Tanzania is one of twelve mega-diverse countries in the world. It is among the top five in Africa harbouring more than one-third of the total plant species and twenty percent of the continent’s large mammal population. Tanzania ranks 12th globally with regards numbers of bird species. The Biodiversity wealth renders significant socio-cultural, economic and environmental service to the country [1].

Tanzania’s lush forests, rolling grasslands and tropical beaches are home to a diverse range of wildlife. The coastal forests and mangroves are part of the Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa biodiversity hotspot, which is known for the rich but threatened wildlife and in need of conservation.

The majority of land cover in Tanzania is represented by woodlands  (51%), followed by cultivated land (25%), grasslands (9%), bushlands (7%), forests (4%) and other lands (4%) [1].

The Checklist of Tanzanian Species lists a total of 14,336 species of protozoans, fungi, algae, plants, invertebrates and vertebrate animals [1]. The country also exhibits a high degree of species endemism including the Zanzibar Red Colobus, five bird species, six amphibians, three reptiles, and 325 endemic plant species [2].

Tanzania is home to some iconic wild animals such as giraffes, elephants, and lions, making wildlife-based tourism a key economic activity contributing 9% of GDP and 25% of foreign exchange earnings [3].

The country ranked (2015), 15th globally with regard to the number of threatened species. According to the 2013 IUCN RedList, there are at least 900 threatened species recorded in the country of which several are endangered. Endangered species in Tanzania include: terrestrial animal species such as, Black rhinoceros, Wild dog, Chimpanzee, African elephant, Cheetah, Wattled crane; and Kihansi Spray toad; plant species such as Pterocarpus angolensis (Mninga), Dalbergia melanoxylon (Mpingo), Uvariodendron gorgonis, Erythrina schliebenii and Karomia gigas (Plate 3-2) and marine species such as coelacanth, dugongs and sea turtles [1].


The number of threatened species in Tanzania is high. This is may be attributed to overexploitation, increased ecosystem-wide deterioration, habitat fragmentation and degradation, as well as climate change [1]. The threats also include human activities such as farming, as well as the emerging and increasing levels of mining, and gas and oil exploration. For instance, it is common practice to expand farmland into forests.. The forests and woodlands are also cleared for timber and poles for construction, and as a source of energy – either as firewood in rural areas or converted to charcoal for the urban market. About 90% of Tanzania’s domestic energy needs come from wood and charcoal, and forests are also a vital source of income to some rural villages [4].

Habitat loss and degradation continues to constrain and confine the remaining space for endemic species to government protected areas and lands managed for conservation by villagers. Conservation efforts are also affected by the country’s population that is rapidly expanding at an annual rate of almost 3% [4], with many of dependent on subsistence farming and biomass for cooking.


Key policies and governance approach

The Vice President’s Office, Division of the environment (VPO-DoE) is mandated to coordinate biodiversity conservation in country and has the mandated to enforce implementation of various strategies, guidelines policies and legislation in collaboration with other Sectors.

In order to deal with the challenges of biodiversity loss there is a gradual movement towards private ownership of land and placing some land under protection. Between 1995 and 2014, the total area of protected land in Tanzania increased by more than 20%. Much of this expansion is community managed village-land forest reserves, with over 140 of these reserves having been developed [2]. The country has a network of 16 National Parks, 3 Biosphere Reserves, 4 World Heritage Sites, 28 Game Reserves, 42 Game Controlled Areas, 38 Wildlife Management Areas, 109 Forests, 4 Marine Parks, 17 marine reserves and 4 Ramsar Sites [1].

Key legislation for biodiversity includes the Environmental Management Act, Wildlife Conservation Act, wildlife management area regulations, the National Integrated Coastal Environmental Management Strategy, and Wildlife Corridor Regulations, while important institutions include the National Environment Management Council, Wildlife Management Area Support Unit, Community Wildlife Management Area Consortium, and some community-based organizations [3].

The Tanzania Development Vision (TDV) 2025 articulates the desirable future and road map to be taken for the nation to graduate from a developing country to a middle-income country. Tanzania attributes a high quality livelihood; a well-educated society; peace, stability and unity; good governance and the rule of law and unity and strong and a competitive economy as being prerequisite for attaining its vision. Biodiversity conservation is implied in sustainable attainment of the vision [1]


Successes and remaining challenges  

Sound policies related to natural resource management are hampered at the implementation level by poor quality data, analysis, and implementation partly due to weak institutional capacity at central and local levels. Natural resource management practices for livelihoods, including use of forests for firewood, are often unsustainable and inefficient, forcing local villagers to overexploit their resources in order to survive. The weak institutions are part of the reason for the escalation in poaching of wildlife, and this presents further threats to the functioning ecosystems and the tourism industry [3].

