“This unique locality preserves multiple histories of living, evolving communities of animals and plants. Systematic study of the Udzungwa Mountains hasscarcely begun, but for knowledge to continue and grow as it should, the area and itsnatural communities must survive and must be conserved even more vigorously thanthey are at present. The conservation of the Udzungwa forests and all their inhabitants is therefore an imperative, not only for Tanzania but also for the world.”
Jonathan Kingdon, 2013 (from unpublished essay)
The Udzungwa Mountains of southern Tanzania cover 10,000 km2 and comprise a mosaic of forest, miombo woodland, dry bush and grassland. Extremely biodiverse and rich in endemic and endangered species, they have in recent years become recognized as one of the most important areas for biodiversity conservation in East Africa.
Over 25 moist tropical, naturally fragmented forests, ranging in size from 2 km2 up to 512 km2 cloak the mountainsides, from 300 m up to 2300 m asl. Analysis of global biodiversity hotspots suggest that these forests may hold the highest number of endemic species per km2 in the world. The Udzungwas are also a critical centre point of connectivity for large mammal populations in southern Tanzania’s network of Protected Areas.
A remarkable 118 mammal species have so far been reported from the Udzungwas, including 15 species of Vulnerable or higher risk status on the IUCN red data list of endangered animals. It is the only mountain range among East Africa’s famous Eastern Arc Mountains to still harbour elephants and Africa’s other megaherbivores, buffalo and hippopotamus. Four new mammal species including two primates, Sanje mangabey and kipunji, have been described since 1979.
Conflict between large mammals and local people has been increasing in and around the Udzungwas in recent years, particularly involving elephants. Human-wildlife conflict is greatly exacerbated by a recent rapid increase in local human population density, and the resultant widespread conversion of wildlife habitat to agriculture which is closing off elephant migration routes between the Udzungwa, Selous and Ruaha ecosystems.
Elephants are only found in the eastern forests of the Udzungwa Mountains (in the Udzungwa Mountains National Park and Kilombero Nature Reserve), having been hunted out of the lesser protected western forests in the 20th century. Distribution of humans and elephants are inversely related, with elephants preferring remote areas furthest from human settlements and roads (including the highest mountain peaks and plateaus). This mirrors the spatial relationship between elephants and people in Africa generally.
We estimate this extraordinary population of savanna elephants using montane forest to number between 500-1000. However, since 2009 the poaching crisis has been hitting even these remote mountains, causing a rise in killing of elephants for their tusks.
Our Current Programmes in the Udzungwa Mountains
- Elephant Protection Fence and beekeeping training in collaboration with Njokomoni Farmers Group
- Monitoring of crop-raiding dynamics and demography of raiders
- Assessment of effectiveness of beehive fence
- Analysis of large dataset on habitat use by Udzungwa elephants
- Advocacy for restoration of wildlife corridors linking Udzungwa with Selous and Ruaha