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?