The main challenges identified by the NBSAP are the[1]:

  • Coordination between ministries, government agencies, the private sector and communities in development planning is still not optimal; 
  • Inadequate capacity for planning and enforcement of policy and legislation (human, financial and institutional) at community implementation levels;
  • Sectors strategic planning frameworks, set out numerous objectives that cannot be readily achieved due to the enormous level of resources and expertise that is required;
  • Low level of stakeholder involvement and participation in planning and decision-making;
  • Several policies and legislation, including the Environmental Policy of 1997 requires review to address emerging issues such as invasive species, biotechnology, nanotechnology, synthetic biology;
  • Insufficient data and information about biodiversity, inadequate capacity for research and dissemination, and insufficient collaboration between institutions that manage data;
  • Inadequate capacity and awareness for sustainable resource management;
  • Insufficient allocation of resources for biodiversity research, management, capacity and institution building;
  • Inadequate incentives for sustainable use of biological resources; and x) Overlapping mandate of different legislations and authorities.


Initiatives and Development Plans

Tanzania has undertaken various measures to ensure sustainable conservation demonstrated by the signing Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) on 12th June 1992 and ratifying of the same on 1st March 1996; Development and implementation of the 2001 National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) (URT, 2001); Development and implementation of National strategies such as:- Climate Change (2012); Strategy on Urgent Actions on Land degradation and Water Catchments (2006); Strategy on Urgent Actions for the Conservation of Marine and Coastal Environment, Lakes, Rivers and Dams (2008); and Development of National Environmental and Action Plan (2013-2018) and other Strategies aimed at pollution control [1].

In addition to that, formulation of different Acts, Regulations and Policies has led to among other things, development and implementation of Programmes and Projects, strengthening and establishment of Institutions and Agencies to manage biodiversity such as the Tanzania Forest Services Agency (TFS); Institutions to conduct research which include, Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute (TAFIRI), Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), Tanzania Forestry Research Institute (TAFORI) and several Agricultural Research Institutes (ARIs); Long term monitoring initiatives such as the National Forest Resources Monitoring and Assessment (NAFORMA) Programme; educational programmes like the “Malihai clubs”(1,687) in primary and secondary schools as well as Beach Management Units (BMUs) [1].

National level interventions are carried out in tandem with and or complement to regional and international obligations as Tanzania implements several multilateral agreements for protection of biodiversity [1].

Moreover,  in Tanzania, the $220 million World Bank-supported SWIOFish Project is helping fishing communities in Comoros, Madagascar,  Mozambique, Seychelles and Tanzania as well as the Maldives to increase economic benefits from fisheries, rebuild fish stocks and restore livelihoods.  The project also contributed significantly to the reduction of illegal fishing practices, such as blast fishing in Tanzania [5].


Goals and Ambitions

While Tanzania managed to place under protection 35.5% terrestrial and 13.5% of marine territorial area, which exceeds the minimum targets established in Aichi Target 11. The country also set to achieve the following [6]:

  • Establish new marine protected areas in biodiversity hotspots and fragile ecosystems;
  • Expand Wildlife Management Areas and Forest Nature Reserves to improve wildlife corridors connecting protected areas;
  • Promote new protected areas integrating wider land and seascape;
  • Review policies, plans and strategies aimed at managing terrestrial and marine protected areas;
  • Strengthen measures to limit illegal exploitation of resources in terrestrial and marine protected areas;
  • Promote regional cooperation on protection and conservation of transboundary terrestrial and marine protected areas;
  • Promote the ecosystem approach in marine protected areas;
  • Enhance institutional, research and human capacity on the management of terrestrial and marine protected areas.
  • Part of the solution to Tanzania´s biodiversity challenges lies in the energy sector. Provision of alternative forms of energy to firewood and charcoal will protect important ecosystems and habitats.
  • Given the transboundary nature of not only important wildlife migration routes, but also watersheds, it is only imperative that Tanzania works with its neighbours in the preservation of its rich biodiversity.