Category Archives: People & Elephants

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

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.

Chili fences in the news

Chili fences are in the news this week, with a new article in the Wall Street Journal about their use in Tanzania to deter crop-raiding elephants. The article features one of our camera-trap photos showing elephant behaviour at a fence. As we point out in the comments below the article, we are seeing mixed results so far from these fences in Udzungwa – but it’s still early days.

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!

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.

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.

New HEC Mitigation Project

Males flee back toward park.

This week we received the great news that our MS student Joram Ponjoli, in collaboration with the Udzungwa Elephant Project and the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania, has secured a grant from the Rapid Response Facility for urgent work to trial mitigation methods for reducing crop-raiding by elephants in Udzungwa.

From next month until the end of October, the whole UEP team will be working on the ground in support of this project. Crop-raiding is becoming a huge challenge. Though the number of elephants that raid is small, their effect combined with other issues are currently raising hostility among the local communities towards the Udzungwa Mountains National Park. This is why something has to be done now – even though we believe that the frontline mitigation methods which will be trialled (chilli, beehives, etc) can only provide limited short-term assistance, and that the longer-term solution will have to involve wiser community-based land use planning, and creation of an effective buffer zone between the forests and the farms.

You can read more about Joram, his MS study, and our background research into crop-raiding in Udzungwa on our MS Study page.