Safari Parks, Land Rights & Pastoralism

Last weekend the East Africa Interns returned to Dar es Salaam after spending nearly two weeks away from “home”.  We had gone to the city of Arusha for eight days to conduct interviews of agricultural market vendors, and learn about the future of land development and agricultural sustainability in the city of Arusha and the Mount Meru region.  Once we had completed our data collection and field work, we went on a five day camping safari through three national parks.  The three spectacular parks that we toured were Tarangire National Park, Serengeti National Park, and the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area.

In recollection, it’s difficult to find the right words that give enough justice to the whole experience.  Quite often, I found that I was coming up short for words when we toured these landscapes and when we would see the animals.  I was continually struck by how close we got to the animals, their physical splendour, and their sheer magnitude in numbers.  Combined with the pristine tranquility and beauty of the savannahs, grasslands, and the jungle forests, it was continually breath-taking.  I had to keep pinching myself that each moment was real, and urging myself to soak it all in, not taking the experience for granted.

Throughout my readings on the history of land development around Arusha and northern Tanzania, I have learned about the interesting relationship between pastoralists and the national park lands.  To preserve wildlife, the British evicted the resident Maasai peoples and other tribes from Serengeti National Park in 1959 and moved them to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  There is still considerable controversy surrounding this move, with claims made of coercion and deceit on the part of the colonial authorities. [1]  Land in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is unique because it is the only conservation area in Tanzania that allows for and controls human habitation while simultaneously protecting the wildlife population.  Our tour guide pointed this out to us when we left Ngorongoro and were about to enter the Serengeti, “Now, no more Maasai here”, he said.

The Maasai people in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area use a traditional farming system known as transhumance pastoralism, which involves the regular movement of their livestock between dry-seasons and wet-seasons for the constant search of water and good grazing lands.  Today, pastoralists face a variety of environmental, economic, and political challenges related to their nomadic lifestyles.  A few governments in East Africa have attempted to control this unlimited grazing by designating some rangeland as part of the national park system.  These policies have restricted pastoralists to limited areas, leading to overgrazing and the rapid deterioration of the land.  In some cases, pastoralists see no choice but to drive their herd into national park lands. [2]

As we went about on our game drives each day of the safari in search of animals, touring these national parks, I contemplated the curious interplay between the national park lands, nomadic peoples, and the preservation of the environment.  My greatest take-away from the experience was the importance I felt for the continued conservation and protection of these unique ecosystems.  Yet it also seems obvious that, together, governments, international aid agencies, and pastoralists have to reach a healthy compromise that recognizes the conditions of the African rangelands and understands the cultural attributes of pastoral peoples. [2]

References

[1] “Heartbreak on the Serengeti”, National Geographic Magazine, reported by Robert M. Poole, February 2006

[2] Obia, G. C. (2010). Agricultural Development in Sub-Saharan Africa. In S. Aryeetey Attoh (Ed.), Geography of Sub-Saharan Africa (373-375). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

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