The Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism has taken delivery of an R44 helicopter from the Howard Buffet Foundation to provide aerial support for combating the escalating poaching in its game reserves.
The donation comes amid an outcry from the government and international conservation groups that last month warned that the elephant population in Tanzania could be extinct within the next seven years unless urgent action is taken shortly to stop organised the poaching syndicates behind the crisis.
The helicopter was handed over to the Tanzanian government on June 14 by US ambassador to Tanzania Mark Childress on behalf of the Howard Buffet Foundation. Speaking at the handover ceremony of the helicopter in the capital Dar es Salaam, Childress said the US will continue to help Tanzania to combat the poaching crisis in all national parks.
Tanzanian Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism Lazaro Nyalandu said the government values US support in its anti-poaching efforts. He said the helicopter will be deployed shortly to conduct aerial surveillance operations over the Selous Game Reserve.
“The government of Tanzania will continue to open its arms to all help which is aimed at supporting the conservation of our unique natural resources. The government is delighted for the support which delivers a clear message to poachers that we are serious in the fight against them.
“The United States has been the strongest supporter of our fight against poaching. We also recommend the efforts of many other development partners have also shown the willingness to help us intensify the fight,” he said.
Nyalandu said the government has plans to acquire two more helicopters – a Bell 206 and another R44 – to boost the aerial fleet used by game wardens to detect and track down poachers in national parks in the Eastern and Coastal areas of the country, including the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. He said the government has so far recruited 450 out of target of 900 game rangers this year.
Nyalandu said 25 new AK-47 rifles have been acquired for the purpose of training game ranger cadets at the country’s Pasiansi Wildlife Training College. Prior to the delivery of the Raven II, Tanzania had only one ageing helicopter for anti-poaching surveillance operations in all national parks across the country.
The Howard Buffet Foundation sponsored the training of four pilots who will operate the helicopters. The foundation is also purchasing vehciles and communication equipment for game rangers. The foundation will also pay salaries for the pilots and meet the operational costs for the helicopter.
Howard Buffet visited Tanzania in April this year and pledged to stop the poaching of elephants and rhinos during a meeting with President Jakaya Kikwete.
According the government, the elephant population in the Selous and Mikumi game sanctuaries has declined from 38 975 in 2009 to an estimated 13 084 today. The population in the Ruaha and Rungwe national parks has also declined steadily from 35 461 in 2006 to 20 090 today. International elephant conservation groups says Kenya and Tanzania account for nearly 70 per cent of the African elephants slaughtered by poachers in the last decade.
In April this year, the uncontrolled elephant poaching crisis in Africa prompted the US Fisheries and Wildlife Services department to ban the importation of all animal trophies acquired from hunts in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The service cited rampant poaching and failure by both governments to institute effective anti-poaching policies.
In March Buffet donated R225 million to be used in improving anti-poaching operations in the Kruger National Park over the next three years. The iconic Kruger National Park remains the favoured target of rhino poachers in South Africa with nearly 300 rhinos killed there so far this year. This is more than half the national kill of over 450 killed in South Africa in 2014.