By Barbara Crown, Editor-in-Chief
President of Tanzania John Magufuli hinted at a policy shift that could reduce the acreage of protected lands in Tanzania, converting them to agriculture, livestock grazing and human settlement or development. While attending the commissioning of a newly constructed 45-kilometer road in March, Magufuli said that Tanzanians need land for their “economic activities” and that, in support of farmers and herders, his administration was considering giving out sufficient land to “the people.” That land would include areas currently under protection from settlement. About a third of Tanzania’s land mass, 945,087 square kilometers, is currently protected as national parks, game reserves, marine parks and forest reserves. The country’s 16 national parks encompass only 42,000 square kilometers of that, while the Selous Game Reserve by itself covers 50,000 square kilometers.
The reason behind this shifting view regarding land use is that Tanzania’s population has more than quintupled, from 10 million at independence in 1961 to about 54 million today. Meanwhile the wilderness areas set aside since colonial days have remained unsettled, despite the increased pressure for development in Tanzania. With so many game reserves and other hunting areas being vacated by safari operators who cannot survive without elephant and lion safaris, huge tracts of wilderness now lie unproductive without any economic contribution. These are now in danger of conversion to invasive land uses.
The issue of land ownership and economic contribution from land use is a contentious one all over Africa. As foreign regulations and policies from around the world continue to reduce the economic value of hunting, so the value of protected game reserves and other hunting concessions also will fall, leaving African governments and local people to apply other uses to those lands—specifically by plowing it under, grazing it over or paving it over. This means the destruction of habitat and thus the destruction of wild animals from insects and birds to mega fauna such as elephants and lions. Without importation of the key safari species to the US, the entire continent of Africa is in danger of losing most of its wild habitat, its wildlife biodiversity and its wildlife biomass. While antihunters across the world cheer the shutdown of hunting and the exit of hunting operators, the future of the animals they love so much becomes quite grim.