Elephants in Tanzania

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Positive Steps at Wildlife Reserve's One-Year Mark

Floodplains of Ol Tukai Manyara, with views of the Rift Valley escarpment — part of the
Radilen and Manyara ecosystem that provides protected habitat to wildlife

Wednesday, April 2 will probably go down as the most rewarding day in all my years living and working in East Africa.

This was the day the Monduli District Government met with our East African Safari and Touring Company, other private investors, wildlife NGOs and the six Masai communities we work with to discuss the new Radilen Wildlife Management Area (WMA).

After this meeting, I can at last announce that things are moving ahead in a very positive way.

If you’re a little late to the news, let me backtrack. The Radilen WMA is a 571 square kilometre land tract that the Government of Tanzania finally agreed to set aside as an official wildlife reserve in April 2013.

What makes this WMA so important, its achievement such a milestone, is its location. Lying adjacent to Tarangire National Park, Radilen is a critical corridor for wildlife migrating outside the park to the larger Masai Steppe ecosystem.

Species include zebras, wildebeest and the fastest growing elephant population in Africa.

Prior to the Radilen WMA’s establishment, these animals were at high risk of being hunted or poached as they left the relative safety of the national park.

However, since the reserve was established 12 months ago, we have intensified our long collaboration with traditional Masai landowners in an effort to change this reality.

Thanks to private donations and a grant from the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), 15 local Masai rangers are now trained, armed and ready to patrol the WMA and offer real protection to its wildlife.

It has taken 20 years of dogged persistence and challenging negotiations to get this vital area properly recognized and protected. There is more to be done, but after the April 2 meeting, it all feels worth it.

At the meeting, District Council Commissioner Jowika Kasunga drew some lines in the sand that will see things progress at an accelerated rate. First, he confirmed that all hunting is prohibited in the Radilen WMA. Livestock grazing and casual or permanent settlements are banned, too.

These limits set a powerful tone for how the reserve will be managed, or rather, left alone. Not all WMAs in Tanzania afford wildlife such respect. In fact, the Radilen WMA represents the first community run wildlife reserve in Tanzania to receive such a highly protective status.

Next, Mr Kasunga pinpointed July 1 as the date that the reserve’s Masai land stewards shall begin collecting revenues from visitors. These monies, which are projected to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, will fund schools and other much-needed services and community infrastructure.

Also at this meeting, Honeyguide Foundation Executive Director Damien Bell offered his organization’s support. It will come in the form of supervision and additional on-the-ground training for our 15 Radilen WMA rangers, and through assistance from rangers working in the Burunge WMA and at Manyara Ranch, which are both located on the western border of Tarangire National Park.

Mr Bell rightly suggested that any poaching or encroachment in one area be tackled by an immediate, combined response from all three ranger groups to deliver the force needed to stop illicit activities.

We saw this approach work in February 2013, when poachers on motorbikes chased and clubbed to death six zebras at Ol Tukai, on the shores of Lake Manyara, all for a few kilograms of bush fillet.

Our Masai staff alerted Honeyguide Foundation’s rangers at Manyara Ranch. Two poachers were caught; one motorbike was confiscated.

Masai woman and children will be the biggest winners. Access to schools and
health care will help them 
escape the cycle of subsistence.
(Photo: Lemooti village)
Importantly, the Radilen WMA represents the first time Tanzanian Masai communities themselves have said enough is enough. They have recognized that wildlife is both their heritage and their future. They say they want to preserve the animals for their children, creating sustainable tourism income for generations.

Additionally, the Masai know that to continue their way of life, with their tradition of open plains grazing, they must work to protect vast areas of land. They have seen that subdivisions and fences have been the death knell for many other nomadic pastoralists elsewhere in East Africa.

East African life is rife with complicated politics and conflict. Anyone who lives here can attest to the hair-pulling setbacks that inevitably occur before anything can be achieved. This seems especially true for conservation. 

But for now I feel inspired by the real steps being taken towards our long-planned goals — saving what’s left of Tarangire’s elephants and other wildlife by protecting their habitat; and encouraging the Masai, who call this region their own, to embrace a future based on co-existence with African wildlife.


Lily Trotter said...

Good to read about such news and wish the project well.
All the best.

Simon King said...

Thank you, Lily. Things move slowly in Africa and we have a ways to go, but things are progressing positively. It's all about the wildlife and every step is worth it.