dedicated to go above and beyond the expected contribution to social responsibility and continues to be a keen supporter of conservation efforts,” he said. “Working with our surrounding communities and supporting development initiatives by the government is part of our (Mantra) operating philosophy,” he summed up. Last week, at a consultative workshop that brought together religious leaders to deliberate on the status of poaching in the country, Natural Resources and Tourism Ministry Chief, Lazaro Nyalandu was quoted by media saying ‘the government is soon to announce use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVS) to monitor Tanzania’s national parks and game reserves.’ To start, he said the operations will be launched at the Selous Game Reserve and will later be rolled-out to Serengeti National Parks and other parts of protect areas. During last year’s trial in Tarangire National Park, Mike Chambers, the Director of Bathawk Recon acknowledged that, “The fight against ongoing destruction of Tanzania’s precious wildlife must not be left to the government alone … the private sector can help deploy the needed equipment along with technical support as well as staff training.” “The trials in Tarangire will serve as an example of how UAV surveillance can be organised, distributed, coordinated and costs estimated... the exercise is to demonstrate how surveillance systems might be deployed,” Chambers said. He explained that along with the UAVs, camps will be established and ‘Pods’ - operational units - equipped with multiple aircraft, vehicles and communications equipment will be deployed. “These pods will monitor, identify, follow and deliver suspected poachers to wildlife authorities and include in their capabilities significant tactical expertise in developing operations,” Chambers explained. Also on board are the African Wildlife Foundation, a leading International NGO, together with Bathawk Recon Tanzania and under the leadership of the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation, the trio form the Private Sector Anti Poaching Initiative (PSAPI). PSAPI is designed to support private sector entities’ ability to contract anti poaching services to the government, specifically UAV operations and the associated development of tactical actions and intelligence gathering. As of 2013, UAVs came to use in South Africa to help tackle the number of endangered rhino deaths in Kruger Park and elsewhere. The unmanned ‘silent watchers’ are also in use in Nepal and India also to help curb slaughter of rhinos.