USANGU is a vast, unspoilt, uninterrupted wilderness in southern Tanzania. It’s home to elephants, buffalo, lions, leopards, wild dogs and tiger fish. The only way into this part of the Ruaha National Park used to be on foot.
As such it made it difficult to protect the animals from poachers.
But the logistical challenges were just part of the problem.
“When these parks don’t contribute good revenues compared to the more famous national parks, they can be seen as problem areas to the government,” said Brandon Kemp, Country Director Tanzania for Asilia Africa.
But one man's problem became another man’s opportunity – and Asilia, one of the country’s leading safari companies, is now working on a new initiative with further backing from INEOS Chairman Sir Jim Ratcliffe.
“The more tourism we can get in there, the more secure it will be,” said Brandon.
What they want to offer, though, is a safari with a difference, where the guests are involved in the research and conservation.
In June, a small expedition camp will be set up next to the research team.
There will be just four tents for guests, one car, one boat, one canoe and one walking guide.
“We have just put our first road in there, but we are going to keep it very simple,” said Brandon. “It will be like going back in time to how safaris used to be.”
The team are grateful to Dr Eblate Ernest Mjingo, now director-general of The Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, who has helped to change mindsets.
“For the first few years, the government didn’t allow us to even talk about tourism and research in the same sentence,” said Brandon. “Now we can.”
Jim, who has been on countless safaris over the past 20 years, has been working with Asilia since 2015.
He believes developing tourism in southern Tanzania will open the eyes of the world to a place of immense beauty and importance – and help to create local jobs and prosperity.
“When a local community benefits from high-quality employment from tourism, poaching flips to protection to preserve those jobs,” he said.
With Jim’s help, Asilia went on to open a camp and a private lodge in Ruaha National Park and its first camp in the heart of the Selous Game Reserve, now Nyerere National Park.
Back then, only a handful of travellers had ever set foot in the reserve, which is larger than Switzerland, or in the Ruaha National Park, which is the size of New Jersey in America.
The conservation initiative is focused on Usangu, where the Great Ruaha River starts its 450km journey.
“It is a fascinating project,” said Brandon. “Usangu is an area that is sensitive and needs as much help as it can get.”
The team has been given access to all 6,000 square kms so it can carry out its full, bio-diversity audit and better understand all the animals that live there.
“We are measuring everything from insects to the big five,” he said. “Who knows, we might even find a new species of frog.”
The work on the ground has already started, but the team is considering buying a small plane this year so it can patrol the area more easily.
The team is also working with the Tanzania National Parks Authority to combat wildlife crime.
Asilia Africa offers an authentic East African safari experience that leaves a positive impact on Africa’s crucial wilderness areas.
Guests are actually donors and, by visiting the region, are not only participating in something unique, but also contributing to the research, security and peripheral community of the Usangu Wetland.
Asilia hires and empowers local staff to work alongside community and conservation programmes. Hamza is just one of them, He has now been working for Asilia for more than nine years. ‘Becoming a guide has been my biggest achievement,’ he says.