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TANAPA – Rhinoceros numbers rising again (Tanzania)

By December 21, 2020Land conservation

Black Rhinos in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

IPP Media | December 17, 2020

Rhinos are becoming more numerous in Tanzania, with the latest count putting their number at 190 and the population is projected to reach 205 by 2023.

Philbert Ngoti, an assistant conservation commissioner at the Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) and national rhino coordinator, made this observation over the weekend at the closure of a two-day editors and senior journalists’ convention hosted by the conservation agency.

The conservator said that in the 1970s, Tanzania had 10,000 rhinos in various national parks and game reserves but the decimation of the animals neared extinction during the 1990s, reaching the low end of 15 towards the end of the decade, stirring up international alarm.

There was a situation of uncontrolled poaching in the roaring days of free market and adoration of all sorts of speculative visitors putting up a façade of investment but having other agenda.

At the same time, donor fatigue was creeping, occasioning a poachers’ haven of frustrated wildlife conservation staff and paperwork without effect in government accountability, to push poaching to the limit.

It was at that time that global pressures from CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) stepped in, but this time it was elephants whose numbers were being decimated, as rhino had become so rare that some had to be airlifted from South Africa to prepare for large numbers in Tanzania’s national parks.

The situation of the rhino could then be reexamined as one of the world’s most endangered high profile species, whose horn is sought after in East Asian markets for medicine, and in an array of other markets for jewellery, clothes and souvenirs.

Local conservation was given a shot in the arm with the coming of the fifth phase government, whose hot pursuit of complacency, corruption and rot at various levels of governance changed things for the better, enabling the wildlife authorities, in conjunction with the police, to dismantle poaching networks.

Rhino numbers went up sharply in the period, so that by 2018, there were 161 and within two years a total of 190 rhinos were in national parks, an increase of 28 rhinos in two years.

“We’re working on a fiveyear black rhinos protection strategy, aimed at increasing the number of rhinos to boost the tourism industry,” he said when presenting a paper on conservation management of rare species in Tanzania and antipoaching efforts Rhinos are tracked by special devices fastened on selected animals or in solitary way, which monitor their movements and the data is received at various stations, he said, noting that no rhinos had been killed by poachers in recent years.

One rhino died of an illness last year, and TANAPA plans to relocate rhinos to Burigi-Chato and Arusha national parks, along with introducing northern white rhinos to more local sanctuaries to widen viewing access for the species. During the period, a total of 11,838 poachers were arrested in various national parks in an operation lasting four years and thousands of weapons seized.

John Nyamhanga, the TANAPA’S assistant conservation commissioner for law enforcement and strategic security, said the use of military weapons and modern technology by poachers pushed the government to set up a paramilitary unit in TANAPA as part of the anti-poaching drive.

During the 2016/17 period, the unit arrested 115 poachers in the first year and 54 the following year, while this year only ten poachers have been arrested, he said, noting that the number of poachers is smaller but the impact is huge due to the use of more sophisticated technology.

There is also an increasing trend of pastoralists taking livestock into national parks, thus threatening the country’s conservancies, while increasing human-wildlife conflicts and climate change cripple national parks’ conservation efforts, he pointed out.

He pointed at emerging criminal groups who use national parks as hideouts to conduct unlawful actions, which threatens the country’s security.

“We’ve managed to address this challenge with aid from communities around the parks,” he said, presenting a paper on the importance of paramilitary units in scaling up wildlife conservation.

Godwell ole Meing’ataki, an assistant conservation commissioner said that 69 alien weed species have invaded some of the country’s national parks, posing a threat to wildlife, as the more versatile invasive species were suffocating wildlife habitats and harming ecological sustainability.

TANAPA was assessing the spread of invasive species to take control measures, with new invasive species invading the national parks virtually on a daily basis through rain, wind and migrating birds, he stated. Significant results had been registered toward the control of invasive species in Mahale, Rubondo, Mikumi and Udzungwa national parks, the conservator added.