Responsible tourism in Tanzania

Any country which is filled with endangered species, endangered tribes and fragile landscapes is going to have its fare share of issues for tourism to navigate its way around, and Tanzania is no exception. Hunting takes top place in the issues here, from the hunter gatherers of the plains to the hunting – both legal and illegal – of big game. Efforts to control and monitor this practice will be crucial to the survival of both Tanzania’s wildlife and its ancient tribespeople.

Tanzania is one of the world’s poorest countries, but one of the most expensive to travel in, meaning that tourism here can have an enormous impact. Understanding the issues we have highlighted below – as well as getting a foothold on Tanzania’s culture – will help you ensure that your own impact does more to help than to harm.

People & culture

Kilimanjaro porters – easing the load

As they zip up and down the mountain that, for most travellers, presents the challenge of a lifetime, it’s easy to view porters as having some kind of superhuman skill, undefeated by altitude, heavy luggage or the cold. But to do so is not just naïve, but dangerous. The lack of respect towards porters – who may be climbing Kilimanjaro in flip flops, carrying over 20kg of luggage, eating insufficient food and being paid a pittance – means that tourists who have paid thousands of pounds to enjoy this holiday may be climbing alongside people who are living on the edge of poverty. Ignoring porters’ rights puts the porters at risk of injury, disease and even death – in the past they have succumbed to malaria and hypothermia – a high price to pay for someone else’s dream holiday.

The good news is that there are guidelines in place for companies offering Kilimanjaro treks. The bad new is that these guidelines are not always enforced by a higher authority, leaving tour companies to decide themselves if they want to stick by these principles. Although recommended wages are just £3 per day, porters can be paid as little as half this amount, with no sick pay if they get ill or injured on the mountain, leaving them and their families with no income. Read more from the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) about the poor treatment of porters.

What you can do:
Choosing a responsible Kilimanjaro tour operator is the most important thing you can do to improve the lives of porters. You can keep the weight of your bag down, ensure your porter is properly dressed and give your tips directly to your porter – but this will only make a short-term difference if the porter is not being employed by an ethical company.
Our suppliers believe in porters’ rights; some are members of KPAP while others have set up their own initiatives, providing porters with proper footwear and offering classes during the rainy season, when many are out of work. But there are other ways you can ensure your porters are being fairly treated, including sending sick or injured porters down the mountain for treatment, checking the porters have adequate shelter and decent sleeping bags, and, of course, reporting any maltreatment to KPAP, at
Andrew Appleyard, from our supplier Exodus, has led many Kilimanjaro expeditions – but explains why local tour leaders are now used: “Kilimanjaro is a massive source of employment; a group of 16 has about 44 staff with them. But you still need to look at porter protection programmes and what the training is for the staff. Exodus has a school on the mountain, running classes in English, first aid, HIV awareness… we’ve invested heavily in staff over many years, and I think you need to do that.
We used to do trips with UK guides, but we’ve trained all our local guides now to run those trips, so no UK guides go out on Kili any more. Some companies still use overseas guides – but to me, no one knows Kili like a local. We have Samuel, who’s climbed it 542 times – you can’t buy that experience. It doesn’t matter if you have an IML mountain guide flying in from Seattle and you’re paying five grand for a week. That person will not know any more than the local who’s done it over 100 times.”

The vanishing Hadzabe

Think of East African tribes, and the Maasai probably spring to mind. But other tribes are – for better or for worse – becoming more involved in tourism, and one of the most controversial is the Hadzabe, also known as the Hadza. 1,000-2,000 Hadzabe still inhabit the plains of northern Tanzania, and less than half of these have been able to maintain the nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle that they have practised for millenia. Their hunting knowledge, traditional dress and unusual click language – which isolates them from any other tribe – make them appealing to tourists, yet at a time when they have lost up to 90 percent of their traditional hunting and foraging grounds*, this also makes them open to easy exploitation.

