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Photo feature: protecting Tanzania’s elephants

Sep 17, 2009

Elephants are at risk. When they eat or trample crops and injure humans, the reprisals can be swift and deadly. But violent conflict doesn’t keep the elephants at a safe distance from the villages for long, and results in animal cruelty. A WSPA project based in Tanzania is taking up the cause.

In 2008, WSPA managed to protect Turkey’s bears from the guns and traps of farmers by reducing their access to the hives that provide a valuable honey crop.

Seeing their hives prosper unmolested, the farmers became less hostile to the bears around their land and became reluctant to reach for their guns. We are now trying this animal-friendly approach in Mkumi National Park, Tanzania.

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Building on success

WSPA staff explore the conflict situation with Mkumi’s farmers, who must be on board for the project to work

Our work with Europe’s bears has proved that there are practical, humane and – importantly – long-term ways to reduce conflict situations between people and wildlife, even where there have been fatalities on both sides.

Simple measures – elevating bee hives out of reach of bears, or using chilli fencing to ward away elephants – can help to solve long-running problems that have seemed insurmountable.

These kinds of low cost solutions can be adopted by local people with ease, meaning they stop conflict long term in a way that killing individual bears or elephants can’t.

By combining animal welfare education with the trialling of practical responses, WSPA’s elephant project seeks to reduce conflict and rebuild a respect for wildlife. If this works, the villagers around Mkumi National Park will one day become protective of the amazing animals on their doorstep.

Involving everyone

Our project in Tanzania, still in early stages, has been built on:

  • working with the local community to identify the main causes of their conflict with elephants, and to introduce simple, effective ways to prevent them, such as the chilli fence

  • expert partnerships with district government, the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), the Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), local universities, and the African Elephant Specialist Group. These groups have helped WSPA take our bear-related knowledge and translate it to the elephants of Tanzania.

Hearts and minds

In both Turkey and Tanzania, wildlife was threatening people’s safety and livelihoods. In both places, people’s love – even human tolerance – of their wild neighbors had been broken.

WSPA’s approach involves rebuilding human acceptance of wildlife, be it bears or elephants, by finding ways that the two can co-exist.

Moving the villages away from elephant habitat isn’t an option; WSPA is determined that the slow destruction of the elephant population won’t be either.

With the pilot project underway in 12 villages, watch this space for results.

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