Author Archives: Kate

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.


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.

Mikumi road

In early January, when driving through Mikumi National Park along the Dar to Mbeya Highway, we saw two elephant cow-calf groups crossing the road mid-morning. Traffic was busy as usual and we had to wave at the lorry behind us to slow down and stop instead of pass us when we saw that the elephants were wanting to cross. We also noticed that the park has put up signs that say “no animal viewing” which means that people can no longer stop along the road to look at animals without risking a fine. While this may be good for the park (in terms of tourist dollars) and will hopefully encourage people to visit Mikumi rather than just drive through it, it also means that people aren’t slowing down when they DO see animals. And the speed bumps are in need of repair.

In recent months, there have been reports of increased poaching in Mikumi. There have also been sightings of large elephant herds with animals crowded close together – an indication of poaching pressure. Researchers at Mikumi’s Animal Behaviour Research Unit (ABRU) report almost daily problems with poachers which at times, keep them from going into the field. The Mikumi highway certainly makes the park more accessible and Mikumi elephants more vulnerable to poaching. Perhaps the no-stopping regulation along the road will make any stopped vehicle look suspicious to rangers – which could be a good thing. As long as people still stop for wildlife crossing.

Click on image for larger view.

Visit to Noto Plateau & Kilwa, Lindi Region

In September, I joined a team from the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group on a survey of Noto Plateau, Lindi region. Our chief aim was to confirm the presence of four species in this coastal forest: the Rondo galago, east coast akalat, spotted ground thrush and southern banded snake eagle. But we were also doing a baseline biodiversity survey under the REDD scheme. I was excited to come upon plenty of fresh elephant dung piles brimming with seeds from predominantly two plants: “monkey fruit” with yellow-orange seeds and a long hairy seed (pictured). I’ve received two ideas about what the former may be: Tabernaemontana pachysiphon (but could also be a climber with similar sized fruits, e.g., Saba sp.) or a coastal relative of Commiphora. Please send any ideas!

On one morning, we practically walked into elephants, who warned us with three ground-shaking rumbles and moved off. There were plenty of elephant trails, dug up roots and chewed lianas as well as some attractive grassy clearings – but no water, which means that elephants descend into the farmland below to drink. People burn elephant dung and chili “bricks” to deter them from crops, so our cook was collecting some dried elephant dung to take back with her to the village. These bricks do work but need to be burned frequently.

On our way back to Dar es Salaam, we stopped off in Kilwa to visit WWF’s Cyprian Malima, who works in the Selous-Niassa corridor and is a fundi (expert) in elephant crop deterrents. His formula is a low-tech discovery for which a small amount of chili is required: he mixes the ash of dry/dead Combretum tree species with chili and places this in a flat container from which wind can disperse the mixture; the container can be hung along an elephant trail ~20m from farms (therefore, the ash/chili does not blow onto people’s crops). It is possible that other tree species may work but Combretum has an especially caustic smell.

Malima is also working on documenting elephant movements between the Selous and the coast, including Kilwa mangroves, which elephants are using…FASCINATING! I hope to return soon to set up some camera traps with Cyprian to find out what elephants are doing in the mangroves, where Cyprian’s team has recorded elephant footprints, trails, dung, and tree breakage. Could elephants be attracted to mangroves for salt? Or are mangroves a place of safety?

Ponjoli sponsored to attend conservation biology workshop at KWS

We are proud of MSc student Ponjoli Joram, whose application to attend the Conservation Biology Advanced Study Institute Part II at KWS January 10 – 15, 2011 was successful! Joram described the workshop as excellent, told us that he learned a lot about maths and modeling,  and established good contacts with fellow conservation practitioners. Hongera, Joram!

Elephant shooting at Sonjo

A group of eight bulls recently ventured outside the Udzungwa Mountains National Park boundaries, potentially to raid crops. Two of the males were tuskless (see photo). Park rangers herded the group back toward the park. Though the exact circumstances are not clear, it later transpired that one of the bulls had been shot. This bull collapsed not far inside the forest and did not survive, and its meat was taken by people, its tusks and tail confiscated by the park. We did not witness this event first-hand, and are awaiting further details.

What we fear is that this kind of event will not reconcile people and elephants, nor deter elephants from crossing park boundaries into farms. For example, what colleagues in and around Amboseli National Park, Kenya are finding is that some crop-raiders may not be habitual at all (rather they are one-off), and therefore that “problem animal control” as a management tool may be largely ineffective.

September visit to Mtandika corridor

In September, we visited the Mtandika corridor, on the northern side of the Udzungwa Mountains, where Abbas Lukinga, MS student at Sokoine University of Agriculture, will carry out his fieldwork supervised by Professor Ben Mutayoba and in collaboration with UEP. After speaking with villagers, Abbas learned that there are still five active routes used by elephants to cross the tarmac road, as they move southwards to Udzungwa Mountains National Park. Abbas observed that livestock keepers are using these same routes for their cattle and goats, with some very obvious effects: overgrazing along the corridor route, which may negatively affect smaller ungulates such as klipspringers that also use the elephant pathways, and over-intensive use of particular watering points along the Ruaha River. This use of elephant corridors to move livestock may also impact on parasite transmission between livestock and wildlife. Abbas’s study will aim to explore these human-wildlife-livestock interactions while he and his team survey the Mtandika region to learn about elephant movement between Ruaha and Udzungwa. Stay tuned.

Elephants’ extensive mineral digs along Lumemo trail

We are just back from 8 days of elephant dung surveys along and off the Lumemo trail having covered ~70km through mostly miombo woodland and grassland between two forest blocks- Matundu and Mwanihana. It appears that elephants use these areas and habitats just as much as they use the forests. Here, we documented the most extensive mineral digs we have thus far seen in Udzungwa. These sites have deep pits and elephant tusk marks, and piles of both recent and old dung suggesting heavy and frequent use. More soon!