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Climate change driving rising cases of killing of rangers in Tanzania by citizens: a delicate balance
© Japhary Kiwanga

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.‎


© Joan Itanisa
in Training

Recently there have been numerous incidents of civilians living near protected areas attacking Wildlife and Forest rangers with traditional and armored weapons while performing their legal duties such as; capturing livestock and poachers caught illegally within protected areas. These incidents have been reported frequently in various parts of the country. ‎‎However, when livestock is confistigated or some citizens are arrested for illegally entering the protected areas there has been a tendency for citizens to organize and raid the rangers or their camps attacking them with various traditional weapons such as sticks, spears, machetes, arrows etc. These incidents have often resulted in some rangers being injured or killed as well as causing damage to government property such as burning vehicles, houses and other equipment.‎
‎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.‎

© Joan Itanisa
In Action

On August 31, 2022, in the Makere South Forest Reserve in Kigoma Region, rangers were ambushed and killed two JKT soldiers. In addition, there was extensive property damage by burning down a ranger’s camp, 6 motorcycles, 1 tractor and crops (70 bags of maize, 30 bags of cassava, 20 bags of millet and 20 of beans) belonging to the Tanzania Forest Service (TFS).‎ Again, On September 8, 2022, Makere South Forest Reserve was attacked and set fire to tents, tractors and sprayed poison in tree nurseries killing seedlings. The same camp was attacked on September 11, 2022, and 119 hectares of tree farm were set on fire.‎
‎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.‎

© Greg Armfield
Said Mkinga a ranger in Selous Game Reserve

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?

© Greg Armfield
The team

The increasing attack on the rangers and police is likely to drive the armed groups towards the use of force to apprehend the culprits which is a human rights issue.  The government of Tanzania has been sensitive on human rights issues due to international pressure as exemplified by the human way it handled the voluntary relocation of people from Ngorongoro Conservation Area to Handeni with much better facilities including permanent houses, free land, water supply, schools, health facilities and road infrastructure. The law does not allow bail for suspects in cases involving murder and armed robbery among other economic crimes, and other offenses where the accused might pose a public safety risk. In 2019, the High Court ruled that section 148(5) of the Criminal Procedure Act, nonbailable offenses is unconstitutional because it violated rights to personal liberty and presumption of innocence. However, the Court of Appeals overruled the High Court decision, declaring that nonbailable offenses were constitutional, and that detention pending trial was important for peace and order in the country.

Noah Sitati PhD

Wildlife Species Specialist for WWF Tanzania