Having resisted attempts to “settle” them or convert them to Christianity them for centuries, the Hadzabe are now losing their land and livelihoods thanks to seemingly more innocuous sources. Datooga herders are moving in, their cattle destroying the vegetation and water holes needed by the Hadzabe. As an egalitarian, nomadic society – the Hadzabe have no “proof” that the land they have inhabited for millennia is actually theirs, and cannot claim it back. A 2001 BBC documentary created foreign interest in this “exotic” tribe – and the subsequent influx of tourists, money and alcohol proved disastrous. Finally, the annexing of land for private hunting reserves has meant that, paradoxically, the Hadzabe are now being imprisoned for being poachers if they return to hunt on their old land.

However, tourism could now present an opportunity for the Hadzabe to once again control their livelihoods and generate sustainable income. In a historical move, the Tanzanian government granted the Hadzabe land titles in 2011 and the ability to sustain activities such as tourism may strengthen their case for remaining on their land. This is an enormous achievement; as landowners, these formerly powerless people have been given an opportunity to take control of their future. They can choose whether to give tourists and tour operators access to this land – or not – and how much to charge for this. They can rent the land to a lodge or camp, and control the types of interaction that they have with tourists. The balance is finally, gradually, shifting towards the Hadzabe.

* Source: Radical Anthropology Report and Survival International

What you can do:
Currently, many tours to visit the Hadzabe are carried out in an unethical way. Those involved are likely to have been forced to abandon their traditional lifestyles, and will be “performing” purely for tourists; receiving little or none of the fee that has been paid. It has also been suggested that the hunts regularly staged for the benefit of tourists are causing a rapid depletion of wildlife, in areas where animals are already suffering as a result of climate change, overdevelopment and scarce water resources.

So if you do still decide to visit, there are a few things you can do to ensure you are helping, not harming. Longer tours and overnight stays may become possible in the near future, with money being paid directly to the community – so keep an eye out for this – but while operators and guides from outside the community continue mediating the experience, the following is advised:

Be respectful when taking photos – always ask permission first.

Currently, you shouldn’t expect to stay overnight – this is a real village, not a tourist camp.

Do not hand out gifts or money. However well-meaning, this can encourage begging or a dependence on tourists. If you do want to contribute, speak to your tour operator first and they may be able to advise you what to bring, as well as arranging the best person to distribute it.

Ensure you travel with a guide who speaks Hadzabe and has grown up locally or knows the community well.

Keep the exchange just that – an exchange. Share information about yourself as well as asking about the Hadzabe.

Wildlife & environment

The end of the elephants?

One in three elephants poached in Africa is taken from Tanzania. Selous Game Reserve has lost over 90 percent of its elephant population in the last 40 years. After a period where conservation efforts appeared to be successful and populations were recovering, poaching is actually on the increase once again, and the future of Tanzania’s elephants is now looking uncertain.

It is tough to police a reserve as vast as Selous, but this amount of poaching is due to high levels of corruption in both Tanzania and China – where most of this illegal ivory is destined to arrive. The Chinese President himself is one of the biggest buyers – while the Tanzanian police and military appear to be aiding the acquisition of the ivory.

*Source: National Geographic and WWF.
What you can do:
Putting an end to poaching is like putting an end to drug trafficking – it is an enormous, global issue with factors ranging from corruption to misguided beliefs and poverty all contributing to its perpetuation. But there are small ways in which you can still make a difference.

Visit the game reserves – particularly Selous and Ruaha. In the south, these reserves receive a handful of visitors compared to the Serengeti, and a lack of income means fewer rangers to patrol the enormous landscapes – and less of an incentive to protect the wildlife. Your entry fee will contribute directly to conservation efforts.

Donate to an organisation such as WWF, who are looking at innovative ways to deter poachers. Just £5.50 can send a local child to an elephant reserve, where they will learn about elephant conservation, and £32 will pay an anti-poaching ranger’s salary for a month.

Read more about WWF’s African Elephant Programme here.

Hunting & conservation

Unlike Kenya, trophy hunting is currently permitted in Tanzania, with a ban imposed in 2015 lifted in 2018, and permits available to shoot everything from oryx to buffalo, elephants to lions in five regions across Tanzania. It’s not hard to see why Tanzania allows this; a couple of lion hunters can bring in more revenue than a couple of hundred tourists, and these profits can be reinvested back into conservation. Although this is far from ideal, well-managed hunting can safeguard wildlife-rich areas outside of national parks, deterring poachers and human-wildlife conflict.

