40,000 Maasai face eviction from their traditional grazing lands in Northern Tanzania to make way for a "wildlife corridor" that an Emirati hunting company, whose clients reportedly include Prince Andrew and the Jordanian royal family, will be permitted to shoot game animals on.
A hunting block, operated by the Gulf-owned Ortello Business Corporation, has existed for years next to the world-famous Serengeti National Park but it is sited on “registered village land,” home to several Maasai settlements and thousands of square miles of valuable grazing.
The Tanzanian government has ordered the Maasai to vacate 15,000 square kilometres, ostensibly for conservation reasons, to create a “wildlife corridor” from the Serengeti but one in which OBC and its clients will be free to shoot.
Hunting is big business in Tanzania. Promoted by the government as a cornerstone of their conservation strategy, hunting firms earn millions of dollars from rich clients who want to shoot lion, leopard and elephant. The government makes money from the permits and some of that money is then recycled to pay for conservation measures.
Hunters, the government say, have a vested interest in the conservation of the areas in which they operate and can earn enough money to pay for it.
Critics say the hunting industry in Tanzania is virtually unregulated, hunting blocks are allocated by an opaque and corrupt system that allows hunting licenses to be used as political currency.
Some Tanzanian hunting firms have been linked to organised poaching, others are owned by wealthy foreigners with no history of involvement in conservation.
The Maasai claim they are equally important to Tanzania’s economy. To many they are the very image of Africa’s wild places, clad in brightly-coloured blankets the semi-nomadic warrior-herdsmen adorn posters and tourist brochures throughout Tanzania but they are under pressure like never before.
Evicted from the vast plains of the Serengeti by the British in 1959, they were promised grazing rights elsewhere but subsequent Tanzanian governments have reduced their range by as much as 40 percent, usually in the name of conservation.
They are accused of over-grazing grasslands at the expense of wildlife. But the Maasai and their supporters say they are good stewards of Africa’s wilderness – they rarely hunt, leave no pollution and when their cattle have grazed one area they move elsewhere, allowing the land to recover.
As they are squeezed into ever smaller areas though it becomes harder and harder for them to find new grazing land. Meanwhile hunting companies and other tourism ventures are allocated more and more space.
A report released this week by Survival International claims that since the Maasai were evicted from the famous Ngorongoro crater in the name of conservation tourist numbers there have risen to over half-a million a year.
Meanwhile the Maasai, Africa’s most famous tribe, fear they face a future as “conservation refugees” in their own land.