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, and vice versa.
STEP’s work with farmers’ groups has shown that crop-loss reduction projects can effectively promote coexistence by linking local livelihoods to elephant conservation and thereby increasing people’s tolerance of elephants. Our successful model for coexistence projects involves helping farmers register a community-based organization, providing beehive fence construction materials, building farmers’ beekeeping, financial and management skills via training, and facilitating access to high-end honey markets. We currently work with five farmers’ groups (>130 farmers) who manage beehive-fence projects in villages bordering Selous Game Reserve, Udzungwa Mountains National Park, and Rungwa Game Reserve. 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 farmers and game officers. As a consequence of their involvement in coexistence projects, farmers have become important messengers of tolerance towards elephants in their community.
Beeswax is poured onto top bars to attract bees into a new hive in Rungwa village bordering Rungwa Game Reserve
Farmer-led Beehive Fence Projects
Beehive fences reduce crop losses by deterring elephants from farms (elephants are fearful of bees) and provide farmers with additional income from beekeeping and the sale of elephant-friendly honey. In our experience, these benefits combined make beehive fences a sustainable solution for reducing crop losses to elephants. We have provided over 600 beehives to farmers since 2011. Beehive fence projects are also of benefit to the wider community because they afford protection to village farms and support the growth of a local beekeeping industry that provides employment in the manufacturing of beehives and beekeeping equipment. Please consider supporting the efforts of farmers by donating a beehive here.
Village Savings and Loans Associations
To help buffer farmers financially from crop losses to elephants, we encourage farmers’ groups to run community-based loans and insurance disbursement programs known as Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs). VSLAs provide group members with an opportunity for investment and loans, as well as access to a group-run insurance fund in rural areas not served by formal financial institutions. As of July 2017, farmers have raised over TSH 5,700,000 (USD 2,600) and disbursed >70 loans to members to support small businesses and assist with household cash flow.
Monitoring and Research
In each of our project villages, we have trained local elephant monitors to map and monitor elephant activity for early identification of vulnerable areas and elephant corridor routes, as well as to facilitate longer-term study of the factors influencing elephant crop-use and the effectiveness of beehive fences. We have also trained farmers groups to record data on fence condition and beehive occupancy, so that they will be able to monitor trends in occupancy and honey yields, pinpoint priorities for fence maintenance, and identify successful strategies for increasing hive occupancy and safeguarding bee colonies.