Lions escort a Jeep in Tanzania

Credit: Joachim Huber. Wildlife Management Areas in Tanzania aim to allow local people to benefit from wildlife, and promote wildlife conservation.

AUGUST 2010. Natural vegetation has been reestablished and wildlife populations are recuperating in the Burunge Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Northern Tanzania. The WMA has seen a steady increase in its tourism revenue, and administrators have divided that revenue equally among member villages, and invested in education and water. 

This is how WMAs were meant to work.   But even within Burunge, there are problems.  At one point, the Barabaig pastoralists refused to vacate their pastures within the WMA and took legal action to maintain their land rights.  Another village in the WMA refused to remove members who were farming WMA land.  But this complexity is not surprising when viewed from a larger context.

Since the colonial period, wildlife in Tanzania has been the property and responsibility of the State.  In the 1990s, however, the government ushered in new policies that granted wildlife user rights to communities that established Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) on their Village Land.

Under WMAs, communities commit to managing a portion of their Village Land for wildlife conservation, and the national government agrees to share the benefits from the use of State-owned wildlife, including from trophy hunting and game viewing.

A regulatory framework describes the procedures for creating and benefiting from WMAs, and outlines the roles and responsibilities of the community and the government. However, the original regulations did not clearly specify how revenue generated from wildlife in WMAs should be shared between the two parties, which has created conflict between communities, the government, and investors. 

Implementation of the WMAs has been problematic for other reasons as well.  Most WMAs take several years to establish, and the regulations are highly technical and cumbersome for local communities to employ.  While some communities have benefitted from WMAs, many experience internal conflict and fail to generate significant revenue to offset opportunity costs.   Even Burunge—one of the highest-revenue generating WMAs—earns less from wildlife conservation than it could from agriculture. 

Some observers have challenged the legal authority for establishing WMAs. They argue that the legal instruments governing WMAs are inconsistent with other legislation and infringe on the established authorities of the village government.  Some communities have opted out of participating in WMAs, and some others are attempting to terminate their WMAs, but are experiencing difficulties securing government approval to do so. 

UPDATE: Passage of the 2009 Wildlife Conservation Act paved the way for major reforms to WMA regulations.  In 2012, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism issued new WMA regulations, which, while not perfect, resolve many of the ambiguities around benefit-sharing and establish a basis for greater revenue-generation from WMAs by allowing communities to charge higher hunting fees.