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.

Meet The Conservationists!

Kate and Trevor of UEP were recently interviewed about our work and the project by our partners at the African Rainforest Conservancy. Many thanks to ARC for giving us a chance to ramble and let off steam!

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!

QGIS Training for Park staff

QGIS training

This week we have been training Protection and Ecology staff of the Udzungwa Mountains National Park in use of QGIS, in collaboration with the Udzungwa Ecological Monitoring Centre and GIS fundi Nick McWilliam (of Map Action and Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge). Quantum GIS (QGIS) is open source, completely free, high quality GIS software and therefore a great option for Tanzanian Protected Area managers and researchers to manage their spatial data, and make the maps that they need for their work. Special thanks to the US Fish and Wildlife Service African Elephant Fund for supporting this training.


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.

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.

Follow us on Facebook too!

Welcome to our new project facebook page … long overdue! Sometimes we are on a poor internet connection in Udzungwa, and unable to do long blogs – so this will enable us to keep you updated more regularly…

We will still be blogging in more detail right here, though, on Wildlife Direct. Thanks for your support!

Onwards and Upwards: New Year MIKE Workshop

Hi all, and Happy New Year; we hope you’ve had a relaxing break. After a showing of BBC’s Frozen Planet and some dancing on Saturday night, we have been straight back into it, facilitating a training workshop yesterday for the 30+ rangers of the Udzungwa Mountains National Park who were around for the new year.  For those of you not familiar with MIKE – Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants – it is a CITES-managed, Africa and Asia-wide programme for monitoring trends in elephant populations and illegal killing. There are 51 MIKE sites across 28 countries in Africa. Of the four designated MIKE sites in Tanzania, the Udzungwa Mountains are part of the largest site, the ‘Selous-Mikumi-Udzungwa ecosystem’ (the others being Tarangire, Ruaha-Rungwa and Katavi-Rukwa).

At the request of the Protection Department of Udzungwa Mountains National Park, the Udzungwa Elephant Project is helping with training so that the Udzungwa sector of the site can fully participate in contributing all the different types of MIKE data to the central database. All of these data are assessed to look at which populations are suffering the most serious declines, and to try to identify the most important factors driving the killing of elephants. While it has become clear over the last three years that elephants are facing a new crisis of poaching for their tusks across much of Africa, the quantity and quality of data being contributed to the database from around the continent provide a major challenge for the MIKE programme.

Udzungwa Park rangers, MIKE training workshop, Mang'ula, 2nd January 2012

Udzungwa Park rangers, MIKE training workshop, Mang'ula, 2nd January 2012

Yesterday’s workshop was specifically for the rangers, to introduce MIKE and ensure data are collected correctly in the field when on patrol using standard MIKE field forms. We used an example provided by Save The Elephants from Laikipia-Samburu. Feedback was good, including from senior wardens, and we are continuing to work closely with both the Park Protection Wardens and the rangers, to help with protection of elephants in whatever ways we can. Next on the agenda will be a GPS workshop for the rangers who need an introduction or re-fresher in the use of GPS hand-held units.

Many thanks to the US Fish and Wildlife African Elephant Program for supporting this work, and to the Udzungwa Ecological Monitoring Centre for hosting this first of a series of workshops.



UEP Xmas 2011

We are in Udzungwa and this is our first blog this month because it’s been a hectic time since we returned here four weeks ago. But exciting too, as we have been catching up with our team on all their endeavours since September, and making plans for several new initiatives over the coming year: our human-elephant interactions work with the local farmers (teaser photo below!), 15 of whom formed an official HEC mitigation group just yesterday and will be constructing more chilli fences next week; using camera traps to document elephant behaviour at chilli and beehive fences; investigating and conserving corridors between Udzungwa, Selous, Ruaha and Mikumi; assisting local Park and Nature Reserve rangers in their fight against wildlife poaching by, for example, testing out aerial response for poacher tracking; and planning to convene as a Regional Elephant Forum bringing together Ruaha, Mikumi, Selous and Udzungwa elephant researchers, managers, and other stakeholders in Iringa town in early 2012. We will fill you in and keep you updated over the coming weeks, so please check back in. For now, have a wonderful Xmas day, and we’ll be back in the New Year.

Trev, Kate and the UEP Team


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?