Alarming deforestation in Tanzania—and how you can help

Updated: Jan 11



Between 1990 and 2010, Tanzania lost 19.4% of its forested land—around 8 million hectares.

Today, Tanzania has approximately 39.9% forest cover, and its current annual deforestation rate is 1 percent—about 400,000+/- hectares each year.


That's twice the world's current annual deforestation rate of .5 percent.


Without wildlife habitats, we won't have any wildlife.


Mike Angelides of McCallum Safaris has been tracking deforestation in hunting concession blocks where no safari companies are currently operating. The rates he's tracking should alarm anyone interested in wildlife conservation.


WATCH THE VIDEO to see how essential wildlife habitats are being slashed and burned to make way for marginal farmlands.


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FULL TRANSCRIPT:


Tom Opre:

Hey folks, this is Tom Opre, your host to understanding everything related to wildlife and habitat conservation. I ask the tough questions regarding man's impact on the world's wildlife. Raw and unfiltered, I strive to have you fully understand the real issues at hand. Our goal—ensuring the world's wildlife and wildlife habitat exists forever. Sit back and enjoy another excellent discussion. Mike, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you guys do.


Michael Angelides:

Right. I'm the managing director of a hunting and photographic safari company in Tanzania. I'm a second generation professional hunter.


Tom Opre:

I saw some of the photographs that you've been posting on some of the wildlife conservation user groups on Facebook. I'd love for you to kind of give me an idea, historically, what was Tanzania like for wildlife when it comes to habitat?


Michael Angelides:

Tanzania is one of the truly wild countries of Africa. There are no ranches and there's no game ranching. There are no fences as national parks. Roughly, I think about 80% of its land is set aside for wildlife and wildlife protection. It has a bunch of national parks—22, I believe now. People don't understand the kind of sizes that we're dealing with, with the national parks and the country itself. All the boundaries are very hard to police. Tanzania has a rapidly growing population. Top 10 in the world, currently. The battle now is, it's not so much where do animals go—what areas do animals have,—but where do the people... where's the boundary between the two and how do we sort that out? And being able to police those boundaries is a big issue for the government, especially.


Tom Opre:

Can you give us some size perspective of maybe not only the total area that is in concession that's available for hunting, but also maybe some idea of the sizes that maybe your area is, just so we could have some idea?


Michael Angelides:

My area is... I currently work in three contiguous concessions and that is just under 2 million acres.


Tom Opre:

Okay.


Michael Angelides:

So three concessions. So you're looking at one to one and a half million acres per concession in Tanzania, and there are currently 114 hunting concessions.


Tom Opre:

And so we're talking about a lot. A huge, huge block of land. It's not a small country.


Michael Angelides:

My concessions, to give you a size reference, the size of Houston, of greater Houston. Or if you are from overseas, it's the size of greater London and surrounding areas.


Tom Opre:

And wildlife wise, you guys have a large selection of different species. Of course, you have the big five in Africa, but you also have a lot of... Give us some idea what this habitat actually holds and takes care of.


Michael Angelides:

Well, Tanzania is unique, whereas we have the north of Tanzania known as Maasai Land, the Maasai Steppe, which has very unique species to that. The gerenuk, lesser kudu, Grant's gazelle, Thomson's gazelle. There's Coke's hartebeest, fringe-eared oryx, which is specific to the north of Tanzania. Almost throughout the middle of Tanzania, there's a terrain of vegetation change to Miombo forest. And there, you find species like sable and roan, of course, buffalo and waterbuck and other species. And then of course, in the west, specifically in Selous, you've got the Nyasaland wildebeest, which is also kind of specific to Northern Mozambique and the Selous only. And there's also, if I go into little species, like Kirk's dik-dik. There's a Harvey's red duiker, there's Livingston suni.


Tom Opre:

So you guys have it. It's an immense number of animals that are living on the landscape. Not only just numbers of animals, but numbers of different species. So the biodiversity of this habitat is incredible.


