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Tanzania Establishes Fist Community Owned World Class Visitors Centre

Ikona Wildlife Management Area (WMA) has successfully become the first WMA in Tanzania to establish a world class visitors centre.

Ikona Wildlife Management Area vistors centre receiving a certificate of participation from American trainess over the weekend.

The visitors centre will be hosting hundreds of tourists   flocking into tented camps operating within the WMA which is situated in Serengeti District, Mara Region.

The WMA is located few meters away from the world famous Serengeti National Park and game reserves of Ikoma and Grumeti.

It was established several years ago by five villages that were in the past leading to have highest number of poachers in the district in a bid to make them reap conservation fruits and realize the importance of conserving wild animals   for the present and future generations.

The villages are Robanda, Park Nyigoti, Makundusi,Natta mbisso and Nyichoka.  The villagers have now every reason to simile for possessing the modern visitors centre, thanks to the US Department of the Interior (DOI), Frankfurt Zoological Society(FZS)  and World Wildlife Fund(WWF) for sponsoring the multimillion project.

“We are the first WMA to have an amazing visitors centre in Tanzania and for sure I thank God for all those who have made it possible. I have nothing to pay them but God will do something for you”,  said Ikona WMA chairman Mr Elias Chama. The visitors centre has a capacity of accommodating close to 300 visitors a day and already 12 local staff from the neighbouring villages has been trained by American experts on how to operate and manage the centre.

“We have been trained on how to welcome visitors, revenue collection and proper management of the centre”, said Mr Thomas Mogabe who has become lucky to be , the first manager of the visitors centre. Among other things, the visitors centre has a curio shop that will be selling variety of local goods from the surrounding communities.

It has been built by Serengeti based Chabhoke Construction Ltd under close supervision from National Construction Council experts (NCC) between 210 and 2011.  “This is the first visitors centre to open in Tanzania and it represents tremendous achievement on both conservation and business and it is an example to the rest of Wildlife Management Areas in Tanzania”, Mr Timothy Shannon, an official from the US Government Department of Interior International Technical Assistance Programme said.

Mr Shannon is among the three American experts who have just concluded conducting a two- weeks training on operation and management of the centre to the local staff. He described the WMA as incredible resource, calling the trained staff to demonstrate to the world how a good conservation effort and team work between different several organizations and governments can come together and be very successfully. 

Apart from experiencing the nature of Serengeti ecosystem, tourists will have an opportunity to view the sun rising and setting while at the centre. “This is a fantastic area .The animals are incredible, the people are incredible and the culture is incredible”,  the US official who was in Serengeti for the first time remarked shortly after the closure of the training late last week.

Speaking at the same occasion Africa Frankfurt Zoological Society Africa Programme Regional Office Manager Mr Gerald Bigurube hailed the training conducted by the American experts and urged beneficiaries to use it for intended purpose. “This training is meant to make a difference and eventual make Ikona WMA a role model in Tanzania”, Mr Bigurube said.

Mr Bigurube also appealed for committed leadership that will ensure that surrounding communities   benefit from tourist revenue generated by the WMA.  “The decision to establish this WMA was right and our work is now to ensure people are seeing   the benefits. We expect great changes in the next several years”, added Mr Bigurube.

So far the WMA has five investors including Singita Grumeti Reserves(SGR) which is owned by American tycoon Paul Tudor Jones(PTJ) who has set up luxurious travel products that attract highly paying clients from mainly over overseas. The WMA is blessed with various beautiful species and fauna.

Construction of the visitors centre is expected to boost revenue generated tourists visiting tented camps operating within the WMA, according to its chairman Mr Chama. “Aim is also to control revenue generated by investors operating in our WMA. In the past we have been going without knowing the exact number of visitors they get but from today every visitor will now be to passing through the centre’s gate before proceeding to tented camps and this will help us to have the exact figures ”,  Mr Chama said.

But on the other hand Mr Bigurube   underscored the importance of not having massive investment that might end up damaging the value of the WMA covering 26180.36 hectares. By so doing he said the WMA will remind intact and continue attracting tourists from different parts of the word as it is the case at the moment.

“It is important that investment match with the space of the WMA.  Plenty of investments would damage the value of this area and affect tourism activities”, Mr Bigurube who served as Tanzania National Park Director General (TANAPA) before moving to FZS emphasized.

A party from supporting establishment of the Ikona Wildlife Management Area, FZS is supporting the WMA on capacity building, according to FZS Technical Advisor for Serengeti Community Outreach Programme   Dr Dennis Rentsch.

“We have been working hand in hand with the WMA and our role now is to work with other partners including the US Department of Interior to   make sure that the WMA is capable of managing the visitors centre because this facility is really belongs to the communities and not the donors or FZS. It is the property of the WMA”, Dr Rentsch said.

The WMA was first established in 1998 by Robonda village and the surrounding open area and it was expanded 1999 to included the neighbouring villages of Park Nyigoti, Makundusi, Natta mbiso and Nyichoka villages

Source: Written by MUGINI JACOB

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