Hunting in Tanzania
Hunting in Tanzania
by Peter H. Flack
Tanzania is one of my favorite countries in Africa. I like the people and love the wildlife. I have hunted there six times over the last 10 years and, altogether, have stayed in 14 different safari camps from the Selous to Serengeti, from Mount Meru to Masailand, from the Rungwa river to Lake Rukwa, from Kilwa to Kigosi, and between the Moyowasi and Malagarasi rivers. The only game animals that Tanzania has to offer which I have not hunted are the East African roan and suni.
During the days when I was working for an African gold mining company, one of our wholly-owned subsidiaries prospected for gold in Tanzania and acquired a gold deposit there which it took through to the final stages of a bankable feasible study before it was sold. On my business visits there I had the opportunity to meet the President of Tanzania, Mr. Benjamin Mkapa, on more than one occasion and, more recently, was retained by the Tanzanian government in a consultative capacity on matters relating to their gold mining industry.
Having said that, I do not presume to consider myself an expert on Tanzania and my impressions of hunting in the country are precisely that, namely, impressions.
Over the last few years, Tanzania, as a whole, appears to have made slow but steady progress under the management of President Mkapa. It is still, however, a heavily indebted poor country and the infrastructure is threadbare. Civil servants are poorly paid and, although this is not an excuse, it is at least a contributory factor behind the endemic corruption which is prevalent in every facet of Tanzanian society. The wildlife industry is no exception. As one professional hunter put it, “Everything is available in Tanzania at a price.”
Hunting concessions are still handed out as political favors to individuals who have no knowledge and/or interest in hunting or conservation, let alone local community involvement. This is exacerbated by the fact that these concessions typically have a very short life - a maximum of 5 years - and there is, therefore, no real incentive on the holder to do anything other than extract the maximum advantage from the concession, for the minimum input, in the least amount of time.
Recently, I hunted in the famous Mto-Wa-Mbu concession, popularized by Robert Ruark when he hunted there with Harry Selby. The owner of the concession lives in Dar-Es-Salaam but no one can remember when last he visited. There was no attempt at anti-poaching and his unsupervised staff were untrained, poorly dressed and had allowed the camp to deteriorate into the worst one in which I have ever stayed in Tanzania. On my last day in the concession we caught two poachers who had killed a young fringed-eared oryx and, under the supervision of our game scout, took them to our camp where the so called camp manager refused to charge them and take them into police custody.
Someone had unadvisedly built a permanent dam and additional water point in the middle of the concession. Instead of being forced to move, the water allowed the Masai to stay on and they and their cattle, sheep, goats and donkeys had turned this once beautiful valley, squashed between the Rift Valley Wall and the Simangori Mountain Range, into a grey, powder fine, dust bowl. What little game I saw, was confined to the foothills of the Rift Valley Wall and the Simangori Mountains where there were remnant pockets of tsetse fly and some water. I was advised, however that the game numbers were usually much higher but had been severely reduced by the drought.
In fact, I do not know whether I was just unlucky or it was a sign of the modern reality in Tanzania, but I have never seen so many signs of poaching. In the Kigosi concession, owned by a local Tanzanian family, who employ three, separate, mobile, radio linked, anti-poaching units, we found four separate bands of poachers within a three hour drive of their main camp, of which our game scout managed to arrest one and confiscate one muzzle loader. Their main problem, however, is that they receive little or no support from either the game department or the authorities.
In the Kilwa concession, immediately to the south of the Selous Game Reserve, where I also hunted on this trip, I counted 14 wood cutting pits, just in the southern portion of the concession. My experience has taught me that virtually all woodcutters, honey gatherers and fishermen poach, with only the severity and commerciality of it varying. To make matters worse, the woodcutters choose only the biggest trees and then use only the first six feet or so of the main trunk (from which they cut planks) and leave the rest to rot on the forest floor. The fact that there was little game in the area I hunted, other than some very aggressive elephant cows and calves and East African bush duikers, seemed to speak for itself. And the poaching was not confined to local Tanzanians. I received three reports of established professional hunters, hunting in depleted areas, deliberately and knowingly poaching in neighboring concessions which had more game. In the one case, the PH concerned (I know who he is), has refined his poaching to the extent that he employs two vehicles. The one carries a driver, tracker and game scout. These people hang and check baits and build blinds in the neighboring concession. Only when the lion or leopard is feeding do they call in the PH and his client and then it’s a case of bang, bang and back they scurry to their own concession. Using this method he has poached three lions this year alone which has seriously affected the ability of my informant to conserve the lions in his concession.
Last year, a safari company arrested one of these delinquent professional hunters and his client at gun point when they caught them red handed poaching in their concession. To date, nothing has happened to the guilty parties. This year, at the usual preseason government briefing of the PH fraternity, they were warned not to do this in future on the grounds that it is not the client’s fault (which is usually true) and that the embarrassment caused is bad for the industry. If this is not a license for the un- scrupulous PHs to carry on poaching, then I do not know what is.
