When I learned that I would be collaborating with the Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP), I was tremendously excited. I have always wanted to participate in a community-based conservation project in one way or another. With increasing human populations, there is greater pressure on wild animals and wild places. For instance, across East African landscapes, pastoralists graze their livestock in many habitats traditionally used by wild animals, while farmers are increasingly using land nearer to protected areas as the need to bring crops to market intensifies. These elements are bringing people and wildlife in contact with greater frequency, which can lead to conflict. In addition to land access, humans and wildlife also compete for water resources. Here in the Greater Ruaha Ecosystem, the local people and wildlife travel great distances to access water from the Great Ruaha River, especially during the dry season. The river flows eastwards from Ruaha National Park where it joins the Rufiji River, an important river for the Selous Game Reserve, which is one of the largest game reserves in the world. Farming is a staple activity among the local people living around Ruaha National Park, while the local Maasai and Barabaig maintain pastoralist lifestyles and graze their livestock in the surrounding lands including the Wildlife Management Areas. Therefore, RCP has no shortage of work to do in pursuit of their motto: to have a positive impact “For Carnivores and people.”
During my time here in Ruaha, I have participated in RCP’s park visits (see “Sticking my Neck Out” post) and the specialized Anatolian shepherd dog checking activities (see “War on Ribs” and “War on Ribs – Part 2” posts). The staff at RCP recognize that for the project to be successful, the surrounding communities need to see tangible benefits associated with living with carnivores. While the communities get benefits such as medical and veterinary supplies through the community camera trap competition organized by RCP (see “Keeping an eye on Wildlife“ post), the project also seeks to train more local people and make education more accessible to these individuals. One of the ways that RCP fulfills this objective is by providing ‘Simba Scholarships’ for bright young students from local pastoralist families. These scholarships cover both tuition, accommodation in boarding school and school supplies for the students to attend secondary school in local institutions. The Simba Scholarships run for the entire duration of secondary school education. There is another RCP initiative, known as ‘Kids 4 Cats,’ where local schools partner with international schools, whereby the international schools donate supplies to the local schools. For instance, one international school donated money and equipment for the construction of laboratory for a village school in the Greater Ruaha Ecosystem. In addition to this, the village students are also connected with penpals from abroad where they have an opportunity to share stories about this wonderful landscape. In this manner, RCP provides tangible and relevant benefits for the villages they work with in the broader collaboration of carnivore conservation.
Along with making education more accessible to local villagers, RCP also helps in protecting the livestock of the pastoralists so as to mitigate human-carnivore conflict. This is important because large carnivores such as lions, hyenas and leopards have been spotted attacking wandering livestock by the villagers, which the villagers depend upon for their livelihood. Therefore, RCP contributes building materials for reinforced bomas (enclosure) to keep out the carnivores. The reinforced bomas have been very successful. Carnivore attacks on livestock have reduced by 60% and retaliatory killing of carnivores have decreased by 80% since RCP started working in the Greater Ruaha Ecosystem. The bomas are built using steel fencing wire and local hard wood poles. Usually, the local people use thorny shrubs for fencing. This week alone, Justin, the RCP staff member who oversees the construction of the bomas, received three requests from pastoralists who want to construct such bomas. The villagers normally pay for half the cost and RCP covers the other half for the construction of the reinforced boma. This way, the bomas become accessible to more pastoralists who greatly wish to protect their livestock from carnivores.
Without a doubt I have learned a great deal since I arrived here in Ruaha and started working with staff at RCP. I have acquired a better appreciation and understanding of community-based conservation projects. Through RCP’s work, the villagers are starting to recognize that carnivore presence can result in substantial benefits and thus villagers are also acknowledging that future generations will benefit from their work.