TANZANIA (eTN) - From a single national park in 1961, Tanzania is marking 50 years of independence, with well-established and full-fledged protected 15 national parks, rich with wildlife and natural plants waiting for tourists.
Standing as a single tourist magnet, national parks are the leading source of Tanzania’s foreign currency accrued from photographic tourism, hotel concession fees, and other levies from safari companies operating in these nature-protected areas.
Development of national parks has been a strategy by the first President of Tanzania, the Late Dr. Julius Nyerere, who deliberately advocated the need for Tanzania to establish its own wildlife parks and develop a national tourist base, taking into account that, tourism under British colonial powers was basically perceived through amateur hunting.
Wildlife conservation for sustainable tourism development was not a priority by British colonial administrators, while few hunting tourists visited this country, merely for trophy hunting. Kenya was the hub of the East African tourist market, attracting both trophy hunters and photographic safari tourists.
Tanzania's tourism was basically controlled from Nairobi, where all tourist businesses were carried. Tanzania and Uganda depended on Kenya for both the management of wildlife protection and conservation, tourism, and accommodation.
It was in September, 1961, just three months before independence of Tanzania, when Dr. Nyerere, with senior political officials, met at a symposium on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources in Tanzania's northern tourist city of Arusha and endorsed a document for wildlife protection and conservation known as the Arusha Manifesto.
The Arusha Manifesto had since then been a milestone for conservation of nature, quoting Dr. Nyerere as saying: “The survival of our wildlife is a matter of grave concern to all of us in Africa. These wild creatures amid the wild places they inhabit are not only important as a source of wonder and inspiration but are an integral part of our natural resources and our future livelihood and well-being.
"In accepting the trusteeship of our wildlife, we solemnly declare that we will do everything in our power to make sure that our children’s grandchildren will be able to enjoy this rich and precious inheritance.
"The conservation of wildlife and wild places calls for specialist knowledge, trained manpower, and money, and we look to other nations to cooperate with us in this important task – the success or failure of which not only affects the continent of Africa but the rest of the world as well.”
When Tanzania became independent in 1961, there was only one park, the Serengeti that was established as a National Park in 1951, 10 years before independence of this country. Although declared a protected wildlife site since 1921, the Serengeti remained a tourist hunting area since 1921 when European hunters from Kenya and other parts of the world camped there for trophy hunting.
Tanganyika National Parks Ordinance of 1959 established the organization now known as Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), giving it a mandate to manage and govern nature-protected areas in Tanzania under trusteeship of national parks trustees. Serengeti became the first national park in independent Tanzania as a product of the 1959 ordinance.
Strategic efforts to market national parks as a source of tourist revenue generation have largely succeeded in making Tanzania one of the most prime tourist destinations in Africa, said the National Parks Director General Mr. Allan Kijazi.
Tourist revenues generated from tourism activities have been increasing each year in the range of 10 to 14 percent on average, making TANAPA one of the public-owned institutions, which does not receive government subvention, Mr. Kijazi said.
“Through conservation efforts, Tanzania is proud of having in its protection a rich and diverse endemic, rare, endangered, and threatened species,” he told eTN.
Through tourism, TANAPA has been able to support community projects for villages neighboring the national parks and the public at large through its Social Community Responsibility (SCR) program known in Tanzania's lingua franca Kiswahili as “Ujirani Mwema” or “Good Neighborliness.”
The “Ujirani Mwema” initiative had shown a positive trend, bringing reconciliation between the humans and their natural enemies - the wild animals. Now, people in villages realize the importance of wildlife and tourism to their lives, keeping away the old notion that wild creatures had no value to humans.
At the national level, national parks have successfully maintained a competitive advantage over other tourist destinations, standing as the leading tourist attractions, while adding a value to other attractive sites outside the parks, including the Indian Ocean beaches, historical sites, cultural tourist sites, and other such attractive places.
As a result, the parks have become tourist selling points for Tanzania, and this had made tourism an important sector of the economy for Tanzania's development. In recent years, tourism was contributing 17 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 25 percent of export earnings in foreign exchange, said Mr. Kijazi.
The 50 years of Tanzania independence and successful wildlife conservation have set a good background for re-thinking and repositioning the national parks management and trustees in the conservation global roadmap.
This strategic repositioning aims at addressing a number of challenges, which include poaching, disappearance of wildlife corridors, climate change, technological advances, and understanding of the ecology of some of the parks systems.
Tanzania national parks trustees are striving to re-package its organizational systems and strategies to cope with these challenges in an effective way.
The strategic repositioning is in line with redefining its strategic direction in the conservation world, so as to become the highest globally-rated institution in sustainable conservation and tourism challenges, with a vision envisaging improvement of organizational efficiency and effectiveness.
The parks trustees believe that this vision will become a reality, given dedicated support from other stakeholders to address the existing challenges, while appreciation is registered for the high-level support that has been extended to its management and trusteeship during the 50 years of its nature protection in Tanzania.
Tanzania, the largest country in East Africa, is focused on wildlife conservation and sustainable tourism, with approximately 28 percent of the land set for nature (wildlife and plants) protection and conservation. Tanzania is the only country in the world, which had committed its big area of land covering more than 250,000 kilometers set for nature protection.
Apart from the Serengeti, other national parks established since independence of Tanzania are Lake Manyara National Park, Tarangire, Arusha, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mkomazi, Udzungwa, Saadani, Mikumi, Ruaha, Kitulo, Katavi, Rubondo Island, Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Park, and Mahale Mountains Chimpanzee Park.
Saadani, Kitulo, and Mkomazi national parks are the new nature-protected and conservation parks developed in recent past years, still under infrastructural development for visitors accommodation and other visiting services.
Expansion of existing national parks and the creation of new national parks is a continuing process during this time when Tanzania marks 50 years of self-governance.
Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru Forest Reserves formerly under the Forestry and Beekeeping Division were successfully gazetted in 2005 and were annexed to Kilimanjaro and Arusha National Parks, respectively.
The Tanzania government has annexed the Usangu Game Reserve with Ruaha National Park, making it 20,226 kilometers in area, the largest national park in Tanzania and one of the largest in Africa. The process initiated by the government aims at protecting the Ihefu wetland and the Great Ruaha River in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania with associated catchment areas and biodiversity.
Mkomazi National Parks was recently gazetted in 2008, while plans are underway to annex or combine Mount Rungwe Forest in Mbeya to Kitulo National Park in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania.
One more national park, the Saanane Island, will be gazetted in the near future as Tanzania's 16th national park, while the Speke Gulf on the shores of Lake Victoria will be annexed to the Serengeti National Park.
Throughout the Tanzania National Parks system there has been a steady growth in nature-based tourism. Tourist attractions have been diversified to enhance visitor experience.
New products include walking safaris, canoeing, and night game drives. Traditional products such as day game drives, ballooning, sport fishing, chimpanzee tracking, and mountain climbing have been progressively improved.
Other than national parks, Tanzania has 31 game reserves, 50 game-controlled areas, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and two marine parks.
Selous Game Reserve, the world's largest game reserve covering a total area of 55,000 kilometers, and Ruaha National Park, are the biggest nature-protected areas in Africa.