My other cause for concern relates to the trend of not only dividing up the original hunting concessions into smaller and smaller blocks but, at the selfsame time, giving these smaller blocks larger animal quotas than the original block had. For example, Lake Natron originally had a quota of seven lesser kudu. It has subsequently been divided into a number of blocks, shared between six safari outfitters, each with a quota of twelve lesser kudu. Now, if the determination of these quotas was based on regular, scientific, helicopter game counts, for example, then no-one could or would argue. However, this is not the case and, although the game scouts should have a reasonable idea of game density in their concessions, this is by no means certain and I have never seen any game scout formally counting game and recording it. In addition, their views can easily be influenced by the normal Tanzanian way of doing business.
Having said that, however, there are a number of major, longstanding, safari outfitters in Tanzania and here I think of the likes of Messrs. Pasinisi, Hurt and Samaras, as well as companies like Tanzanian Game Trackers and that owned by Mr. Tudor Jones who have introduced voluntary, self imposed quotas and trophy limits, for example, instructing their professional hunters, under threat of dismissal, not to shoot any lion under the age of six years old. Their clients have also accepted a levy on their trophy fees which has helped fund both anti-poaching and local social upliftment programs in the hunting concessions concerned. But these are people and companies with a long term commitment to hunting, conservation and community involvement in Tanzania.
I think I am correct in saying that Tanzania not only hosts the largest game reserve in Africa, the Selous Game Reserve, which measures some 4.8 million hectares, but has the largest percentage of its land under game. What this amounts to, combined with the prevalence of tsetse fly and the absence of infrastructure, plus the long and proud history which hunting has in the country, is that Tanzania is the most sought after African trophy hunting destination today, despite the fact that it is the most expensive one.
It is still the area which sets the benchmark for traditional tented safaris that, for the most part, have the best trained, most friendly and obliging staff in the form of waiters, cooks and skinners, although it has never ceased to amaze me how poor the overall tracking skills are in Tanzania. You would have thought, given the huge amount of hunting that takes place in the country, that the level of tracking skills would be on a par with that of Namibian bushmen or rain forest pigmies, but it is not. On more than one safari, the best tracker in our hunting team has been my professional hunter. I have even seen a Tanzanian tracker following an eland spoor in the firm belief that it belonged to a buffalo.
Contributing to the high costs of hunting is the fact that government never loses an opportunity to gouge the visiting hunter. There is a conservation fee of USD100 per day, a charge of USD120 per imported firearm and the hunting licenses, which come in 7, 16 and 21 day packages, cost USD 450, 600 and 600, respectively. These charges are all increased regularly and there is no sign that this trend will cease. Government trophy fees were also increased this year after having remained the same for many years and a kudu, for example, now costs USD 1465, which I think is very expensive. Not that I have a problem with government charging fees. After all, in a free market system, the market will ultimately regulate and place a limit on the sums that can be extracted from the customer. What bothers me, however, is that I do not believe that even a fraction of the funds so raised go back into conservation, let alone such seemingly obvious causes as anti-poaching. I do not want to mount this hobby horse again, but I can’t help mentioning the repeated comments which I heard from well experienced Tanzanian professional hunters. Time and again they said that, in the recent past, they had hunted in concessions with good game numbers, covering a broad cross section of species. Now the areas were no longer viable to hunt as commercial meat poachers had denuded the area.
On the one hand, Tanzania sits on a wonderful, renewable and sustainable wildlife resource which can be of benefit to the country as a whole and, particularly, the poorer rural areas, for years and years to come. On the other hand, while seeming ever ready to milk this source of funds, the government seems to do little or nothing to protect this resource let alone introduce measures to ensure its growth. For example, the Mweka Wildlife College on the slopes of Mount Meru was one of the few areas where you could hunt Harvey’s duiker, Masai bushbuck and neotragus moschatus moschatus, the other sub-species of suni and different to Livingstone’s suni which is found predominantly in South Africa and Mozambique. This area was closed to hunting, I believe, because of corruption and poaching and, although some half a dozen years or so have gone by, there is not the slightest indication that government has resolved these easily surmountable problems and reopened the area.
Tanzania is the only place where the dedicated trophy hunter can find Roosevelt’s sable, Patterson’s eland, Masai bushbuck, Harvey’s duiker, fringed-eared oryx, Southern Grant’s gazelle, Thomson’s gazelle, Robert’s gazelle, Coke’s hartebeest, Kirk’s dik dik, topi and Southern gerenuk to mention but a few indigenous species. Although it is more difficult than it used to be, it is still also a place where a fit, hardworking, walk and stalk hunter can find really big buffalo and full maned lions. My professional hunter in Tanzania this year, Schalk Tait, has shot 6 buffalo over 45 inches in the last four years with the biggest measuring 49½ inches and the second biggest 47 inches.
I sense though, that like many other African countries, the precious, renewable wildlife resources in Tanzania suffer, at best, from incompetent, benign neglect and, at worst, from a deliberate, calculated, corrupt program to suck the life blood out of its wildlife assets, in the fastest possible way and by whatever means. If it were not so sad, it would make me unspeakably angry.