Category Archives: Corridors

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…

olifants

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.

Abbas_Mtandika

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…

USFWS

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.

Update From The Field: THE MTANDIKA WILDLIFE CORRIDOR

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.

Tanzanian National Elephant Management Plan launched

TEMP front cover

Click on this image to download the whole document (7MB)

The Udzungwa Elephant Project are proud to have been involved in the epic collaborative effort to bring this important document into being. I worked for a year and a half alongside TAWIRI and WCS staff in Arusha, and around the country collecting data on the major elephant populations, to assess the current status of Tanzania’s elephants. We also surveyed officials from all 108 districts of Tanzania to understand patterns and trends in human-elephant conflict. Workshops around the country gathered input and opinions from stakeholders, and finally 70 experts represented Tanzania in a gruelling 3-day workshop to finalise all the objectives, targets and actions required to conserve and protect the country’s amazing elephant populations and habitats over the next five years and beyond. Lots more hard work now lies ahead to ensure that the Plan does not just gather dust on shelves.

Everyone reached agreement on nine national ‘strategic objectives’, representing the most important challenges facing elephant conservation in Tanzania, and the Udzungwa Elephant Project has adopted the top three (plus of course number 6!) as the main focus of our work:

1. Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC)

2. Elephant Corridors

3. Law Enforcement

4. Benefits/Sustainable Utilisation

5. Management of Ivory Stockpiles

6. Research and Monitoring

7. Elephant Health and Welfare

8. Cross-border Cooperation

9. Elephant Information Management

The Plan is ambitious, but we have to strive as best we can towards the targets that are laid out under each objective. Please download and give it a read, and if you can help in any small way towards Tanzania’s noble vision to “be a world leader in elephant conservation”, then do not hesitate!

New website about Tanzanian wildlife corridors

corridors website

UEP have been collaborating in creating a brand new website documenting the remaining wildlife corridors of Tanzaniaas far as we know, the first of its kind in the world. Included are several important elephant corridors, which continue to be one of our priorities for conservation in southern Tanzania. As we have blogged about before:

Elephants are umbrellas! Conserve elephant corridors, and you are conserving connectivity for a wide range of other animals.

Corridor conservation is tough however, not least because corridors usually pass through the land of several villages. But the benefits for communities and wildlife of managing corridors well, make it impossible not to try. In our area, we are studying and working on ways to conserve the following critical corridors, which are featured on the new website:

Udzungwa-Selous wildlife corridors

Udzungwa-Ruaha wildlife corridor

Udzungwa-Mikumi wildife corridor

We hope you will have time for a browse, and that this website may inspire more people to think about and act on the importance of maintaining ecological connectivity across the landscapes we care about – before it is too late.

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?

Elephant Masters Theses: one is completed, another begins!

These are exciting times for our team. First, a massive congratulations to Joram, who is now officially Ponjoli Joram M.Sc. after completing his EU Erasmus Mundus Masters in Applied Ecology. His thesis, pictured below, was passed without revisions, a terrific achievement. We hope to make the whole thesis downloadable soon, and will be blogging more about the findings of the study – which is being continued on the ground by UEP research assistants Paulo and Jose – in the coming months. Meantime, no rest for the wicked, and no time to celebrate – Joram is already back in the field in Udzungwa, implementing the RRF-funded emergency project (see previous blog below), working with farmers on crop-raiding mitigation measures.

Joram's thesis

Also this month, in other good news – we have managed to raise enough money through private donations to cover the first year’s academic fees for the masters project of Lukinga Thabit at the University of Dar es Salaam. Followers of our blog will be aware that Lukinga is going to be working in a critical elephant corridor just north of the Udzungwa Mountains – and he is enrolling this month at the university, and already working hard on his research proposal in collaboration with Dr. Nahonyo in the Zoology Department, and the UEP. Congratulations to Lukinga, as he embarks on his important work – we will be supporting you all the way.

