One of the major issues anticipated during the Covid-19 pandemic has been encroachment into Tanzania’s national parks. With no tourists, there are far fewer eyes to raise the alarm if bad things begin to occur. There is also a drastic loss of revenue for the ministry of natural resources and so paying rangers is increasingly an issue.
Saadani is a unique coastal eco-system within which fascinating behaviour can be observed. Lions den and hunt just metres from sea turtle nests, and hundreds of elephants can be found on a 3sqkm patch of land which is, in effect, an Indian Ocean island at high tide. This vital habitat is shared between the national park and a village of fishermen. A community which has lived in remarkable harmony with the wildlife for a very long time.
This year a businessman arrived in the area, bamboozled the village chairman with promises of riches, and has already turned 5 sqkm of the area into salt works. He has now turned his attention to Elephant Island and has begun clearing a huge area of diverse and important vegetation to expand his operation. Left unchecked, this area of remarkable importance would be lost in a matter of months.
In just the last three weeks we have managed to pull together officials from the national park and the district council to stop all further development of the salt works. The businessman has failed to produce any of the necessary paperwork and clearly intended to turn a very sensitive and unique natural environment into an area of heavy industry whilst no-one was watching, taking full advantage of the naivety within a small fishing village.
Of course, there is room for salt works up and down the extensive Tanzanian coastline. However, the tiny stretch which is part of Saadani NP is the only part harbouring Africa’s magnificent wildlife. He could have chosen any number of places to begin salt production but terrifyingly, he found this the cheapest and simplest.
We have now unleashed a storm to remove the salt works before it begins production and we are working on a plan to pay the village to protect the area, providing essential funds for development programmes within and ensuring there is no further destruction this natural hidden masterpiece.