Over 100 families of herders and farmers from neighbouring countries have encroached on Malagarasi-Moyovosi wetland in Kasulu District, according to Tanzania authorities in the western region of Kigoma.
The wetland, which covers over nine million hectares encompassing five rivers and riparian wetlands, is the largest drainage system into Lake Tanganyika.
Owing to its size and importance to the ecosystem, the basin has been designated as a site of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands — an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetland.
According to Moyovosi Forest reserve manager Bigiramungu Kagoma, recent studies found an endemic species flock of fluvial cichlid fishes, clariid and at least three other fish species, which have not yet been described, in the wetland.
District authorities and conservationists in the area blame the encroachment of the wetland on village leaders who have welcomed the herders and farmers.
One of the suspected herders caught grazing in the wetland said that village leaders had invited him and his colleagues to move into the area without knowing it was a reserve.
Situated on the shores of Lake Tanganyika on the west, Kigoma region is bordered by the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.
The herders and peasants are reportedly grazing livestock and growing paddy and maize within the wetland.
Local authorities and conservationists are calling on prompt measures to rescue the area, which has national and international importance. Kasulu district commissioner Colonel (rtd) Simon Anange pledged that an operation to evict the invaders would be carried out from next month.
However, Anange believes the lasting solution for the encroachment is upgrading the wetland to a game reserve in order for the Tanzania Wildlife Authority (Tawa) to guard it round the clock.
“The area is currently in the custodian of Kasulu District Council which lacks sufficient game warders,” said the district commissioner, who added that even Tanzania citizens would be evicted and relocated to Kagerankanda area.
Makare Forest Hunting Block manager at Uvinza Open Area said the herders not only had 5,000 livestock within the wetland, but were also engaging in poaching.