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How poaching affects women and splits families

Babati. “I lost all my money; my youngest child dropped out of school; most of my properties were damaged; and my cows and goats were also stolen.”

These are the words of Lydia Josephat (62), a Babati resident who was arrested for unlawful possession of game meat.

She recalls that it was in 2016, when her son, who is now deceased, brought illegally acquired game meat to her house.

As she began preparing the meat, she suddenly became aware that she was being monitored.

The following day, she fled to Arusha and sought refuge at one of her son’s residences.

Little did she know that she would be pursued by the Village Games Scouts (VGS), who eventually apprehended her in Arusha.

“It was on Monday, at around 11:30am. I was sitting outside my son’s house in Arusha when I noticed a vehicle approaching, but I didn't realise it could be the VGS from Arusha. They swiftly got out of the car, arrested me, and transported me back to Babati," she recounts.

According to her account, she remained in custody for over four months as the court repeatedly adjourned the case due to the elusive whereabouts of the true culprit, her late son.

The court decided to drop the charges against her but required her to pay a fine of Sh2.5 million.

In order to secure her release, she had to exhaust all her savings.

"When I returned home, everything had fallen apart. My cows and goats were stolen, and my younger son had stopped going to school because there was no one to take care of him," she lamented.

A similar incident unfolded for Maria Ngoda, a resident of Iringa, who was apprehended with 12 pieces of antelope meat and subsequently sentenced to 22 years behind bars.

Her court case garnered national attention due to the extensive media coverage it received.

Ms. Ngoda, who was released on February 16, 2024, recounts returning home to find her bed, mattress, and utensils stolen, and her children scattered.

"My daughter, who was in Form Two at Mlandege Secondary School, had gone to Dar es Salaam to work as a housemaid because there was no one to take care of her," she noted.

Efforts to save women from disproportional treatment

Authorities are presently engaged in educational and awareness campaigns aimed at ensuring women comprehend that the possession of bush meat and wildlife products (government trophy) is illegal according to the law.

Furthermore, these efforts emphasise that women could also be implicated and face legal consequences if their sons or husbands are found to be involved in such activities.

Babati District Game Officer (DGO), Christopher Laizer, reports that they have conducted sensitization seminars for women and youth in 10 villages within the Kwakuchinja wildlife corridor.

Christopher Laizer

The Kwakuchinja corridor, situated between Lake Manyara Biosphere Reserve and Tarangire National Park, plays a crucial role in maintaining the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem.

This ecosystem is internationally recognised for its globally-significant biodiversity.

During the awareness initiative, several women lamented that their husbands had fled after being implicated in wildlife poaching, consequently leaving them entangled in legal troubles.

According to Mr Laizer, in the awareness seminars, women are provided with guidance on the steps to take if they discover that their loved ones are involved in poaching.

Mr Laizer emphasises that the initial step to take is to resist involvement and encourage their sons and husbands to cease poaching.

"We inform women that they could risk losing their assets and properties if they are involved in poaching or receive proceeds from wildlife poaching,” he said.

Citing the law, he said that the Wildlife Conservation Act of 2022 stipulates that anyone found with unlawfully possessing a government trophy could face economic sabotage charges.

Laizer recounted that in 2021, authorities arrested a certain woman within Babati for illegal possession of bush meat.

After receiving intelligence information, game rangers went to the concerned house and found that the bush meat was being cut into pieces. 

“The wife and her husband were together roasting the meat. Unfortunately, the suspicious husband ran away. We arrested the woman for being found with bush meat,” he noted.

We encountered another woman in similar circumstances, where her husband would venture into the bush to poach wildlife meat, dry it, and eventually bring the game meat home.

Subsequently, he would hand it over to his wife, who would then proceed to walk around the neighbourhood and sell it to nearby houses.

"We apprehended her with a bucket of dried bush meat. However, upon further examination, the evidence against her was not conclusive. As a result, she was released on bond, with the understanding that once her husband is apprehended, charges against her will be dropped and she will transition into a witness," he explained.

In cases of economic sabotage, individuals found guilty could potentially face up to 30 years in jail. Moreover, hefty fines are often imposed, which can pose a significant financial burden, particularly considering that family incomes are typically modest, rendering it difficult for many to afford such penalties.

Burunge Wildlife Management Area (WMA) Secretary Benson Mwaise said that during their patrols, they frequently encounter incidents of poaching.

"The poaching incidents are not exclusive to men; women are also involved because they often cook the meat. We have observed that women, could indeed be active participants in poaching. At Burunge, our approach involves delving deeper into investigations to comprehend the precise extent of women's involvement in poaching," he explained.

Mr Mwaise emphasised that they actively encourage women to engage in legal economic activities to deter their involvement in poaching-related issues.

Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority (Tawa) public relations officer, Mr Beatus Maganja, told The Citizen that many men involved in poaching activities often exhibit suspicious behaviour and are constantly on edge.

Consequently, if any issue arises, they are prepared to flee at a moment's notice, leaving women to bear the repercussions as victims.

He highlights that this situation has generated significant resentment within communities, as it appears that women are disproportionately targeted.

He says that the issue is for women not to shield their husbands if they are aware of their involvement in poaching activities.

He further emphasised that men should also comprehend that when women engage in poaching activities, it leads to family discord and a decline in the economic status of the household.

The Tuhifadhi Maliasili (Preserve Resources) project, funded by USAID, has implemented training on gender, youth, and social inclusion to foster equality by addressing disparities in access and control of resources, services, information, and opportunities.

Between 2021 and 2023, a total of 856 individuals have undergone training on gender equality or women's empowerment within public or private institutions or organisations.

This inclusive approach has catered to both male and female participants, contributing to a more equitable society.

Supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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