Lions are the most prized – and costly – of all prey, although allowing them to be hunted has been credited with their high numbers in Tanzania, as their protection is encouraged. Other issues include the lack of restrictions on the age of the lions being hunted. If the dominant male of a pride is killed, the next male will kill his cubs, meaning that while one lion is counted as being hunted, many more will die.

Additionally, with illegal elephant poaching out of control, it has been argued that elephants should not be hunted for sport. Campaigners also argue that there is no evidence of how quotas have been calculated, and there are lax controls over the hunts themselves.

What you can do:
While it can be argued that trophy hunting protects some of Tanzania’s wildlife, we would ideally like to see most ethical alternatives in the future. Some wildlife-rich African countries do not permit hunting. It has been banned in Kenya, for example, since 1977. Spending your money wisely in national parks, game reserves and with local communities emphasises the importance of wildlife tourism over trophy hunting.

Many tour operators also have projects which promote education and raising awareness in schools of the importance of conservation. As the future protectors of Tanzania’s wildlife, their engagement with their environment is essential if there is a chance of hunting being stopped in the future.

Responsible tourism tips

There are a number of boat trips departing from southern Zanzibar offering the chance to see and swim with dolphins. These may have, thankfully, replaced the island’s traditional dolphin hunt – but here are absolutely no regulations regarding dolphin tourism in Tanzania, and most tours are run by boat drivers with no experience (or, arguably, interest) in animal behaviour. Visitors report boats crowding round the dolphins and chasing them, and tourists jumping into the water to swim with them, with no monitoring of the dolphin’s behaviour. Avoid at all costs. To find out more about responsible dolphin tourism, see our guide. Tanzania may be a relatively costly place to travel in – but ironically it is still one of the world’s poorest nations. Do your bit by tipping your guides, drivers, cooks and hotel staff – discuss an appropriate amount with your tour operator before you depart, and come prepared with cash. There are many opportunities to visit nurseries and schools on Tanzania holidays - but we do not promote any visit that takes place when pupils are present. Group of tourists repeatedly entering the classroom is disruptive for the children's education, and not beneficial to them in any way. Additionally, there are child protection issues around photos of children being taken and posted online, without the children's - or the parents' - permission. To have a more positive impact, find out from your holiday company if any items are required by the school. You can brign these with you to donate to the head teacher, or - better still - purchase in country if possible, to support local traders. Due to the high level of poverty in Tanzania, there are endless volunteer opportunities. With few exceptions, Responsible Travel does not advise unqualified volunteers to find placements in orphanages – find out more through our orphanage campaign. Never purchase items made from endangered species – including coral, turtle shells or eggs, ivory, fur or bone. While national parks protect landscapes and wildlife, there are still issues with local people being evicted from the land for little or no compensation. As one of the newest national parks, and the only coastal one, Saadani threatens to swallow coastal fishing villages. Read more about this here. Tanzania is a conservative country, especially in rural areas and along the predominantly Muslim coast and islands. Skimpy clothing is inappropriate outside of the beach resorts, and women especially should cover their legs and upper arms. One good tip is to buy a kanga – a kind of local sarong, which can be used as a quick cover up (even wrapped over trousers for extra modesty) as well as a towel, blanket or scarf at other times. They have local sayings written in Swahili – find one that’s appropriate for you and it will also make a lovely souvenir! Tourists should be especially discrete about covering up and drinking alcohol in public during the month of Ramadan. Always use your right hand for shaking hands and eating. When shaking hands or passing something to someone, it is polite to put your left hand on your right lower arm. Swahili is the dominant language along the coast – and it’s surprisingly easy to learn and pronounce. Do make an effort to learn a few words, and remember that “Jambo!” is in fact the tourist greeting – “Hujambo” or “Habari” are better ways to say “Hello, how are you?” Learn the three way African handshake too – sure to be an icebreaker with the unsuspecting locals!
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: Atosan] [Kilimanjaro porters – easing the load: Stig Nygaard] [The end of the elephants?: Güldem Üstün]