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The raging drought in some parts of Tanzania with failed rains for three consecutive years has caused serious life-threatening competition for natural resources and conflict with protected areas. The recent statement by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (MNRT) on the increasing acts of civilian encroachment and attacking rangers in and around protected areas was shocking considering that the armed force has undergone a full paramilitary training and indeed calls for restraint. The MNRT is charged with overseeing natural resource conservation, wetlands and tourism development in the country. The Ministry oversees protected areas covering approximately 307,800 square kilometers (32.5% of the country's total area) comprising: 22 National Parks, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, 22 reserves, 27 wildlife sanctuaries, 38 wildlife conservation community areas, three wetland areas under the Ramsar Convention, 465 natural forest reserves, 20 Nature Forest Reserves, 24 Government Tree Farms, 12 bee reserves, 133 wetland sites and seven National Museum facilities.
According to the government statement, between March 2022 and February 2023, nine rangers have been killed and 68 injured by civilians. Specifically, the chronology is as follows. On March 07, 2022, in Igombe Game Controlled Area (GCA) in Tabora region, rangers were attacked by civilians with crude weapons where a ranger was wounded with bullets and a vehicle damaged. On May 06, 2022, in Igombe GCA again, 11 rangers and 32 Reserve Force were attacked using crude weapons killing two Reserve Force (Mgambo). On June 09, 2022, in the Pololeti (GCA) formerly Loliondo, an estimated 200 civilians armed with traditional weapons stormed a ranger's camp and stabbed a policeman, killing him instantly.
On November 17, 2022, in the Kilombero GCA, rangers were ambushed by a group of pastoralists estimated to be between 50 and 60 armed with traditional weapons (sticks, sirens and machetes) to recover cattle caught inside the reserve and two rangers were seriously injured. On December 20, 2022, over 100 pastoralists armed with traditional weapons stormed the ranger’s camp located in the Nyahua-sikonge District Forest Reserve to recover their livestock where 18 rangers were seriously injured, 2 TFS vehicles burned, and 1,345 cattle taken.
On January 21, 2023, in Serengeti National Park, villagers in Tarime District, ambushed and killed a ranger using a poisonous arrow. Finally, on January 31, 2023, in Kigoma District, 22 rangers on patrol in the Chakulu Village Forest Reserve were ambushed by herders to recover their livestock and three people including the District Forest Officer were killed and four others were seriously injured.
Following these attacks, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism strongly condemned these criminal acts of taking the law into their own hands resulting in deaths, injuries and damage to government property. The Wildlife Conservation Act 2009, along with other laws governing protected areas, prohibits a variety of issues from taking place within conservation areas including prohibiting citizens from entering the areas without permits, the conduct of various social activities such as agriculture, livestock grazing, illegal wildlife poaching and illegal harvesting of forest products.
Livestock incursion into protected areas for pasture has been on increase over the years and this could be due to the failed rains for two consecutive years and in some places three years. The human rights group claims the government has seized 5,880 cattle and 767 goats and sheep in November and December 2022 where the owners have to pay heavy fines or livestock is auctioned. The livestock population according to
Tanzania Livestock Master Plan, 2016/2017 Livestock Sector Analysis baseline estimate 28.4 million cattle, 16.7 million goats and 5 million sheep.
Globally, approximately 150 rangers die each year protecting parks and wildlife, according to the Thin Green Line Foundation. This figure in Tanzania is quite significant compared to the global figure and the reason to worry and take proactive action to stem the problem. Human rights groups have been on the forefront defending the rights of the citizens against any use of force by government agents, the attacks on rangers has not been condemned by the human rights groups questioning the impartiality of the groups. Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or on behalf of the government; forced disappearance by the government or on behalf of the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or on behalf of the government; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary. The question is who will then defend the rights of the rangers and environmental rights individuals who are murdered globally while protecting the Mother nature?