Tanzania deploys drones in national park to fight poaching

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Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) has sanctioned a deployment of drones in the country’s third-largest national park in a hi-tech battle with poachers, who threaten the country’s multi-billion dollars wildlife tourism industry.

Located in far Southwest Tanzania, east of Lake Tanganyika, Katavi national park is Africa at its most wild — unadulterated bush settings, spectacular views, and rich wildlife.

TANAPA says that the park is a home to an estimated 4,000 elephants, together with several herds of 1,000-plus buffalo, while an abundance of giraffes, zebras, impalas and reedbucks.

“We have signed on to a unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) anti poaching surveillance to be carried out by a private entity, Bathawk Recon, in Katavi National park for six months” TANAPA’s spokesman, Mr Pascal Shelutete told e-Turbonews over the phone.

An initial pilot six-month deployment of Super Bat DA-50 and the required ground and monitoring equipment at Katavi, is expected to provide real time information about poaching activities.

The move follows a three-years extensive and painstaking trials taken place over Tarangire and Mkomanzi National Parks, both in northern Tanzania, where the results were reported overwhelming, apparently encouraging the one of the country’s principal protection institutions, TANAPA to expand the scope of the project.

Indeed, Bathawk Recon, the UAV operator has been working together with the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA), the Military, the Ministry of Natural Resources and TANAPA to develop the operational option for three-consecutive-years.

The UAV plan is an innovation in a number of ways not the least institutionally where the effort is part of a Public Private Partnership backed by the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation (TPSF).

Consensus and working together are an integral part of the plan.

“Of course government and Non Profits are important in conservation, but the poaching emergency needs all sectors and most especially the private sector to be engaged,” says CEO of TPSF and Chair of the Private Sector Anti Poaching Initiative, Mr Godfrey Simbeye.

But the bold and forward thinking part of this innovation is on the technical and operational side.

There are other UAV anti poaching projects in Africa but to date the efficacy of those efforts are still in question.

Does UAV anti poaching rally work? Well at Bathawk Recon they say; “only if you do it right”.

The expense and effort of buying a drone, manning a team and deploying them to the bush have to be cost effective and bring results.

This question of effectiveness is the key shift in protection area strategy at the moment. There’s a continent wide change from covering as much ground as possible with rangers to defining where rangers can or should go through intelligence.

Shifting to this latter strategy “Intelligence Led” is a reflection of policing strategies in many contexts, not just protection areas.

TANAPA and Bathawk Recon’s agreement to deploy the ‘Proof of Concept’, which will test the operational plan and technology for six months, is actually a two-fold advance.

Yes it’s a demonstration of working together and different sector working to contribute, step by step, to a single process.

But at the same time those staid and somewhat time weary characteristics are proposing a radical shift in ‘Protection Area thinking’.

Mike Chambers, Director at Bathawk Recon, explains that “the hardware and software we propose in the Super Bat DA-50 will integrate with the ground teams and rangers to bring a true intelligence led tool to protection area authorities”.

So this agreement between Bathawk and TANAPA isn’t just two partners wanting to work together, it’s a proposal to demonstrate a new anti poaching tool that could rapidly advance the field and be applicable across multiple areas and in many countries.

They are going to test it in Katavi National park as soon as possible: Poachers beware!

Poaching ranks high, among others, threatening the Tanzania’s wildlife and ultimately a thriving multi-billion dollars tourism industry, its related jobs, revenues and the whole value chain, as soon than later, there will be nothing to attract the tourists.

Over the past seven years, more than 80,000 of the country’s elephants have been slaughtered for their ivory, representing a 60 percent of population, in yet another sign humanity could soon drive the great pachyderms to extinction

“It is an open secret that if, we Tanzanians do not conserve our wildlife and look after our natural assets then nature based tourism will not be able to attract two million tourists come 2020” CEO of Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO), Sirili Akko explains.

Wildlife tourism in Tanzania continues to grow, with more than 1 million guests visit the country annually, earning the country $2.05 billion, equivalent to nearly 17.6 percent of GDP.

Additionally, tourism provides 600,000 direct jobs to Tanzanians; over one million people earn an income from tourism not to mention the value chain of tourism which supports, parks, conservation areas and now community based wildlife management areas (WMA’s) but also farmers, transporters, fuel stations, spare parts suppliers, builders, tent manufacturers, suppliers of food and drink.