Big-Game Hunting Threatening Parks
At a dirt airstrip in rural Tanzania, a desert camouflaged cargo plane from the United Arab Emirates air force taxis up to pallets stacked with large coolers full of game meat, the harvest of a successful hunting season.
As Tanzanian immigration and customs officials fill out documents under a thatched shelter, new, four-wheel-drive trucks and dune buggies drive to and from a nearby luxury campsite, the base for one of Tanzania’s most expensive--and secretive--game-hunting operations, Otterlo Business Corp.
Hundreds of members of Arab royalty and high-flying businessmen spend weeks in the Loliondo Game Control Area each year hunting antelope, lion, leopard and other wild animals. The area is leased under the Otterlo name by a member of an emirate royal family who is a senior officer in the UAE defense ministry.
Although neighboring Kenya outlawed big-game hunting in 1978, the Tanzanian government says hunting is the best use of the land and wildlife. But villagers and herders say big money has led government officials to break all the hunting rules, resulting in the destruction of most of the area’s non-migratory animals and putting East Africa’s most famous national parks under threat.
Loliondo is on the main migratory route for wildlife north of Ngorongoro Crater, east of Serengeti National Park and south of Kenya’s sprawling Masai Mara National Reserve.
The summer hunting season coincides with the migration of wildebeest and zebra through the area, where they eventually cross into the Serengeti and the Masai Mara. Predatory animals follow the migration.
During the colonial era, Loliondo was set aside for European royalty as a hunting area. Since independence, Loliondo has remained a hunting reserve, but it is supposed to be managed by area residents for their benefit.
Local leaders, who refuse to speak publicly because they fear retribution, say they were not consulted about the lease granted in 1995 by national officials in Tanzania’s political capital, Dodoma. They say that government officials have tried to silence criticism.
“The lease was given by the government and the Maasai landowners were not involved,” said one Maasai leader. “All the resident animals have been killed. . . . [Now] they carry out hunting raids in the Serengeti National Park, but the government closes its eyes.”
Maasai warriors told Associated Press that hunters give cash to anyone who can lead them to big game, especially leopards. They also said that Otterlo officials have pumped water into some areas to attract more animals and that what the warriors call suspicious fires in the Serengeti have caused animals to move into Loliondo.
An Otterlo manager, who gave his name only as Khamis, initially agreed to an interview with AP but later did not return repeated phone calls.
In an interview with the newspaper, the East African, Otterlo managing director Juma Akida Zodikheri said his company adheres to Tanzanian law, and he denied hunters killed animals indiscriminately. He said the owner of the company is Maj. Gen. Mohammed Abdulrahim al Ali, deputy defense minister of the UAE.
Although Tanzania has strict rules on game hunting, Maasai who have worked at the lodge say guests are never told of the limits and hunt as much as they want. Tanzanian officials deny that.
Col. A.G.N. Msangi, district commissioner for Ngorongoro District, said all applicable rules are enforced. He accused the Maasai of being a rumormonger in an effort to discredit Otterlo.
The company “is following the system the government wants,” Msangi said. “OBC has invested more money here than any other company in the district.”
Msangi said hunting companies request permission to kill a certain number of animals. Once the request is approved by wildlife experts at the Ministry of the Environment, the company pays a fee based on that number whether they actually kill the animals or not, he said.
“We have police and ministry people making sure they don’t exceed what they have paid for,” Msangi said. The tourists are also required to employ professional hunters to ensure no female or young animals are killed, he added.
Compared with the numbers in Serengeti National Park, very few large animals were seen during a three-hour drive through Loliondo. But without any independent survey of the animal population, it is impossible to know whether Msangi’s conservation efforts are working.
Msangi described his main duty as balancing the needs of people, animals and conservation. He said not only does hunting revenue finance wildlife conservation, but Otterlo, like most tourism companies, also makes charitable donations to help pay for schools and development projects and it provides much needed jobs.