While we like to let you know when we’re achieving positive results on the ground, we also believe that it is important to be upfront when faced with significant challenges. Sadly, in April of this year, the carcases of a female rhino and her calf were found in Serengeti National Park. The rhinos had been killed for their horns several weeks earlier by poachers, and their bodies were discovered by rangers while out on regular patrols. The recent killings brings the current rhino population in the Moru area down from 31 to 29 individuals.
Upon finding the bodies, the park authorities launched an investigation with the police and have since arrested four suspects. To date, no trophies have been recovered. While TANAPA reacted swiftly on the ground, they did not make the information about the recent rhino killings known. The Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism found out over a month later when the news was reported in a press release by an MP for the Serengeti District, and immediately suspended four of TANAPA’s most senior staff and 28 rangers, pending further investigations.
While it is unclear whether or not there was any involvement in the recent killing by park staff, it is clear that much more needs to be done in order to protect the rhinos and elephants in the face of growing pressure and increasing demands from Asian markets. The Frankfurt Zoological Society has been pushing for the implementation of the Serengeti Security Plan that was approved by the Rhino Technical Committee last year, but TANAPA have yet to fully engage. Until this is done, FZS believes the rhinos will remain at risk.
FZS will be holding talks with the DG of TANAPA to discuss urgent measures that are needed to ensure the long-term protection of the park’s threatened rhino population, including the establishment of a disciplinary code for the rangers putting them under the same legal framework as the police and army. We will also recommend the immediate engagement of a security advisor to spearhead the implementation of the park’s security plan, improvements to patrol work on the ground, and the use of modern technologies to facilitate law enforcement efforts and improve the park’s surveillance and monitoring capabilities.
Much more needs to be done, and what is of critical importance right now is the need to re-structure and improve law enforcement systems within the park. While we remain committed to providing TANAPA with support, and will be appealing to the President of Tanzania to create a long-overdue legal framework that will underpin much needed improvements in park security. We will also continue to provide training, equipment, vehicles and rations, but this must go hand in hand with a willingness on the part of TANAPA to bring about significant changes within a system that is struggling to keep up with demands placed on it by poaching networks that are operating with increasing levels of efficiency and effectiveness.