Michael Angelides:

Yes. Yes. And of course, each species requires a different kind of level of habitat. Some are very delicate on what they can actually feed on and where they can feed. You wouldn't think of something like a sable antelope as being very threatened—too threatened by encroachment. They are kind of a common animal really, in the Miombo forest. But if you have herd species, a lot of herd species, which would include cow or cattle as a herd, coming through, they actually really quite disturb the land and the foliage to extent that the sables really are not happy with that kind of thing.


Tom Opre:

Well, I would assume that the domestic species you're talking about here, and these cattle, these aren't wild cattle or anything.


Michael Angelides:

Yeah, domestic cattle.


Tom Opre:

So what you're talking about, is just competition for the same resources I would assume. You guys have been there on the ground in the country for three generations now. And you've seen a lot of changes in the last couple decades, I would assume. Kind of explain to folks what's going on, on the ground. You have all this wildlife, originally. You've got all this habitat. We have huge areas. We're talking about areas that are the size of maybe multiple states in the United States. What's happened over the last two decades?


Michael Angelides:

The same thing's happened all over the world—is technology basically. You've got indigenous tribes that now are farming where they used to farm by hand, or by with cattle, are using tractors now, and they can afford tractors. And Maasai Land is very fertile land. The devastation to habitat is very evident with the farming that's going on. And the thing is that, they're not good farmers. Their yield per acre is very poor. If I move out to the west towards my areas, what I've seen in the last 10 years or so, the expanse of people, is that a little farm will pop up in the middle of nowhere. And this guy will have an acre, he'll clear an acre by hand. And he doesn't have a tractor. He doesn't have machinery. So he clears by hand, then he fells the trees. And once a tree's dry, he'll burn a tree. There's photos you'll see of burning land.


Tom Opre:

Now is that for charcoal production or is it just strictly to move it out?


Michael Angelides:

No, just to get rid of the tree really. It's not really a hard wood. It's not a hard enough wood for charcoal production. So once he's got his... Until that tree can burn, he'll sort of farm in between where that tree has fallen. So once he can burn a tree, now he's got a full acre to be able to farm and he'll do that for a year. But now the following year, he doesn't have all the hardship of having to clear any land. So all he has to do is actually plow it, even by hand. And it may take him a couple of weeks to turn the land with a hoe and plant it. So now he's got some extra time, so he clears another piece of land and so on and so forth. So three years later, he suddenly has three or four acres, which is actually too much to sustain him and his family.


So now he becomes from subsistence—he turns into a commercial farmer. And nowadays, when I drive out west, it's a two-day drive out there. So I'm spending 10 hours a day on the road. I'm seeing, as I drive in these—way out in the middle of the bushI'm seeing all these bags of corn on the side of road, where these farmers are selling their excess. And it continues to grow as his farm grows. Until now, when he sold enough corn, he can afford a tractor. And that tractor that he buys, he'll also lease to other people. And so their farms grow. And again, it's not great farming out up there, so their yields per acre... The lands are not very fertile for a start and their farming methods aren't very good. What a commercial farmer would need per acre, they need two acres.


Tom Opre:

And this ground we're talking about, this farm ground, was wildlife habitat. It did have these animals on it that we spoke about earlier, in many cases. Rainfall has become an issue in Southern Africa. How is rainfall affecting Tanzania, as far as are they having enough rain? Down in where I'm at in Zambia, it's no longer consistently happening at the end of October in the rainy season or early November. It's now happening later in the year and ending earlier, so it's a shorter period of time. What's the situation like with rain with you guys?


Michael Angelides:

The last two years, actually, we did have quite a lot of rain. This year, the rains are very light. Norms are very, very late. The rains, normally, would expect them around the 15th, middle of November. Now we're at the 24th of November, and there hasn't been any rain, but the clouds are building.


