Coexistence between people and elephants is a significant conservation challenge in Tanzania, and indeed across much of the African elephant’s range. Elephants are a species of conservation priority in Tanzania, recognized for their contribution to the national economy through wildlife tourism, and threatened by an ivory poaching crisis that has reduced the country’s elephant population from 109,000 in 2009 to an estimated 50,000 individuals in 2015. However, elephants can also have negative impacts on people and livelihoods, especially in communities that share space and resources with elephants. Thus, ensuring long-term human-elephant coexistence in Tanzania requires mitigation of the negative impacts of elephants on people.
Udzungwa-Selous Human-Elephant Coexistence Projects
In the Udzungwa Mountains, up to 1000 elephants roam across a mosaic of habitats including Montane Forest. Around the Udzungwa Mountains National Park, an abrupt boundary between forest and farms leads to crop losses from elephants and conflict with local communities.
Since 2009, we have been monitoring crop-use by elephants, by measuring all incidences of crop losses on farms, and recording elephants entering the farms using camera traps placed along their exit points from the forest.
In 2010, we supported 15 farmers to form a collective called the Njokomoni Farmers Group. Working with this group, we have been trialing different methods for reducing crop losses from elephants, and monitoring their effectiveness.
The aims of this collaboration are to safeguard and enhance the livelihoods of this community, to reduce hostility towards elephants, and to eliminate the retaliatory killing of elephants by both local farmers and game officers. As a consequence of their involvement in this project, farmers have become important messengers of tolerance towards elephants in their community (with no retaliatory killing of elephants in four years as a result).
In 2016, STEP began supporting beehive fence projects for two additional farmers’ groups in villages bordering Selous Game Reserve and Udzungwa Mountains National Park.
Njokomoni Elephant Protection Fence and Community Tourism Trail
Together with the Njokomoni farmers group, we trialed a chilli-oil fence for two years, but found it to be too expensive and impractical. We are now focused on supporting and assessing the 150-beehive fence, which is proving popular with the local farmers.
The farmers group make money from selling the honey from the hives, which is ploughed back into maintaining the fence and developing the project, before sharing any profits among members. In July 2014, STEP sponsored the farmers group to undertake beekeeping skills training, with the aim of further increasing their honey yield, and profit margin.
Together with our partners Raleigh International, we have also assisted the group to establish a community tourism trail through the farms, along which they guide visitors to the Udzungwa Mountains, explaining the project and introducing local culture.
The farmers are very enthusiastic for this project and over the last two years, we have observed a clear increase in tolerance towards the local elephants, and a recent cessation of retaliatory killing.