By Prosper Kwigize, Kigoma, Tanzania
While the trade in natural resources and the environment is gaining momentum in the world, the dangerous environment and low security against wildlife are cited as a major threat to the economies of the Great Lakes region, especially Tanzania where tourism is one of the main sources of government revenue.
Tanzania has been on the list of countries that have many natural attractions including wildlife parks which are the world’s attractions especially for giraffes, tree lions, rhinos, hippopotamuses, birds, butterflies, and chimpanzees that are very similar to humans.
Gombe and Mahale National Parks in the Kigoma region on the shores of Lake Tanganyika are home to the chimpanzees, who have become very popular, following the Tanzanian government and international organizations set up of specific strategies for the study and protection of the chimpanzees.
It is about 25 km from Kigoma town Port to Gombe National Park where the tourists used to visit by boat through the deepest lake in Africa, Lake Tanganyika. Gombe National Park is where chimpanzees are said to resemble humans being which are a global attraction.
Tanzania is one of the richest countries in biodiversity, however, due to different factors including climate change, human activities including poaching, agriculture, and livestock, the wildlife in Gombe national parks are in danger of extinction.
The Gombe Senior Conservation Officer who is the Head of Tourism Unit Mr Pellagy Marando told Infonile and Radio Deutsche Welle (DW) that Chimpanzees are now facing the threat of extinction due to an increase in deaths and other threats including habitat destruction (natural forests) depletion of the reserve, food shortages as well as disease.
Gombe National Park covers an area of 56,000 square kilometres, apart from chimpanzees, there are also primates such as monkeys, antelopes, lizards, and snakes.
Statistics from the Gombe Conservation Authority shows that chimpanzees have declined from an average of 150 chimpanzees in 1980 to 90 chimpanzees in 2020, indicating that there is a risk of extinction as shown in the chart below;
Statistics from Gombe Conservation Authority on the decline of chimpanzees between 1980-2020
A researcher from Jane Goodall Institute, Dr Athony Colin from Scotland who has lived in Tanzania for more than 30 years researching chimpanzees, notes that the main cause of the decline of chimpanzees is death from communicable diseases, especially the common cold, which is caused by the interaction of animals and humans entering the park for activities such as tourism, animal husbandry, forestry, agriculture, and poaching.
Dr Collins said that almost one chimp dies every year and that in 1987 nine (9) chimpanzees died and ten years later another 9 also died from cold flu, other diseases and climate change or environmental degradation that caused hunger.
Dr Athony Colin, Researcher
The main cause of the decline of chimpanzees is death from communicable diseases, especially the common cold
The destruction of food chambers and breeding grounds for chimpanzees has been a major factor leading some chimpanzees to move to informal forests where they rush to find shelter and food. While in uncontrolled areas they always meet with poachers who killed them for different purposes.
It is stated that if the community will not be educated on the importance of forest and wildlife reserves there will be a great risk of chimpanzees in Gombe and other national parks and reserve areas to disappear by 2030. This is due to the rapid community invasion of the reserve and the destruction of biodiversity by believing that wildlife is endangered in forests.
According to the national bureau of statistics together with the data from United Nation Projections, between 1960 to 2020, Tanzania has experienced a population growth of 1 per cent per annum. This rapid population growth has a direct impact on forest reserves and wildlife.
Environmental degradation caused by human activities is said to be caused by citizens not seeing the value of the existence of forests as well as wildlife. Besides, some locals have come to believe that animals cannot be extinct and thus be encouraged to involve in illegal hunting and deforestation in national parks.
Deusi Makungwa is a resident of Mpanda in Katavi region where the Katavi wildlife reserve is home to many hippos, giraffes, buffalos, and lions. During the interview, Daus said that Tanzanians should benefit directly from the wildlife in the reserve instead of benefiting tourists and senior government officials, and hunting companies.
“Our President Dr John Magufuli paid a visit to the Katavi region where the Katavi National Park is located. He promised that a system of hunting animals, especially buffaloes, would be set up and butchers set up for the sale of meat for the benefit of the community but so far nothing has been done,” said Mr. Deus Makungwa
Despite Deusi Makungwa’s thirst for the government to put in place wildlife harvesting arrangements, Noelia, for her part, from Mpanda Hotel, acknowledged the benefits of wildlife conservation. She noted that there are significant benefits to the existence of the park, one of which is the opportunity for tourists to come and contribute to economic growth, “our young people find employment and our children go to the park for practical training”.
“Conserving forests and wildlife is important to us, I do not fully support the sentiments of poaching, I urge the government to put in place a public education system about the benefits of conservation in national parks, this is not the same for the welfare of the environment and wildlife” Madam Noelia added in her statement
The effects of COVID 19 on wildlife conservation
While wildlife is declining in Tanzania’s reserves, the deadly COVID19 pandemic continues to cause a stir in the conservation industry, drastically reducing the number of tourists amidst fears that Chimpanzees are more likely to be infected with CORONA.
Conservation, Ecology, and Tourism Officer Mr Pellagy Marando noted that due to the pandemic no tourists from Europe, Asia, and America visited Tanzania for 3 months which caused the national income from wildlife tourism to drop by about 80%.
Although Marando declined to specify the annual revenue rate that is collected from the Tourism sector, Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism Dr Hamis Kigwangalla was quoted as saying that the sector contributes 17 per cent of the annual GDP, so a decrease of 80 per cent is proof that the Tanzanian tourism industry has collapsed after the discovery of the COVID19 virus.
What can be done to prevent the Corona Virus from entering the reserve and to prevent the continued extinction of Chimpanzees in Tanzania?
Dr Anthony Collins from Scotland who is working with Jane Goodall Institute insisted that there is no way to protect the Gombe and Mahale Chimpanzees other than to prevent tourists from entering the reserve in large numbers, there must be health controls that will ensure that tourists and even staff have their health checked and also reduce the number of people entering the chimpanzee residences. It is also to ensure that every tourist, national park workers, and researchers follow the health rules by wearing masks, using hand sanitisers throughout the park.
However the Assistant Conservator and leader of the Department of wildlife security in the Gombe National park, who is also the head of the tourist movement unit Mr Isaya Mkude points out the difficulties in wildlife protection activities due to the open border of national parks as well as the presence of people encroaching on forests for logging, hunting and agricultural activities in the vicinity and wildlife reserves.
Mkude, who always wears a mask when patrolling or touring, says it is easy to control the interaction of people and animals, but poor education for some residents and isolated areas leads to deliberate violations of the law, which can also lead to coronavirus infestation. through people entering the park without following procedures.
The Tanzania Government in June 2018 has established a Tanzania Chimpanzee-Conservation Action Plan after realizing the need to address the threats facing chimpanzees of Tanzania and enhance the long-term conservation of endangered species. In the said action plan, the ministry of natural resources and tourism agreed that Chimpanzees need to be protected as they deserve. The minister of natural resources and tourism Hon Dr. Hamis Kingwalla called upon stakeholders to join together to save Chimpanzees found anywhere in Tanzania within protected areas in forest reserves and within the village lands.
The vision of the action plan is to make sure that by 2023 the ecological and cultural diversity of Chimpanzees in Tanzania is conserved in viable populations across their range, managing linkage between population to ensure the maintenance of genetic diversity.
This story was produced in partnership with InfoNile with support from Code for Africa and funding from Internews and Earth Journalism Network.
It was first aired on radio Deutsche Welle (DW) Bonn on Sept 18, 2020