The Tanzanian government is mobilising army units for a new anti-poaching campaign, “Operation Uhai ll” including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to patrol the Serengeti and other game reserves hit by poaching.
President Jakaya Kikwete has authorised the quick deployment of several units of the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force (TPDF) in all game reserves to combat the wave of militarized poachers attacking reserves.
“The president has issued the order,” Natural Resources and Tourism minister Khamis Kagasheki told parliament. “I have talked to Minister of Defence and National Service [Shamsi Vuai Nahodha] and we are at the final stages. I do not say when, but we are going to do something that will be remembered by generations to come.”
This is the second time the military has aided against poaching. In 1989, “Operation Uhai” helped the elephant population rebound after it reached a low of about 30,000, when it had been about 110,000 in 1976. This time the operation will be harsher and stronger.
“We need to join hands as Tanzanians to fight poachers to preserve our natural resources. Let us build the habit of reporting anything we see as likely to endanger our elephants, rhinos and all other natural resources,” said Kagasheki.
Tanzania National Parks (TNP) spokesman Pascal Shelutete said with the help of the army, the parks authority will use UAVs to track movement in and out of the parks area. “It will facilitate monitoring all parks 24 hours,” Shelutete told US-based Sabahi Online.
Last week tour operators in the country said the problem of poaching will not be easy to deal with because soldiers, game wardens, police officers and customs officials are all complicit in decimating the country’s elephant population, now estimated to between 40,000 and 70,000.
In January this year, parks intelligence officers operating in the Lake Manyara National Park and Tarangire National Parks arrested a Staff Sergeant in the TPDF as he tried to transport elephant tusk from Manyara National Park to the city of Arusha.
“For elephants to be shot at the magnitude they are being shot at, being able to have the ivory transferred from game reserves to port, being shipped to the Far East – it’s not the guy at the village level that has the capability. It goes all the way to Customs, the Tanzania Revenue Authority and the Ports Authority. It needs influence and influential people.
“Game scouts, poachers and security forces are all talking to each other. Orders were being placed. Orders were being fulfilled. Accomplices were brought in. The transport of the goods from the source to the city was being facilitated at a high level,” tour operator Pratik Patel said in a recent interview with local media.
According to the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), international poaching syndicates operating in Africa have become so sophisticated that they are now able to beat traditional ground policing methods in the game reserves. The organisation says drones are by far the best tools for effective monitoring and policing of parks boundaries.
“We are fighting a war against well-armed and informed poachers. In the context of reducing poaching in dangerous environments, UAVs provide a broad-reaching, safer and more cost-effective solution, allowing rangers to monitor a much greater mass of land whilst reducing their own exposure to dangerous and armed poachers”, explained Patel.
“In Africa, the rhino population has decreased significantly over the past few years due to poaching. In order to save the rhino from extinction a collaborative effort is needed from wildlife groups, governments and the international community at large. Rhino UAV aims to change the odds in favour of our endangered wildlife by enabling conservationists to have greater access to UAV technology and to provide education and training,” the IAPF said.
Elephant poaching in Tanzania’s game reserves and national parks has reached crisis proportions amid reports that sophisticated international poaching kingpins, with the help of local crime syndicates, are now killing an average of 30 elephants every month to feed ivory markets in Asia.