Elephant pushes over a beehive!

Guest blog by volunteer Ciska Scheijen

I have been volunteering for the Udzungwa Elephant Project for the last two months and am a student of wildlife management at Van Hall Larenstein University, The Netherlands.

At the end of November 2013, the Njokomoni farmers’ group got assistance once again from international Raleigh volunteers. The volunteers and the UEP team helped the farmers to maintain the bee-hive fence, which has the intended function of reducing crop-raiding by elephants. They re-build roofs for the bee-hives to protect the hives from sun and rain, and connected the hives with wire so that the bees would get disturbed whenever an elephant tries to push through the hive fence. The idea is that the disturbed bees will become agitated, and keep the elephants at bay from the farmland.

mzinga maua

The volunteers also continued to clear a trail for tourists and visitors, so that the Njokomoni farmers can provide guided tours along the fences and farms. The money raised by the farmers from tourists and honey harvests will be used to maintain the fence and broaden bee-keeping activities.

I have been helping to measure the effectiveness of the beehive fence. Since mid-November, the elephants almost never passed a hive with a wire. They either walked between hives without a wire or walked around the fence. Therefore, it seems to be highly important to maintain the hives and fence properly as it appears to be an effective deterrent, as has been observed in Laikipia, Kenya.


Beehive toppled by elephant in the night, Udzungwa, January 2014.

However, on the evening and night of 7th-8th January, an elephant pushed down one of the bee-hives, which was populated by bees (see photo of upturned hive). Most likely, the elephant pushed the hive down when he was on his way back to the National Park. The damaged hive was found lying upside down almost 2 meters from its original position and alongside the park boundary.

This is the first reported incidence of an elephant pushing down a hive occupied by bees along the Udzungwa Mountains National Park boundary – and maybe the first incidence anywhere? It is unknown why the elephant did this, although we have some hypotheses including: 1) the elephant got agitated by the bees, and 2) the elephant was rushing back to safety (into the national park) and pushed the hive down en route. The bees had only recently – at the end of December 2013 – occupied this specific hive, so it was likely a relatively small colony and light in weight. Check back soon for further updates.


Debating in London: To Trade or not to Trade?

The Big Earthwatch Debate at the Royal Geographical Society in London this year addresses the big question of whether trading in wildlife parts can help to  save endangered species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers.

We are very much opposed to trade of this kind, believing it only contributes in the long term (and in some cases the short term) to the demise of these species. Dr. Kate Nowak is on the anti-trade team at this debate, which will begin at 7pm next Thursday, 17th October.

If you are interested to watch but cannot get along to the RGS, you can livestream the event, and put questions to the panel live over the internet.

Go Kate!


2013: The year so far…

Hi everyone. As we gear up to begin a new project in the amazing Ruaha ecosystem of southern Tanzania – where East Africa’s 2nd largest elephant population is under increasing poaching pressure – here is a brief round-up of our year so far…


In January, UEP Director Dr. Trevor Jones attended a two-day meeting in Dar es Salaam on the elephant poaching crisis in Tanzania, organised by TEPS (Tanzania Elephant Protection Society) and officiated by Mr. James Lembeli MP, Chair of the Parliamentary Committee Of Land, Natural Resources And Environment. We subsequently took a lead role in editing the report to the Parliamentary Committee, and Ministry for Natural Resources and Tourism, recommending solutions to the crisis.

mzinga maua

In February, our human-elephant co-existence project with farmers in the Udzungwa Mountains received a boost with the arrival of international Raleigh volunteers, who (among other jobs) helped the farmers and UEP team to re-build roofs for the 50 beehives that currently make up the beehive fence – and planted flowers under every hive. The Njokomoni Farmers Group have been harvesting honey and it is selling well, with the profits going back into our collaborative efforts to reduce the crop-raiding.


In March, our MSc student, Lukinga Thabit, completed his fieldwork on the important elephant corridor linking Ruaha and Udzungwa Mountains National Parks. Lukinga is writing up now at the University of Dar es Salaam, and his results will help guide our plans to conserve this critical genetic connectivity for Southern Tanzania’s elephants.

Elephant Poaching_Bunge 23rd April 2013.v4

In April, Trevor visited Parliament in Dodoma, as part of a task force invited by Mr. Lembeli MP to address the Parliamentary Committee on the elephant poaching crisis. Our message seemed to shock as well as inform MPs, and was carried into the next week’s main chamber session on the annual Environment budget, resulting in pledges for major action from the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism. Examples of the news stories that reported on these debates and announcements can be found here and here.

honey jar_prototype

May was devoted mostly to meetings and fundraising, with the UEP field team again running the Annual Iringa Marathon. Deals were struck with some tourist lodges and camps to sell the increasingly popular “Njokomoni elephant-friendly honey“, ensuring a better price for the farmers.

