By Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM, March 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tanzania has started to re-map and demarcate its national parks, game and forest reserves in an effort to curb conflicts between humans and wildlife that have been stoked by drought.
A scorching drought in many parts of East Africa has forced nomad pastoralists searching for water and fresh pastures for their cattle into protected wildlife areas, officials said.
Tanzania's minister for tourism and natural resources, Jumanne Maghembe, said the exercise to redraw boundaries of protected sites would be led by the country's National Parks Authority (TANAPA) to safeguard wildlife sanctuaries from illegal cattle grazing, logging and poaching.
"We would like to see borders of our national parks and protected areas clearly marked so that no one can trespass," the minister told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"Stern legal measures will be taken against anyone who would cross into protected areas."
About 37 percent of Tanzania's land is covered by conservation rules with almost 400,000 square km (155,000 square miles) of protected land contained in national parks, game and forest reserves famous for spectacular landscapes and herds of wildebeest and elephants.
Pascal Shelutete, a TANAPA spokesman, said slabs of concrete that delineate boundaries are already being erected around Serengeti national park, and said the exercise would be expanded to 14 other national parks countrywide.
The struggle for land has brought the competing needs of wildlife and humans into conflict in Tanzania, posing a threat to the tourism industry, a cornerstone of the country's economy.
Illegal herding of cattle into national parks due to drought has placed a new strain on wildlife, endangering the lives of animals including wildebeest in the Serengeti. Conservationists said the local wildebeest population has declined from 2 million to 1.5 million in the past decade.
Last year, the government ordered pastoralists from neighbouring Kenya and Uganda to remove thousands of cows, goats and sheep after they crossed into Tanzania's national parks in a desperate search for water and fresh pastures.
Conservationists are concerned about the impact of farming and livestock rearing on protected sites, while pastoralists fear wildlife encroaching on their land and attacking livestock.
In 2015, Maasai pastoralists poisoned six lions that had strayed from Tarangire national park into their village, killing cattle and goats.
"We are frequently facing these territorial disputes between conserved areas and surrounding villages whose inhabitants also need land for farming, grazing, and housing," said George Waitara, chair of TANAPA told reporters last week.
(Reporting by Kizito Makoye, Editing by Paola Totaro and Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)