Tanzania’s Southern Safari Circuit – back in the spotlight


(Posted 07th July 2015)

After years of neglect, besides allowing the Southern circuit parks and game reserves (Selous, Ruaha, Mikumi) to be turned into elephant killing fields, has Tanzania suddenly re-discovered this part of the country, conveniently in time for the runup to the upcoming Presidential and General Elections in October.

Tens of thousands of elephant got massacred under the watch of President Kikwete’s successive governments, until more recently when denying the industrial scale slaughter no longer helped after being repeatedly outed by international conservation organisations. Until then it was the order of the day to bedevil the conservationists daring to put their information in to the public domain and even frame up and then sack a tourism minister who dared to compile a list of the three hundred top names allegedly involved in the killings and illicit blood ivory trade. Khamis Kagesheki was pushed out of government after rogue elements in an unfolding antipoaching campaign used their powers in the field to enrich themselves by confiscating cattle and property in the North of the country while the killings in the South, at locations well known, continued unabated. These excesses, very likely carefully engineered serving a hidden agenda, were promptly raised in parliament and Kagesheki, who got saddled with the political oversight without having much of a say over operations on the ground, was turned into a whipping bag and booted out.

Cleared of much of the formerly massive herds of elephant is the tourism focus now shifting back to those areas, according to one regular and credible source to impress voters with big numbers, when the Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Mahmoud Mgimwa, in response to the question of a Member of Parliament, spoke of plans to seek a 100 million US Dollar loan from the World Bank to better market the country over and above the almost self-selling Northern safari circuit (Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro, Serengeti).

According to a conservation source in Arusha did the Deputy Minister state that a new five year plan was in the making and would be financed with a World Bank loan, a matter however disputed by other regular sources which claim that unless a comprehensive anti-poaching campaign was showing results and bringing the ring leaders on Kagesheki’s infamous list of three hundred to book, there was little chance that the World Bank would reward a government with such a loan after showing such sustained and prolonged neglect to the poaching crisis.

Meanwhile has the Tanzania Tourism Board however began to roll out new campaigns, aimed at the North American and key European markets, in order to offset the negative effect of the Ebola crisis which affected Eastern Africa badly, inspite of the West African countries suffering from the disease being closer to Europe than to East Africa and not a single case of the disease ever being detected here. In addition did the Kenyan situation affect the rest of East Africa and the spats between Kenya and Tanzania over access to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport too affected tourism arrivals to some extent.

Hope however has been expressed from many regular contacts in Tanzania that a new government may take a fresh look at conservation and recognize the damage the poaching crisis has done to the country’s global reputation, besides dialing back some of the environmentally dubious if not outright damaging projects like the still on the cards Serengeti Highway, the port in the heart of the Coelacanth marine park, the planned destruction of the flamingo breeding grounds on the mud flats of Lake Natron and other projects along the so called ‘Corridor of Destruction’ as outlined here several times before.

The fact remains undisputed that the Selous Game Reserve, even with largely reduced elephant numbers, continues to offer visitors a unique insight of what Africa’s great wilderness areas once were like, and how it should remain so as part of the global heritage under UNESCO’s World Heritage Site programme.

Home to some of Tanzania’s finest tented safari camps and lodges, like Serena’s Luxury Camp or the Mivumo River Lodge, is the Selous, just under an hour’s flight from Dar es Salaam, the closest major safari destination from the commercial capital and truly a must visit location in particular for conference and business visitors.

For added details on the Selous read on about this correspondent’s impressions when visiting a few months ago: https://atcnews.org/2015/01/03/big-bigger-selous-the-worlds-largest-game-reserve/