With the Miombo, and I speak about Miombo because that's kind of where I am. Having the rain and not having proper drainage off these farms, also washes away a lot of top soil, which is also bad for the crop. But also when you have these cleared farms, to rehabilitate that, it will take three or four times as long. Or it may be even impossible because if you don't have the foliage from the trees that have fallen on the ground to protect the land, it's very heat sensitive, and the trees are very heat sensitive growing, so you've changed the soil temperature. And so a Miombo tree to grow back, you can't just leave it and think everything's going to come back as it was. It's going to come back very differently.


Tom Opre:

We have a great, beautiful land. We have people moving into this land. And so we're talking about, they're moving into these areas that have been set aside by the government for wildlife, which would be these concessions that you're talking about. Yours and others. But there's also an issue where there are many concessions that aren't being utilized at all. As I understand it, that there's a large percentage of the concessions in your country that don't have a safari operator utilizing them. Explain to me kind of what's happened with that and why that happened.


Michael Angelides:

In Tanzania, we have-


Tom Opre:

And I'll just stop you. And just so people understand, when people are on the ground utilizing it in the safari business, you guys are out there watching for not only the poaching of wildlife, but also the destruction of the habitat. You're protecting these forests and this habitat that's out there for wildlife, from illegal logging and from other uses, encroachment of human villages and whatnot. I would assume you guys are kind of like the environmental cops out there at the same time, aren't you?


Michael Angelides:

Absolutely. Yes. The illegal stuff that goes on creates more damage than even if you would allow it. If you're allowed to control, for example, tree felling or logging because they're indiscriminate. And a major problem in the west of Tanzania is honey. Honey hunting, which you wouldn't think is a big problem, but of course, when they do it illegally, what they do is search out a hollowed tree that has a hive in it, and cut down the whole tree in order to harvest that little bit of honey. And they're not doing it sustainably because they'll take all the honey and they won't leave... Killing the queen and actually probably killing the whole hive, whereas if they could do it properly... I've learned recently that you can harvest half the honey, keep it, and then go back and harvest and get the other half later once they've rejuvenated.


Tom Opre:

I think they call that conservation.


Michael Angelides:

That's called conservation. Yes, exactly. Conservation of bees. But of course, so we stop that. Any destruction in the area is detrimental to the wildlife and we need wildlife to make a living. Conservation and looking after the wildlife is paramount in everything we do. If the better the area that I have, the better it's looked after, the easier I can sell a safari. It's really heartbreaking to see that there's countries and people who don't know what actually happens on the ground and want to stop what we do. But they don't realize the effect of when we move out of that area, there's no reason to protect that area. Even for the government. The government obviously wants to protect an area because of the habitat, because of the wildlife, because of conservation, but they also make money from that area. So it's utilized and it has a value.


When we leave, there's no value for that land apart from farming, or grazing, or logging, or mining, or putting a village there. That's the other option. And we're not dealing with national parks. Those are always going to be protected because they have a value for photographic tourists. We're dealing with areas that are marginal, which are good enough for a hunter, but not good enough for a photographic client. There's not enough game. A hunter is happy to climb up a hill and sit for hours to wait to see something and stalk it. A photographic client generally needs to see an animal every 20 minutes, every 10 minutes. They need to be on something and they want to see the big five in one day and all that sort of stuff. They come on safari for five, seven days, ten days maybe, whereas a hunter is coming out for a whole month.


Tom Opre:

So what you're saying there is that in your areas, which are the hunting concession areas, there are factors that are causing these areas not to be utilized, as I understand it. So what are the factors? You kind of alluded to that just a minute ago. These incredible, beautiful lands with lots of wildlife on them, initially, they're now having human encroachment on them with farming and illegal grazing because there's nobody on the land anymore. Why?


Michael Angelides:

The trophy bans a lot of Europe. There's a lot of areas that have laid to waste, especially because they've stopped elephant hunting.


Tom Opre:

The folks that come out to hunt, they like to bring home a trophy or the skins and the hides and the skulls. What you're saying is, they no longer... They can't do that in Tanzania.


