As a tourism stakeholder, Tatanca Safaris recognizes that we should take an active role in addressing the issue of dwindling elephant populations in the areas we operate (or Africa as whole for that matter).
Over the past week, I had the opportunity to sit together with two people who are on the forefront of the struggle to reduce the slaughter of the African Elephant in Southern Tanzania.
My neighbour Edmund has been a park warden in Ruaha National Park since 2007 and is now attached to the SPANEST (Strengthening Protected Area Network of Southern Tanzania) project. He helped expand my view of what causes poaching and who are typical poachers.
There are approx 22 villages surrounding the park, and often the youth who live there are without any viable means of income, which makes them easy targets for poaching syndicates. By providing training on agricultural practices or entrepreneurship, it may help reduce the reliance on poaching income.
As well, there is a change in the movements of the elephants due to the decreased flow of the Great Ruaha River. An increase in the number of approved (and illegal) irrigation schemes upriver of the park has caused the elephants to range farther in search of water which often brings them into conflict with the local farmers due to crop raiding.
There is also an elephant movement corridor between Ruaha Park and Udzungwa Mountain Park which increases the conflict hotspots.
As well, I spoke at length with Trevor Jones, one of the co-founders of the Southern Tanzania Elephant Project (STEP). They work in both Ruaha & Udzungwa parks. He agreed with the above points which are putting pressure on the elephant population in the parks.
In Ruaha, STEP focuses on ‘monitoring for protection’ which includes identifying the conflict hotspots, movement corridors as well as developing a ID database which includes deaths, births, age structure, and elephant population.
They have asked experienced guides in the park to use a tablet which will enable them to input data when they encounter an elephant while out on safari.
Tourists may also find this to be engaging, as they can help identify and name the ‘tembos’. For example, if one is sighted, it can be found or added to the database by using identifying marks such as tears or holes in the ear, and after being identified and entered 3 times, the elephant will then be named.
In Udzungwa park, STEP has launched a innovative project to address the challenges of crop raiding where bee hive fences have been constructed along the park boundary to deter the elephants. An added bonus is that the farmers also have another source of income by selling the honey in the local villages as well as the lodges inside the park.
There is a future plan to expand the beehive fences along the main movement corridors.
Tatanca will be making a contribution from each of our safaris to the STEP project as well as participating in the Elephant ID program as our efforts to help stem the elephant population decline.