Poacher turned Game Keeper
POACHING was all 13-year-old Anderson Mgesi had known. Hunting birds and small antelope was an easy and quick way to earn money to help support his mother and father and eight siblings. Today, though, he is helping to put an end to poaching in Usangu, a vast unspoilt wilderness that is home to elephants, buffalo, lions and leopards.
It is where he now works as a guide, ferrying tourists to see the incredible wildlife in this part of the Ruaha National Park – and the birds are among his favourite.
“Anderson is now one of the top guides in our business in southern Tanzania,” said Brandon Kemp, Country Director Tanzania for Asilia Africa. “I am so proud of him.”
Among those who have benefited from his wisdom and knowledge of the area is INEOS’ Chairman Sir Jim Ratcliffe.
Over the past six years Jim has been instrumental in helping Asilia Africa change the face of tourism in southern Tanzania to save wildlife threatened by poachers.
And together they are making a difference.
“We now have one of the greatest new wilderness areas for tourism in Africa,” said Brandon.
Since the opening of a new expedition and research camp – again funded by Jim – the number of poachers in the uncharted Usangu wetlands has decreased.
“We just need to keep it up,” said Anderson.
Working at Usangu camp – 180 miles from his family’s home in Tungamalenga – means a lot to Anderson.
For the wetland is where his grandfather lived and his father was born.
“I remember my grandfather telling me how he would often walk long distances in search of salt and food,” said Anderson. “Now I am walking those same paths, guiding tourists.”
The only way into Ruaha National Park used to be on foot, which made it difficult to protect the animals from poachers.
Now there is a 30-mile road to Jim’s research camp in Usangu, which Anderson and 11 others built by hand in two months.
It was during the road’s construction that they encountered a leopard which had breached the perimeter of their temporary camp in search of food.
“We managed to chase it out of our campsite before it became dangerous,” said Anderson.
It was during the construction of the road that Anderson began studying English and started to download inspiring speeches made by former US president Barack Obama.
“I spent a lot of time coaching him because he was so dedicated,” said Brandon.
Anderson had initially worked as an odd-job man at Jabali Ridge – the place where Sir Jim’s joint venture with Asilia began.
“Together, we have made the largest commitment to southern Tanzania of any safari company,” said Brandon.
“And this commitment is crucial because these huge wilderness areas receive only a fraction of the visitors (and revenue) of the more famous northern parks such as the Serengeti and Tarangire.”
So far, Sir Jim has contributed more than $1.5 million in Usangu alone – and also brought in a helicopter which has been a game-changer in the fight against poaching.
“Southern Tanzania is an amazing place, but it is under threat,” he said. “The creation of a sustainable and ecologically friendly safari tourism business will both protect the wildlife and help the people of this amazing region by creating lasting jobs.”
And to Brandon and Sir Jim, that is people like Anderson.