Michael Angelides:

They can't do that. We can't export at all. There are a few countries, America being one of them, that you won't allow the importation of the trophy hunted ivory. Somebody who's not a hunter is not going to understand why somebody wants to keep the memento of its hunt.


Tom Opre:

So your clients can't... because of different laws that trophy bans that are being enacted potentially in the United Kingdom, United States, and other different countries in the Western world, which have large populations of hunters that like to hunt internationally. And these folks are bringing money into your communities by hiring people like you to go on these hunts, or even as you guys do, you even do some photo safaris. And some of the other operators I know in Tanzania have some extensive photo safari businesses, but the reality on the ground is that some of your clients can't because they can't export, they just don't come.


Michael Angelides:

Exactly. Yes and they'd rather go somewhere else or even just stay at home in America. You're not going to stop people hunting by stopping them importing their trophies. We're seeing a huge decline in the number of hunters that want to come to Tanzania. Specifically, elephant hunting is all but gone, especially for the Americans. But what's happening is you get some other countries that are allowed to import the elephant, that are coming. The problem is that they know that there's no competition and they want to do it for even cheaper, which we are not able to do. It's not sustainable.


When Cecil was shot and they stopped hunting, they stopped the importation for several years into America. Essentially, very few lion hunts were sold and that caused many operators to go out of business because they didn't have the income to sustain the area and sustain communities and anti-poaching. So they handed back areas and really haven't been able to get off the ground to go back into those areas anymore. And those are the areas that have lost so much habitat. Because you want to harvest a lion, or an elephant, or a buffalo, or a leopard, you're looking after the habitat that's looking after animals as small as dragonflies and damselflies and dung beetles and all sorts of insects and everything else that you're looking after, as well as the honeybees because I think it's documented that without honeybees, humanity ceases to exist.


Tom Opre:

Yeah. No, the great pollinators of our planet.


Michael Angelides:

Yeah.


Tom Opre:

You've shown me some photos and I'll show some of these to the folks on while you're watching this. It's a stark... It's unbelievable what you see here and I've seen it myself personally in Zimbabwe... I was in the Save Valley a couple years ago. We took a charter flight out, and as soon as we got past that demarcation of the boundary of the Conservancy and then the communal lands, I didn't see... You couldn't put two sticks together enough for an antelope to live in, let alone the big five, all the way to Harari, the capital, which was, I don't know, a two-hour flight. And what I'm seeing in some of the photos that you've taken, aerial photos here, it's the same kind of harsh darkness of this beautiful wildlife habitat. And then there's just a straight line there and then there's nothing there, because it's all been slashed and burned and I would assume, these grounds also get overgrazed. Is that correct?


Michael Angelides:

The people that are doing this, obviously they want their cattle and their farm. So now they're overgrazing what they have because they've even got less land because they've got a farm—an eighth, two, three acres of farmland and they want 500 head of cattle as well. And that head of cattle is not contained to a ranch; it's free to go wherever it wants. And so they are constantly moving and just moving backwards and forwards to even to water. All that land between wherever they're grazing and the water is completely destroyed, which is a huge problem.


Tom Opre:

Well, the broader public here in the Western world, as they watch and listen to this conversation, are going to ask this question though—why can't these people have a farm? Why can't these people have 500 head of cows? Why can't they have these opportunities?


Michael Angelides:

Well, they can, but the problem is managing it. Somebody can have 500 head of cattle if he has 500 acres to look after them on. But we haven't got to that stage. You're talking about a third world country where the education hasn't reached some of these rural areas on how to manage your cattle, how to manage your farm, how to farm better. New York, Central Park, people are told, "Okay, don't go on the grass there. You know, because it's not good for the grass. Go around it." And they go around it because you're taught to obey that and you understand why you shouldn't walk on the grass. Now you tell an African in a local village, way out that's never seen electricity, "No, you can't go in there. Don't. Leave that. That's for wildlife." And he thinks, are you nuts? I've got to survive here. I'm going to go in there, because out here is full and I still want my 500 head of cattle.


