Nairobi — Pressure is growing on Tanzania not to renew the hunting licence of a United Arab Emirates-based firm in the Loliondo Game Controlled Area in Tanzania.
The Ortello Business Company’s clientele, mostly composed of Gulf royalty, have been hunting in the 4,000 sq km Loliondo block in Arusha since 1992.
The block lies squarely across the animal migration route between Tanzania and Kenya.
However, all hunting blocks’ licences including that of Ortello, expired on December 31, 2009.
Its executive director, Isaac Mollel, told The EastAfrican in Arusha that his firm is preparing to submit an application to renew to the government despite concerted efforts by environmentalists, human-rights activists and religious leaders to block the renewal of the contract.
The Loliondo Game Controlled Area in which the hunting block lies is important due to the fact it is a water catchment for key areas of the Serengeti National Park and other parts of the Loliondo grazing land, a buffer zone for the Serengeti National Park, a dispersal and wildebeest birthing ground.
It is a key corridor for the wildebeest migration between the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and Masai Mara in Kenya.
On the other hand, the prime hunting block generates over $800,000 in revenue annually for the government of Tanzania.
In July 2009 the government evicted upto 3,000 Maasai villagers from the area, burning their bomas (homesteads) and dispersing their cattle.
Now activists are forging a united front, with international environmentalists and activists from Kenya teaming up with religious leaders in a campaign to stop the government renewing the contract.
A leading human rights activist, Navaya Ndaskoi, who has fought the Ortello presence since the 1990s, told The EastAfrican in Arusha last week, “Renewing the contract will amount to a deliberate infringement of the law of the land because it is illegal to give an investor a hunting block located within the village land. So if that happens, we shall drag the state to court.”
He added that renewing the hunting concession will ensure the Maasai are slowly driven off the land their ancestors have lived on for hundreds of years.
An interfaith team led by Tabora diocese Catholic Archbishop Paul Ruzoka, Sheikh Mohamed Hamis from the National Muslim Council of Tanzania (Bakwata), Bishop Thomas Laiser from the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s north-central diocese has been set up to oppose the renewal of the contract.
Meanwhile, a report by Feminist Activist Coalition (Femact) states that as many as 50,000 cattle either died or were lost in the aftermath of the eviction.
However, Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Shamsa Mwangunga, told The EastAfrican that the agreement between Ortello and adjacent villages regarding the use of the hunting block area stipulated that there would be no agricultural activities, tree felling, construction of shelters or burning.
“It was further agreed that during the hunting season, communities would refrain from grazing their livestock in the hunting area. This agreement was breached at the instigation of local non governmental organisations, CBOs and some photographic operators in the Loliondo area,” she said.
According to Ms Mwangunga, the agreement had been adhered by the communities until 2006, when some of their members started constructing new bomas, farming and bringing in large numbers of cattle during the hunting season.
Ortello’s Mr Mollel said, “The company has been paying the central government its annual dues amounting to $560,000 as well as $150,000 to the eight villages around the Loliondo Game Controlled Area as well as $109,000 to Ngorongoro District Council.”
Records show that no other district in Tanzania containing hunting areas receives this level of funds for community development from the hunting business.