Lion in Serengeti / Photo: Reuters

By Edward Qorro

Tanzania, the land of the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro and the stunning Serengeti, is blazing a conservation trail that makes it more than the sum of its parts.

While these two are the magnets that draw millions of tourists to the East African nation each year, what may have gone almost unnoticed is that Tanzania now accounts for over 70% of the continent's lion population.

A study released by the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) on April 22 shows that the epithet, "Lion Paradise of the World", won't be out of place.

Tanzania is home to 17,000 lions, just over five times more than second-placed South Africa with 3,284 lions.

Botswana is in third place with 3,064 lions, Kenya stands fourth with 2,515, and Zambia is in fifth place with 2,349.

The census focused on the ecological systems of Nyerere-Selous-Mikumi, Saadani-Wami Mbiki and Serengeti within Tanzania. It also revealed the presence of 24,000 leopards within these ecosystems.

Lion in Serengeti

Unsurprising findings

Dr Maurus Msuha, who is associated with the Southern Kenya Northern Tanzania Landscape (SOKNOT) project coordinated by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), isn't surprised that Tanzania continues to lead with a large number of lions and other wildlife.

He attributes this conservation success to the policies and laws in place, besides the establishment of robust conservation institutions.

"Conservation initiatives have made a significant contribution to tourism development. Large tracts of land in Tanzania have been earmarked specifically for conservation, which is unique in itself," Dr Msuha tells TRT Afrika.

Structured conservation planning in Tanzania has also played a role in diverse wildlife species thriving in the country.

Tanzania has 22 national parks, all managed by the Tanzania National Park Authority (TANAPA).

According to Dr Msuha, Tanzania's edge in wildlife management is the existence of varied wildlife species within protected areas.

"Tanzania is the only country that has a combination of six types of natural vegetation, which is enough reason to enable it to have a variety of wildlife species," he explains.

Dr Msuha points out that Tanzania has designated conservation areas conducive to a further spurt in the number of lions within the Serengeti ecological system.

This zone includes the Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority, and reserve areas such as Maswa, Kijereshi, Pololeti, Grumeti, and Ikorongo.

Human activity still poses a danger to the big cat.

Not just lions

The latest census, conducted in collaboration with conservation organisations such as TAWIRI, TANAPA, and the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority pegs Tanzania's wild buffalo population at 225,000, followed by South Africa with 46,000.

Kenya is in third place with 42,000 buffaloes, while Zambia has about 41,000 of these animals.

The headcount between November 2022 and March 2023 identified 60,000 elephants in Tanzania, the third-largest population of these large animals globally.

Botswana is first with 130,000 elephants, followed by Zimbabwe with 100,000.

Human impact

Despite the research indicating the presence of 1.6 million wildebeest in the Serengeti ecosystem, there has been a significant decline in giraffes, greater kudus, and puku.

"Human activities in protected areas such as agriculture, construction, and livestock farming pose a threat to the well-being of wildlife, especially in the Nyerere-Selous-Mikumi ecosystem," warns Dr Eblate Mjingo, director-general of TAWIRI.

The Tanzanian government intends to contribute 4 billion shillings (approximately US $1.5 million) from the tourism development fund to facilitate the next wildlife census, including other animals such as hippos and crocodiles.

Over 1.8 million tourists visited Tanzania last year, up from 1.3 million in 2022, fetching the country $3.4 million. The government aims to host five million tourists annually by 2025.

TRT Afrika