Engaging pastoralists to preserve wildlife conservation in Tanzania

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The Ruaha Carnivore Project is a grassroots carnivore conservation organization, focusing on identifying cultural and/or economic drivers of traditional wildlife killing, and aiming to replace them through conservation in Tanzania. One key aspect of the project is training and employing villagers to monitor and conserve wildlife through community camera-trapping.

No Poverty , Good Health and Well-Being , Reduce habitat degradation, halt biodiversity loss, extinction , Life on Land , Enhance capacity for participatory, sustainable human settlement , Mobilize resources for biodiversity conservation, sustainable use

Tanzania's remote Ruaha landscape is a global hotspot for lions and other wildlife. It is one of the most important areas in the world for large carnivores, supporting around 10% of all the lions left in Africa, as well as globally important populations of African wild dogs, cheetahs, leopards and spotted hyaenas. Given the dramatic declines undergone by all these species – for example, lions, cheetah and wild dog populations have all disappeared from over 90% of their range – this is an extremely important area for remaining carnivore populations.

The project works with extremely poor pastoralist communities, who are heavily dependent upon livestock and who are mainly illiterate, so have few skills or diversified income sources to improve their resilience. They are under intense pressure, as they are traditionally marginalised, their cultural rituals (such as lion killing) are now often illegal, and increasingly erratic rainfall means that when the grazing fails, there is widespread hunger and malnutrition.

The Ruaha Carnivore Project is a grassroots carnivore conservation organization, which grew from 3 people living in small tents under a tree on village land to over 60 people (almost all local Tanzanians). The Ruaha Carnivore Project works with partners within Tanzania and across the word to achieve the following:

1) Gather baseline data on carnivore numbers and ecology, in order to develop conservation strategies; and
2) Work closely with local communities to effectively reduce human-carnivore conflict.
In this regard, the project has focused on reducing carnivore attacks on stock, as well as developing local benefits linked to wildlife presence. A key part of this has been training and employing villagers to monitor and conserve wildlife, namely through community camera-trapping. Villagers receive points for each wild animal they photograph, with more points for the more potentially dangerous species. These points are swapped for educational, healthcare and veterinary benefits for the community, with the aim that wildlife is eventually seen as a net asset rather than a cost to local people. The project has also provided culturally-appropriate employment to villagers who are less incentivized to kill wildlife for economic benefit and status, and also become more aware of the importance of carnivore conservation.

The project has proved an extremely valuable way of providing employment, building capacity, reducing poverty and engaging local communities in conservation.

The community camera-trapping initiative is now working across 12 villages, employing 24 people and affecting around 20,000 villagers. Wildlife killing has substantially reduced, particularly in terms of poisoning events, which are always extremely damaging for many species, including critically endangered vultures. Villagers have now recorded breeding activities of lions on village land, and instead of killing them have protected them and placed camera-traps in those areas to generate more benefits. Sharing the images with the wider community has also improved knowledge of, and interest in, local wildlife and the villages are more engaged in conservation.

This community camera-trapping programme has now generated over US$160,000 of benefits for local villagers, and the project has been recognized by the regional government as the main provider of development assistance in the area. The benefits have been split equally between healthcare, education and veterinary medicine, so have improved livelihoods through better healthcare, improved educational opportunities for primary and secondary-school students, and have reduced livestock deaths due to disease.

A team from Mozambique's Niassa Carnivore Project has been trained in the method, to see whether it could be replicated there, and it has also been shared with interested conservation groups from across other countries in Africa and beyond.

Tanzania

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Ruaha Carnivore Project

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