Elephants and connectivity at Arusha conference

Loss of wildlife corridors in Tanzania copy

Hi all, we just returned to Udzungwa from Arusha where we were attending a stimulating conference for conservation scientists from around Africa and beyond. I gave a talk about wildlife corridors around Tanzania, and around Udzungwa in particular, with some thoughts and ideas on how to practically implement connectivity conservation (drop me a message if you want the pdf of the talk). They seemed to go down well, and stimulated some good discussions afterwards. I updated people on the situation with the Udzungwa-Selous corridors – there is a positive land use planning process ongoing down in the Ruipa Corridor – and it was good to hear about some projects that are going on, or are in the pipeline, elsewhere in Tanzania.

Back in Udzungwa, and we are full steam ahead with planning and supporting the new human-elephant conflict mitigation project. No doubts about the need to tackle this problem: last night there were three elephants stood outside the house of UEP field assistant Jose, 500m from the forest… As usual, they were back in the forest by dawn.

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.

TEMP, Elephant Corridors, and Udzungwa

Hi all, I haven’t blogged for a while, in fact I was away from Udzungwa for about a year. It’s great to be back, but I can’t complain – I got to spend much of last year travelling around the country, evaluating the status of most of the major elephant populations, and some corridors too. This is because in 2009 I was asked by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to coordinate development of the new Tanzanian National Elephant Management Plan (TEMP), in partnership with the Wildlife Division, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), and many other important managers and stakeholders. It was a remarkable experience, and despite many serious challenges I am optimistic that the forthcoming Plan, which received direct input from over 70 experts from around the country and beyond, can be a powerful tool for elephant conservation in Tanzania.

Katavi_tuskless

Elephants in Katavi National Park, western Tanzania, September 2009.

Among the key issues that we identified as nationally important for elephant management and conservation was the accelerating threat to corridors and connectivity between core areas – an issue we have been trying to address in Udzungwa since 2005. There will be much more to follow on this subject on these blog pages, especially since we will soon be joined by a second Tanzanian Masters student to study one of the Udzungwa elephant corridors (watch this space!). But the reason I mention it here is this: the process of conducting for TEMP a national assessment of the remaining elephant corridors around the country, has really reinforced for me the critical importance of conserving the smaller elephant populations and their habitats, in addition to the better-known larger ones. Two prime examples of small populations important to linking the whole in Tanzania are the little-known Swaga Swaga Game Reserve – and the Udzungwa Mountains. The map below of current elephant distribution across Tanzania illustrates why:

Map of Tanzania showing elephant distribution 2005-10 and a rough sketch of existing, though highly threatened, corridors linking the different populations. (Adapted from base map of ele distribution compiled by the Tanzania Mammal Atlas Project)

Map of Tanzania showing elephant distribution 2005-10 and a rough sketch of existing, though highly threatened, corridors linking the different populations. (Adapted from elephant distribution map compiled by the Tanzania Mammal Atlas Project)

The red dots represent elephant sightings, the grey polygons are protected areas, and the black, grey and yellow arrows illustrate movements of elephants between the core areas. Assuming this connectivity is conserved, we can talk of four core populations in Tanzania: northern, western, central and southern (with ‘remote’ populations in the north-west, far west, and on the east coast). We suspect that, remarkably, these four main populations are still connected, i.e. that gene flow between elephants of these populations still occurs. There are many reasons that it is vital that this connectivity is conserved, including to maintain healthy elephant populations remain healthy, and to insure against the unknown but likely changes to wildlife habitats that will occur around the country due to climate change, which will inevitably lead to changes in animals’ distributions.

The little known Swaga Swaga Game Reserve is a key refuge for elephants, and provides linkage between the north-eastern and the western/southern populations. In the same way, the Udzungwa Mountains are a centrepoint of connectivity linking elephants in the south and the north of the country.

Tanzania is still an incredible place for elephants and other large mammals. For this to persist, we have to plan effective long-term conservation not only for the larger populations – as some politicians claim – but also for the key smaller populations, which ensure connectivity and ecological integrity across the landscape.