How empowerment leads to human-elephant coexistence in Kilombero

AN increase in humans’ population, consequently their activities and increasing landscape transformation for several years has led to human-wildlife conflicts that are now being resolved, thanks to stakeholders’ interventions.

One of regions that have faced such a challenge is Kilombero District, Morogoro region, particularly Mang’ula Ward, where residents developed tendencies to conduct economic activities in Nyerere National Park and Udzungwa Mountains National Park.

Ms Kim Lim – the Kilombero Human-Elephant Coexistence Coordinator for the Southern Tanzania Elephant Programme (STEP), an elephant conservation programme based in southern Tanzania, under the USAID Tuhifadhi Maliasili Project, mentions two interventions as farmers groups operating beehive fences and Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA).

Speaking during a field visit by journalists that was coordinated by the Journalists’ Environmental Association of Tanzania (JET) and sponsored by the USAID Tuhifadhi Maliasili Project, Ms Kim noted that STEP moved to sensitise villagers of dangers of encroaching the national parks to get some of their requirements.

Instead, the expert said, the villagers were advised to formulate groups that would be funded to run economic activities, earn them income and lead prosperous lives.

Ms Kim notes that by setting the beehive fences, elephants are dissuaded from crossing from the parks to destroy villagers’ crops, injure or kill the villages dwellers, as elephants do not like bees sounds. In turn, the villagers get honey for use as well as for selling.

She noted that the villagers formed seven groups that apart from making the beehive fences, they made metal and solar fences, since elephants hate sounds being made by metal pellets and light, they are discouraged from crossing from the national parks.

She said that since 2020 to 2023 some 12 groups were formed with 250 members who formed Village Community Banks (Vicoba), issuing loans to members who later initiated different businesses. Last year, says Ms Kim, STEP issued a 7m/- loan to support the groups.

Morogoro Regional Natural Resources Officer, Mr Joseph Chuwa, says the region is endowed with vast natural resources. He admits that sometimes there was inactiveness in conserving some areas and making sure animal corridors, such as the big one – Kilombero Elephant Corridor – are not blocked.

“The corridors are very important for animals and for us as well. They enable animals move from one national park to another and this is important to enable cross breeding, so that they have different genes. It is impossible to block the animals like elephants as they go back to their corridors even after many years.

“As for the people and the country, the corridors are important because once animals thrive, areas conserved then it means more attractions to foreign and local tourists, translating that more income to the nation,” says Mr Chuwa.

The regional senior officer says they work well with STEP towards ensuring elephants thrive, do not get injured or killed and they in turn do not kill people or destroy properties. It is against that background they work together with the organisation to put structures like electric fences and beehive fences.

“With the electric fence, when is completed, we are sure there will be a good flow of elephants and other animals who move between Nyerere National Park and Udzungwa Mountains National Park. They will be channeled through an underpass on the main tarmac road at Mang’ula Ward to either side of the road,” he said.

Mr Chuwa says that another intervention, through STEP and USAID Tuhifadhi Maliasili Project, is to raise awareness among the villagers on the importance of environmental conservation and peaceful coexistence between them and the animals, by letting each part stay on their respective side.

Another, says the regional natural resources officer, is putting in place beehive fences that dissuade elephants from moving to villagers’ farms or residences as well as producing honey that earns them money and use it as a healthy supplement. He says members of the formed groups in beehive and VICOBA act as natural resources ambassadors to the greater public.

After awareness raising among villagers living near the national parks, they were convinced to vacate on some of their land so as to let restoration of corridors take place. About 307 people who voluntarily gave up parts of their farms to pave way for Elephant Corridor Restoration at Mang’ula Ward were heftily compensated to the tune of 2bn/-.

Since the programme started in 2012 has since seen 219 hectares released by villagers to pave the way for securing the famous corridor.

STEP Corridor Restoration Manager, Mr Joseph Mwalugelo says the compensation funds were issued in batches and the last one was completed recently. The initiative was taken for purposes of averting destruction done by elephants to humans and their properties, but also save the elephants from being injured or killed while moving from one place to another.

Records show that since 2022 there have been 400 incidents of elephants damaging crops and properties. As for deaths, one person was killed in 2018 and 2019, two in 2020, one in 2021 and two in 2022.

Mr Mwalugelo says they are out to see elephants’ protection as well as conservation of the nearby protected areas. The manager unveiled that in securing the corridors there was no house that was smashed down; only farms were taken at Kilombero Landscape.

The manager says it took some time to convince the villagers to agree and give up their land, because there was misinformation being channeled to them, claiming that more land would be taken or that the implementing institutions were to conduct businesses at the area.

Mr Mwalugelo notes that apart from the compensation, there was entered an agreement that the three villages whose residents offered their land will get a further 10m/- or more yearly that will be used in accordance to their own priorities that will be decided by each village council meeting. The villages are Kanyenja, Mang’ula A and Sole.

Kanyenja village that was the first to get the funds decided to pay for health insurance cover for elders, construct a football ground, provide girls towels to 156 girls as well as support women groups. Sole village opted to lay a foundation for a health centre. The condition for providing the funds is to ensure that no elephant is killed or harmed in the respective village.

The manager thanked village leaders for taking their time in raising awareness to villagers, making the real target sink in, hence villagers making the right decision that would lead to avoiding wildlife human conflicts. The project started with capacity building at district, division, ward and village levels.

Before the decision to restore the corridor the way it is being done now, he added, research was carried on to establish elephants’ paths by setting up 18 camera traps between Nyerere National Park and Udzungwa Mountains National Park, identifying 26 groups of elephants with each group with 10 members upwards. They also monitored how elephants were destroying crops and came up with the solution.

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