Tanzania now bans private drones from overflying its national parks, cites security

Saturday November 15 2014

By ADAM IHUCHA, TEA Special Correspondent

Tanzania's national parks’ airspaces have been declared a no-drones flying zone in a bid to stem escalating poaching.

“As of November 6, 2014, the use of the unmanned aerial vehicles of different sizes for photo taking, filming and other purposes is not allowed in the national parks for security reasons,” said the Tanzania National Parks Authority (Tanapa) in a statement.

Though Tanapa does not go into details, it is believed poachers could use the gadgets for mapping where elephants and rhinos can be found.

Tanapa public relations manager Pascal Shelutete said there were concerns about the risks of flying unmanned aircraft over the parks.

“Until we determine an appropriate policy to guide drones usage and protect resources in the parks, we have restricted them,” he clarified.

This means operators of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles will not be allowed to fly them in Serengeti, Mount Kilimanjaro, Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Arusha, Gombe Stream, Katavi, Kitulo, Mahale, Mikumi, Mkomazi Ruaha, Rubondo Island, Saadani, Saa Nane Island and Udzungwa Mountain national parks.

“We ask all tour operators to notify their clients and assist in the compliance of this public notice. The same applies to all visitors intending to do filming in the parks,” said the statement.

Mr Shelutete said drones and UAVs are high-tech tools the officials are not conversant with.

“It is foreign operators only who currently know what they are doing with the devices, this is quite unacceptable,” he added.

Interest of the nation

The ban on drones is supported by Tanzania Association of Tour Operators chief executive Sirili Akko, who said it was in the best interest of the nation. 

“However, I challenge them to be well equipped technologically in a bid to identify and deal with such things without causing inconveniences to holiday makers,” Mr Akko said.

One UAVs operators, Mike Chambers, who has successfully used the machines for monitoring Tarangire National Park last month, also supports Tanapa’s stance, saying it is imperative to control the machines.

“In the Bathawks Company case, we had extensive discussions with Tanapa before we tested specific anti-poaching equipment. Tanapa can’t just allow anyone to fly any machine. The responsible way is to take control and only allow authorised activities,” Mr Chambers said.

However, the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) said there are regulations for drone operators.

“We have legislation for anything that enters to our airspace; that’s why the UAVs were allowed to fly on a trial basis with a view to supporting the country’s anti-poaching initiatives in future,” TCAA acting director general Charles Chacha said.

The use of UAVs for aerial surveys is expected to help stop the senseless killing of elephants and other wildlife in Tanzania. The trials are part of the latest efforts by the private sector to complement the government’s anti-poaching initiatives.

Tanzania has been under scrutiny over the commercial-scale slaughter of its elephants. Available data shows the country is losing 30 elephants a day, or nearly 11,000 a year.

Almost half of the country’s elephants have been shot, speared or poisoned since 2007, leaving about 60,000 in total. Going by the present rate of poaching, Tanzania’s elephants could be gone within five years. For example, a recent report shows that the Selous Game Reserve — a Unesco World Heritage Site — which boasted 38,975 elephants in 2009, now has barely 13,084.

Selous is renowned for its large numbers of elephants and other big game but rampant poaching has brought about a dramatic decline in its elephant and rhino populations.

The current poaching crisis began in Central Africa about a decade ago and has since spread to East Africa, where as many as 25,000 elephants were killed in Tanzania’s Selous ecosystem — 66 per cent of the reserve’s population — between 2009 and 2013, prompting Unesco to add the reserve to its list of World Heritage Sites at risk.