The damage caused by elephants has been the source of loss running into millions of shillings incurred by Tanzania farmers each year, especially during harvesting seasons.
Worse still, on average 20 people are killed each year by elephants, according to statistics. They indicated that in 2008 alone elephants caused Sh718 million worth of damage in Rombo District, Kilimanjaro Region.
Other areas of the country affected include communities west of Serengeti and Kilimanjaro, east of the Selous Game Reserve, while others are near Mikumi, Ruaha and Tarangire national parks.
Elephants occupy roughly half of Tanzania’s total land mass, and thus frequently come into contact with millions of rural Tanzanians.
Different strategies have been evolved to deal with the problem. These include using spotlights and fire to scare away the jumbos, spreading chilli oil around crop fields, and even on occasionally killing the offending animals.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Coordinator for the Tanzania-Elephant Management Plan, Mr Trevor Jones, says his organisation has been supporting and facilitating strategies for reducing human-elephant conflicts in communities around the Ruaha National Park in Iringa Region.
He says the WCS project which has been in place for the past five years was being implemented in collaboration with the Tanzania government, various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and wildlife conservation organisations.
“There has been some success in reducing the problem, but there is still a lot of work to be done. We intend to work in more areas facing human-elephant conflicts in the country,” Mr Jones says in an interview with The Citizen.
The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) coordinator for the Conservation and Management of the Selous Game Reserve Ecosystems, Mr Cyprian Malima, says in 2005 the WWF started to implement a project aimed at reducing human-elephant conflicts in nine wards in Rufiji, Kilwa and Liwale districts.
“We started our project by identifying areas that have been mostly affected by problem elephants and looking at better means of reducing the problem,” says Mr Malima.
He explains that the first steps were to discourage the use of traditional methods which were harmful to both human beings and the jumbos. They include the use of spotlight and fire to scare away the elephants from farms.
“We introduced new methods, such as spreading chilli oil around farms,” says Mr Malima. He explains that villagers in project areas are also encouraged to grow crops such as sunflower and sesame on their farms.
He says since elephants do not like sunflower and sesame, these crops prevent them from invading farms planted with other crops, such as maize and pumpkins. Apparently these are favourite delicacies for the giant animals.
“Since the project started we have recorded some achievements, such as reducing human and elephant deaths,” he says.
However, stakeholders in wildlife management observe that one method which has been neglected until recently is simple – dialogue about the issue.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and wildlife authorities met in Dar es Salaam last week to encourage dialogue between people and organisations working to avoid further conflict. They were in a workshop for promoting the information exchange regarding conflicts between people and elephants in Tanzania.
The NGOs joined forces with the government and concurred that the human-elephant conflict can be solved by promoting dialogue and coordination.
The workshop attracted participants from the WSC, WWF, African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania Natural Resource Forum (TNRF) and the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM).
Others came from the Wildlife division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), and World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). It was jointly organized by the Tanzania Wildlife Working Group based at TNRF and WSPA.
TNRF Wildlife Program Coordinator Enock Chengullah says the workshop decided to set-up a forum that would complement efforts by the Wildlife division to reduce the negative impact of conflicts between human beings and wildlife, as provided for in the new Wildlife Act (2009).
“Specifically, the forum will seek to complement Part VIII of the Act, which provides a framework for dealing with the human-wildlife conflict,” he says adding:
“The forum was also formed in reaction to calls from practitioners in the field of human-wildlife conflict for more coordination between the various actors to understand and prevent the human-elephant conflict.”
Members of the forum will be NGOs and government authorities working on human-wildlife conflict issues. Current members include organizations that attended the workshop.
Main functions of the forum include providing time and space for members to meet and promote best practices in human-elephant conflict mitigation, apart from encouraging members to be innovative and participatory in their approaches.
The forum will also include a broader audience in the discussion about the human-elephant conflict through communication of research findings and policy developments in the mass media.
It will also disseminate information materials, such as newsletters and analyses, through partner networks like regional NGOs and government offices.
Projects dealing with the human-elephant conflict span the entire country, making communication and meetings costly and time-consuming. The forum will ease communication by setting up modalities for continued information sharing, observes a participant.
Also, besides the existing project sites there are many other parts of the country with high elephant populations. These include Mpanda District in Rukwa Region, where the livelihood of residents is threatened by elephants each year.
Mr Chengullah says such a forum will provide relevant information for people outside of the already established project areas by promoting the success stories from existing initiatives.
The workshop confirmed that human-elephant conflict continues to be a major issue. It is widespread in rural areas across the country due to various reasons. They include the country’s high and widely distributed elephant population and low levels of local benefits captured from wildlife that could help fund village-level mitigation measures.
Others are the limited government capacity to deal with problem animals and difficulties in scaling up efficient and effective mitigation measures.
The workshop also facilitated a broad exchange of information among the country’s wildlife conservation practitioners on strategies useful to managing the human-elephant conflict.
The range of strategies used to prevent crop damage by elephants is diverse. But practitioners place a strong emphasis on the effectiveness of methods using chilli.
An increasingly common method promoted by the WWF involves hanging cloth infused with chilli oil on ropes around crops.
Chilli is a strong enough repellent that makes elephants avoid the protected crops completely. In villages near the Selous Game Reserve, communities have organised themselves into committees to train farmers on how to prepare and apply the chilli.
The workshop sought to share the background and experience relating to the human-elephant conflict in Tanzania. It included charting out a process for regular engagement between grassroots-based initiatives, national and international non-governmental organizations, wildlife authorities and researchers.
The first part of the workshop was a mini-forum in which members presented various topics. Such were the evolution of human-elephant conflict in East and Central Africa, human wildlife conflict mitigation strategies and local experiences in mitigating the human-elephant conflict.
Despite the numerous individual projects dedicated to mitigating the conflict, participants acknowledged gaps in knowledge among practitioners operating at the village level, practitioners and policy makers.
Seeing the value of the information presented, participants agreed on the need for regular discussions and sharing of information.
At future meetings members will give project updates, paying special attention to reports of human-elephant conflicts in Tanzania, the impact of mitigation measures, and new mitigation strategies in development.
After last week’s planning workshop, the founding members will meet again to formulate a strategy of engagement with forum members and the public. Within the next three months the full forum will meet for its first information-sharing event and official launch.