As human activities continue to encroach into game-protected areas, the toll on wildlife across the country is rising by the day. Because of this, the Burunge Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Manyara Region, is now on the verge of collapse.
But at the forefront of the ruinous activities, are unscrupulous politicians from 10 villages surrounding the WMA. They have, for years, been fingered in rampant malpractices threatening the protected area.
Villages surrounding the 283-square-kilometre Burunge WMA are Sangawe, Mwada, Ngoley, Vilimavitatu, Minjingu, Kakoi, Olasiti, Manyara, Magala, and Maweni.
An investigation conducted by The Citizen in the WMA, which doubles as a wildlife corridor linking Tarangire and Manyara national parks, shows wildlife creatures in the area are likely to be wiped out in the near future if deliberate measures are not swiftly taken to protect the godsend.
Pastoralists from the Barbeig community and farmers from nearby districts have settled in the Burunge WMA where they continue developing structures which prevent wildlife animals from moving from one national park to another.
They admitted in separate interviews with The Citizen at Vilimavitatu, Maweni, Magala and Manyara villages that they had settled and carried out their activities in the area.
Vilimavitatu villager Mabee Giyani defended the decision to encroach on the WMA saying they were not effectively involved in the establishment of the area which was their birthplace. He condemned the government's decision to relocate them to Mfulang'ombe area in a bid to pave the way for the establishment of the WMA.
Nanida Gidabutalila, a herder, vowed that he would never leave the area with quality pasture land, as he recalled his torched house and confiscated livestock in several attempts to evict him and his fellow encroachers.
"We plead with authorities to bear with us and our livestock, for we coexist with wildlife animals. We do not hunt them for meat or any other reason," Gidabutalila said.
Peasants at Magala, Maweni and Manyara villages also defended their decision to encroach on the WMA, accusing authorities of expanding boundaries of the area without engaging them in the process.
Daniel Ninga and Elibaribi Bayo are some of the farmers who accused Manyara National Park and the WMA of expanding boundaries of the game protected areas and encroaching on their customary land without their consent.
Belela Erasto, Vilimavitatu Village chairman, admitted that encroachment of human activities on the WMA was retarding wildlife conservations efforts.
"It's true, there are some herders and farmers encroaching on the WMA. A village land use plan though is in place, it is not adhered to," he said, explaining, however, that most of those encroaching on the WMA were outsiders and that several attempts to evict them had proved futile.
"We've set aside 700 hectares for pasture, yet some herders continue encroaching on the WMA,' he regretted, pointing an accusing finger at politicians for deliberately undermining conservation efforts.
Ramadhan Ismail, chairman of the institution manning the WMA, known as Juhibu in its Kiswahili acronym, said grazing, cultivation and deforestation was greatly destroying the environment of the area.
"We're playing our role of protecting the WMA due to its importance in conservation of Tarangire and Manyara national parks, but the government also ought to intervene in rampant hypocrisy among politicians who had of late withdrawn from the management of the area," he said.
"Politicians promise to distribute the WMA to herders and farmers during their election campaigns and fuel conflicts once they sail through their elective posts," he observed.
Wildlife corridor's input
Dr Maurus Msuha, a researcher from the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (Tawiri), said conservation of wildlife corridors went a long way in providing animals with safe areas for healthy reproduction and quality pasture.
"When wildlife corridors are destroyed, it makes it hard for some animals to reproduce, as they usually mate and conceive outside national parks," he said.
A research conducted three years ago indicated that most of the wildlife corridors countrywide were in a pathetic condition that was jeopardising sustaianable conservation efforts, calling for deliberate measures against wanton encroachment of human activities in those areas.
Mr Ismail said despite supporting Tarangire and Manyara national parks as well as Ngorongoro Conservation Area, villages surrounding the Burunge WMA were generating revenue from the investor in the area.
Tourists' camps, hunting blocs, wildlife corridors and the Lake Manyara shores attractted levy, fines and aid from different donors, he said.
The UN Lodge En Afrigue is the largest investor in the WMA where the firm runs a tourist hotel and a hunting bloc.
Mr Ismail said revenue from the WMA kept on increasing, citing Sh37.4 million registered in 2006/07 of which 50 per cent was distributed to the surrounding villages.
In 2015/16, the WMA fetched Sh820.9 million of which Sh410.4 million was distributed among the villages as stipulated in laws guiding the management of the area.
Retired Lieutenant Canal Leonard Werema, the Human Resources manager with the UN Lodge En Afrigue, said despite investing heavily in the WMA, the firm was facing a challenge of herders and farmers encroaching on the area, accusing some politicians of protecting the culprits.
Grazing, farming and other human activities encroaching on the WMA though were affecting the firm's tourism activities, the government was not taking measures against the destruction of the ecosystem of the area.
"We're here legally, we've entered into contracts with the WMA and pay taxes, yet politicians are disturbing us," lamented the retired Lt Canal, as he pleaded with the fifth phase government to consider intervening in the destruction in a bid to rescue the area.
Manyara regional commissioner Joel Bendera and Babati district commissioner Crispin Meela admitted in separate interviews with The Citizen that herders and farmers had encroached on the WMA.
Dr Benderal said the regional secretariat had started taking some measures against the malpractice, including forcefully evicting the herders and farmers.
"We're in a process of embarking on a special operation to evict them, we can't allow few people to destroy our game protected areas for their own selfish interests," he stressed.
The government was investigating claims on some politicians protecting the culprits and that stern measures would be taken against them regardless of their elective posts, he cautioned.
However, Mr Meela blamed the WMA and village leaders for colluding with herders and farmers encroaching on the area.
"The investigation in progress will leave no stone unturned, we'll announce their names in public before stern measure are taken against them," he promised.
Mr Jitu Vrajlal Son (Babati Rural - CCM) said though he condemned encroachment on the WMA, few natives of the area should continue coexisting with wildlife animals.
"I am not responsible for deploying the herders and farmers to the WMA, but it's true that some leaders are giving them a big head," he said.
Both the Natural Resources and Tourism minister, Prof Jumanne Maghembe, and the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Major General Gaudence Milanzi, separately said they were aware of the ongoing encroachment of human activities not only on the Burunge WMA, but also on similar other game protected areas throughout the country.
Prof Maghembe said the government would from now on take stern measures, including confiscating livestock and crops found in those areas.
Major Gen Milanzi called on all those encroaching on game and forest protected areas to understand benefits accrued from those areas and leave voluntarily.
Source: The Citizen