NatGeo putting microphone on Ponjoli in between chili-oil and beehive fences

In June, in collaboration with the Njokomoni Farmers Group and again with the help of Raleigh volunteers, we completed the creation of a community tourism trail (complete with bridges and vantage points) that tours the fascinating environment at the interface between the forest edge of the Udzungwa Mountains National Park, and the farms that are being affected by elephants. The idea is to develop community-based tourism to provide some extra income for the farmers, and raise awareness of the local challenges we all face to enhance human-wildlife coexistence in the area.

paulo & jo_CTSamir_med

Throughout July and August, Yale University student Jo Smit worked with our team in Mang’ula, including on our three years of camera-trapping data looking at elephants leaving the forest and entering the farms. We have some very interesting and surprising results emerging from this monitoring, which are of great relevance to management of the problem – and we will be posting more on this very soon. In November and December, we will be hosting two more students from Holland who will be helping us analyse the effectiveness of the beehive and chilli-oil fences that are around the farms…


And in September, we have been preparing for our new project in Ruaha, which begins in October and is funded by the US Fish and Wildlife African Elephant Conservation Fund. We will post more about this project too soon (with more regular updates on our Facebook page). We are happy to be extending into the Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem, where elephants need all the help they can get…

All the best , the UEP team

Mongabay article about our corridors work

New article just published online about our work on the threatened elephant corridors between Selous and the Udzungwa Mountains. As the writer points out, “Without safe, smart, and well-maintained corridors between designated wildlife areas, animals can get cut off from resources needed for survival and from potential mates (putting genetic health at risk), even while conflicts with humans become more frequent.”
There’s a link to our new scientific paper at the bottom of the article.


Our Masters student from the University of Dar es Salaam, Lukinga Thabit, has been busy in the field researching the status and viability of the threatened Mtandika corridor between Udzungwa and Ruaha, an important route for elephants and other wildlife. On a recent break to do some data entry, he posted an update on how the fieldwork is going – together with an appeal for help to complete his studies. He’s finding out some interesting stuff – including some unexpected associations between elephants and goats! You can read his short progress report over on our Masters studies page.

Aerial support helping elephant protection efforts in the Udzungwa Mountains

A view from the plane

We are in the midst of an elephant poaching crisis, and even in the remotest parts  of the Udzungwa Mountains, elephants are not insulated from the threat that emanates from China and her neighbours. Last month, three elephants were killed up in the mountains, and their tusks hacked off. The anti-poaching and intelligence wardens and rangers of the Udzungwa Mountains National Park are an effective force, but like everyone on the frontline in elephant country, they have their work cut out to protect these magnificent beasts from the greed and ignorance of the ivory traders.

Pilot David Moyer briefing his passengers: L to R, Arafat Mtui (UEMC), Joel Masaki (Asst Protection Warden), Pius Mzimbe (Protection Warden), Ponjoli Joram (Ecologist)

With help from the US Fish and Wildlife African Elephant Conservation Fund, we are providing some aerial support to the Udzungwa Mountains National Park. Apart from one day with a helicopter earlier this year,  the Park has had no assistance from the air as they try to cover this challenging area of mountains and remote plateaus. So we asked local conservationist and pilot David Moyer, who is based nearby in Iringa and knows Udzungwa like the back of his hand, to do some flights and be on call with his small Cessna plane. While some of the mountainsides are cloaked in sublime closed-canopy rainforest, other extensive areas are drier and more open meaning that much useful information can be gleaned from the air. On a flight last week with both protection wardens and the park ecologist, a previously unknown elephant carcass was spotted, and some extensive fires set by poachers were discovered, prompting a rapid ground response.

Taking off

Flights until now have made use of the Illovo Sugar Company’s airstrip in the northern Kilombero Valley. Park wardens are now looking into the possibility of creating some small airstrips within the Park, including in remote areas, which would help respond more rapidly to reports of poachers, fires and other threats up in the mountains.

L to R: Trevor Jones (UEP), David Moyer (Pilot), Ponjoli Joram (Park Ecologist), Joel Masaki (Asst. Protection Warden)


Visit from National Geographic film crew encourages Njokomoni Farmers Group to develop wildlife-friendly buffer zone project

In late July/early August, as part of their upcoming documentary on people and elephants, National Geographic visited Mang’ula and Udzungwa Mountains National Park HQ to document our efforts to mitigate human-elephant conflict along the eastern boundary of the park. They filmed in Njokomoni, an area with fertile soils that we identified as a human-elephant conflict hotspot in 2009-2011 during park ecologist Ponjoli Joram’s MSc fieldwork. Crops grown in the area include pumpkins, coconuts, and most garden plants (tomatoes, spinach, etc.), while four other crops, previously grown in Njokomoni, namely maize, rice, eggplants and African eggplants, are now grown elsewhere because of elephants’ and baboons’ preferences for these. Members of the recently formed Njokomoni Farmers Group took part in the filming, demonstrating chili-oil fence repair, beehive fence inspection, and application of elephant dung to crops – three deterrent methods being trialed in Njokomoni. The group hopes to sustain crop protection and conflict mitigation methods with funds generated from honey and agro-tourism. They would also like to build elephant-proof casing for the main water pipe that supplies the village, and a viewing platform for visitors. We thank Katie Carpenter of National Geographic for promoting their efforts and for three indispensable beekeeping suits. We look forward to your film!