An animal means very little to him. The word for an animal in Swahili is mnyama. That's all it is. And when they look at an elephant, it's not a thing of beauty. It's not. When they look at a lion, it's not a wonderful lion and how beautiful is that? And look at it beautifully walking across the Serengeti. Is just mnyama. It's just a thing. They're still in survival mode and living day-to-day.


Tom Opre:

What the real problem is are the areas that don't have safari operators. And those are the ones that are depicted in the pictures you've sent me and the video, correct?


Michael Angelides:

I do have villages within my area, but we are able to control how they expand as well, because they all are going to be expansive. The population's increasing. But instead of one guy having a farm here and then the next guy going five kilometers away and opening his other farm and then everything between him and his neighbor is void of game because of the movement between him and his farm and his other farm and whatnot, we can say, "No, don't farm over here. Just butt up to the other guy and at least you're containing it." And I have even a video of the same timescale of that Google Earth thing that shows how the village is growing, but it's just growing in its own little nucleus, if you like. It's not just spreading all over the place. And again, because we're trying to tell him, leave some wildlife, leave the habitat.


Tom Opre:

So what really, Mike, is the solution? At the end of the day, what do we want to see occur? Do we want to see more wildlife on the landscape? Do we want to see more habitat? Because without the habitat, we don't have the wildlife. What is the solution in Tanzania?


Michael Angelides:

Yeah. The way they think—the Western world think—is very different from the local African on the ground, the villager. He's looking at Africa and wildlife and habitat in a very different way. He needs to benefit from it in some way. And that's what hunting does. You can't just have land vacant. It will be used for something. The African government will use it for something—they need to. Of course, the African government's third world don't have money to look after that. Just a big chunk of land without having income from it to look after.


Most African countries are struggling to put in schools and hospitals and infrastructure, so that's their priority. Looking after land is not their priority and their way of conserving it is to say, "Okay, who's going to look after this for us?" And so we don't, so it can look after itself basically. So when a hunter is in there, they're getting half a million dollars off that piece of land into their conservation—80% of it goes back into that area.


Tom Opre:

The real problem, though is, I've seen this all over the world, is people, humans, because we're all over the place. And it's of course the population of Tanzania. I'm familiar with Ethiopia, at over a hundred million people. I'm not sure what Tanzania's population is, but I would assume it is growing exponentially, correct?


Michael Angelides:

It's 60 million right now. Yeah.


Tom Opre:

And so what you're seeing is, is it's not only growing in the cities, but it's also growing in these rural areas. And so you're seeing these people proliferate into these areas where this habitat obviously has a value because it has honey on it, it has wild game on it. It has grass that can be grazed, trees that can be cut and harvested. So these areas, they're not being conserved by these people, because there's no real conservation ethos in their mindset because you're utilizing the resource—you're protecting it. And so, you guys want to make sure it's conserved properly. So hats off to you guys. And Mike, I appreciate your time here today and it's great to hear a viewpoint about what's going on in Tanzania, right on the ground with somebody who's dealing with it every day. Thank you very much.


Michael Angelides:

Thank you, Tom. I enjoyed that. Thanks a lot.


Tom Opre:

Folks, if you want to find out more information about wildlife and habitat conservation, go to the Shepherds of Wildlife website at shepherdsofwildlife.org. You can also find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Until next time, ask yourself, are you truly a wildlife conservationist?*


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Are you a wildlife conservationist?*


Conservation means "the wise use of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect." In contrast, laissez-faire preservation tends to result in exploitation, destruction, and even extinction of wildlife species and habitats. ​ A wildlife conservationist actively works as a steward to carefully and sustainably manage earth's natural resources to ensure biodiversity and maintain them for generations to come. ​ Help us educate others about the global significance of genuine wildlife conservation efforts!










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