In southern Tanzania, the area that links Selous Game Reserve with Niassa National Reserve in Mozambique forms an important ecological corridor. The area is dominated by Miombo Woodland, interrupted by wetlands and riparian forest. This area supports substantial numbers of elephant, buffalo and sable populations as well as several threatened species.
This area is primarily community owned land, of which some has been formalised as Wildlife Management Areas (forming the Selous-Niassa Wildlife Corridor), and supports over 280 000 people. Unlike most national parks and game reserves, community owned land consists of settlements, agricultural lands, and natural area supporting wildlife. This close coexistence of humans and wildlife is unfortunately not without its challenges. As in the case with many other areas in Africa, wildlife such as elephants are threatened by poaching. Typically elephant are shot for their meat or ivory, however the use of poison to kill elephants has also become a common practice in southern Tanzania and in northern Mozambique.
Another challenge is that of human–elephant conflict, whereby elephants damage and destroy the crop fields of local farmers and are killed by them in retaliation. The districts in this area are classified as having one of the highest levels of poverty in Tanzania, and as there are very few employment opportunities, most residents follow a subsistence farming livelihood. As such, residents are reliant on their immediate surroundings for energy, food, water and shelter, thus any loss or damage to crops is detrimental to the farmer and their families.
The unfortunate trend over the last few years has been a dramatic increase in elephant poaching within the region, including neighbouring northern Mozambique. Elephant mortality related to human-elephant conflict had also been increasing.
Fortunately, through funds from the Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation and other donors, PAMS Foundation has been able to establish the ‘Ruvuma Elephant Project’ in 2011. This has been the turning point in helping to effectively address poaching and other challenges in this important ecological corridor.
Read further: Parks 2014 Volume 20.1: Community involvement and joint operations aid effective anti-poaching in Tanzania: parks_20_1_lotter__clark
Aims & Objectives
The project aims are to improve the status of elephant conservation in the 2 000 000 hectare area between Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania and the Niassa National Reserve in Mozambique.
Key objectives include to:
- control the poaching of elephants
- gain a meaningful understanding of the seasonal movements of elephants in the project area
- manage human-elephant conflict
- support development of income generating activities for communities and conservation.
Training is an essential element of the project. Village Game Scouts and community leaders are trained by PAMS Foundation staff and other experts. Training and education includes:
- Conservation principles & basic anti-poaching techniques
- Field data collection, GPS & camera use
- Wildlife Management Area legislation & community rights
- Advanced anti-poaching techniques & strategies.
PAMS Foundation developed a conservation education syllabus called “Living in Harmony with Nature” which is being taught in some of the local schools. Financing is being sought to expand it to more schools over a larger area.
Since the beginning of 2012 we have been able to support approximately 200 Village Game Scouts to undertake regular patrols in the project area. These patrol teams have also included District Game Wardens. Together they have arrested many poachers and seized ivory, illegal timber, weapons, snares, poison and other poaching related tools.
Thanks to the dedication of these scouts, their community leaders and the assistance of District Game Wardens, the Ruvuma has become a safer place for elephants. The challenge remains to maintain finding and keeping up the work to control poaching.
Aerial surveillance was introduced into the project in September 2012. The Bantam B22J fixed wing ultralight aircraft is ideally suited for aerial surveillance. It has been designed to handle adverse weather conditions and can be flown in conditions that would ground most other light aircrafts, can fly extremely slowly in comparison to other aircrafts, and is highly maneuverable.
The aerial surveillance capacity has allowed the PAMS Foundation team to survey large areas relatively quickly. It enables us to spot illegal activity and direct patrol teams to these areas. This is done to better understand wildlife movements and distribution, which in turn has helped with guiding anti-poaching efforts.
The Ruvuma Elephant Project erected 3 km of ‘chili fences’ in 2012 to help mitigate human–elephant conflict in the area. No crops were raided in these protected crop fields. More ‘chili fences’ erected in 2013, along with a fence that makes use of beehives to keep elephants away, and during 2014 more than 22.5 km of these fences were set up. Remarkably, there has been a 100 percent success rate achieved in terms of crop protection and thanks to the accompanying education programme that forms part of the “Living in Harmony with Nature” series, the number of elephants killed as a result of human elephant conflict has been dramatically reduced.
The original supply of chili peppers for these fences were previously purchased in Morogoro, about 950 km away. However, we introduced an initiative to enable local farmers to grow chili peppers locally. The harvest is used for additional ‘chili fences’ and is also sold commercially, and in so doing is generating much needed income for the participating local community farmers who are part of the Wildlife Management Areas (WMA).