Southern Tanzania Elephant Conservation Forum – Inaugural Meeting

The Southern Tanzania Elephant Conservation Forum (STECF) met for the first time in Iringa town on July 19 at the Neema Crafts Conference Centre. Thirty-six participants attended. Mr. Adam Swai from the Iringa Regional Government, Mr. John Muya from the Wildlife Division and Mr. Dennis Ikanda from TAWIRI opened our meeting, moderated by Professor Mutayoba (SUA) and Ponjoli Joram (TANAPA & UEP).

Members’ talks covered challenging and complex issues including contraction of elephant range in Africa and chronic physiological stress experienced by groups without matriarchs and groups made up of non-relatives (Prof. Mutayoba); the debate over consolation (Mr. Muya and Alex Chang’a) and the possibility of a micro-credit scheme to empower farmers and make HEC mitigation sustainable (Alex Chang’a); broad patterns of HEC and non-lethal deterrent methods such as cultivation of non-palatable crops (sesame, sunflowers, chilies) and donor independent methods such as the Combretum ash-chilli method (Cyprian Malima); the mis-match between locations of “Problem Animal Control” and actual hotspots of HEC in eastern Selous to the coast (Cyprian Malima); the dangers of policies such as Kilimo Kwanza, of priority farming areas placed within wildlife corridors, and conflicts of interest between conservation bodies (WD, TANAPA and district councils) (Ponjoli Joram), as well as the need for less bureaucracy and more actual support in, for example, the establishment of WMAs (Rogasian Mtana); historical and current connectivity of elephant populations (Prof. Mutayoba, Cyprian Malima, and Trevor Jones); and the two top strategic objectives of the 2010-2015 Tanzania Elephant Management Plan: HEC and corridors (T. Jones).

We agreed that problems in southern Tanzania are unique, i.e., different from those faced by elephants in the north where populations such as Serengeti and Tarangire are relatively well-protected. Arguably, meanwhile, the two most important elephant populations in Eastern Africa (representing 60% of elephants in E. Africa) are Ruaha-Rungwa and Selous-Mikumi. It was proposed that the former one should be re-surveyed soon, and that MIKE data from the Selous-Mikumi population need updating.

A wealth of local knowledge about elephant corridors and human-people interactions from around southern Tanzania was shared during the meeting. More content of our moderated and focal groups’ (HEC, land-use & corridors, behavior & ecology, and community conservation & WMAs) discussions will be reported in an upcoming Proceedings-style report. In addition, a southern Tanzania corridors and HEC hotspots map that was begun by forum members with the help of GIS expert, Guy Picton-Phillipps (WCS), will be made available for updating online.

The meeting ended with enthusiastic discussion about future plans for the forum. A chair and committee were agreed, and we hope to meet again in January 2013.

Check back for more details soon. Meanwhile, some photographs from the meeting. Please click on the images to view a larger version of the photos.






















Forum Members’ talks. From top left: Mr. Muya on challenges facing wildlife, Prof. Mutayoba on poaching threats & elephant stress physiology and genetics, Kate on symbolic value of elephants in Tz, Cyprian on novel ash-chilli wind blown deterrent method and Selous-Indian Ocean corridors, Alex on sustainability of HEC mitigation, Joram on government bodies and policies, and Trevor on management plan & corridors website.









Elephant dung paper demo in Neema Crafts workshop.









Moderated discussion during the forum meeting.









Group photo outside Neema Crafts.

We thank the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the World Society for the Protection of Animals for sponsoring this meeting.

Elephant symbols

Can the value of something in human society be gauged by its widespread symbolic use?  If so, here are just a few examples of elephant symbols in Tanzania. Check back for more in the future, or better yet, contribute your own – we will post them here!  The below include: a bank card, jar label on jam made by Iringa Young Women, rooftop edge of the dining room at a Ruaha National Park camp, textile, the 10,000 TSh banknote, and a bag of cement.

UEP Team to run Ruaha Marathon on 26th May !

Jose, Paulo and Athumani (all pictured) are running in the inaugural Ruaha Marathon in Iringa, for the Udzungwa Elephant Project! Please have a look at our special events page to read more….