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Community Camera Trapping: unlocking the value of wildlife

Directly Linking Wildlife Presence with Community Benefits

Living alongside large carnivores can be a scary and costly reality; imagine if your garden foxes were replaced with Africa’s top predators. Lions can sometimes attack both humans and the livestock they rely on, which can lead to the retaliatory killing of endangered species. Our programmes, including anti-poisoning training and boma reinforcement, have significantly reduced this potential conflict. However, people will never want to keep wildlife around just because the risks have been reduced. For long-term conservation - and for the welfare of local communities - it is vital that wildlife becomes a true asset to the people who live alongside it.

This is why our conservation approach has three main pillars: Stop the Loss, Reduce the Cost, and Unlock the Value of living with lions and other large carnivores. ​

How do we Unlock the Value? Community Camera Trapping

One way of unlocking the value of lions and other carnivores is our innovative Community Camera Trapping (CCT) programme. This directly links the presence of wildlife on village land to tangible community benefits. Villagers monitor their own wildlife populations through camera traps, and villages with more wildlife receive the most additional benefits.

The initiative first started in Ruaha, as part of our joint-CEO Dr. Amy Dickman’s Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP). Instead of researchers setting out camera-traps on village land, local villagers were trained and employed to do it. Two CCT officers from each village are equipped with camera-traps, bikes and GPS units. The CCT officers are selected by the village themselves and thus know the best areas for wildlife on village land. Every image of a wild animal captured generates a certain number of points, depending on the likely conflict risk and endangerment of the species. A lion generates 15,000 points and an endangered African wild dog is the most valuable at 20,000 points.

Villages then compete against each other in groups of four on a quarterly basis to see who can generate the most points. All villages receive some benefits, but the winning gains ~US$2000 worth of additional community benefits, with the second third and fourth receiving $1500, $1000 and $500 respectively. The villages are grouped based on criteria such as proximity to the national park boundary and abundance of wildlife so each village has a chance to win within their group. At the end of the quarter, villagers all get together to celebrate and benefits are distributed. The images are shown to all villagers so they can see the wildlife that has been photographed on their land which ensures they understand the connection between the benefits and the presence of wildlife.

Recent CCT captures in Idodi, Tanzania: Collared Lion 30,000 points (base 15,000 x 2 because of the collar). Leopard 15,000 points.

Who decides on the benefits?

It is vital that any community benefit initiatives actually address the needs and wants of the relevant people, and that people recognise that it is the wildlife (rather than the project) which is generating these benefits. To determine the best benefit initiatives, RCP had the villagers vote at community meetings, and they selected three top priorities:

  • Better education for their children

  • Better access to improved healthcare

  • Access to good quality veterinary medicines

However, these needs are constantly changing and we frequently hold meetings with villages to understand how we can improve. We recently received feedback that the youth felt neglected. Young men in our RCP work area are often a "forgotten" group and can easily get involved in an illicit activity such as poaching. In order to engage and support them we have modified our Community Camera Trap agreement and now include a special fund for the youth. The first purchase for nearly every village youth group was football related! We look forward to continuing to engage the youth across our landscape.

Youth in Tanzania with new football equipment supported by the RCP CCT programme.

Expanding Out: CCT Pilot in Lower Luangwa

Given the success of the CCT in Ruaha, the programme is currently being piloted in another of Lion Landscapes’ study areas: Lower Luangwa, Zambia. Large areas of the Luangwa Valley are part of Lion Carbon. Participant villages in this pilot include the Chalubilo Village Complex & January Village Complex. The camera trap scheme will award communities with direct benefits (in the form of items purchased for households or community projects), based on the amount and type of wildlife recorded on camera traps placed within community managed areas. This should provide a very clear and visual link between wildlife presence in the village area and community benefits. As in Ruaha, Vulnerable species will earn communities more points, enabling the targeting of High Conservation Value species for both wildlife monitoring and community engagement purposes. Benefit funds are mostly spent on agriculture/food security (hoes, maize seed), health care (maternity, neonatal) and education (student stationery). The CCT has captured some incredible wildlife so far, including servals, wild dogs and elephants!

Serval on the CCT, generating 5000 points.

Three African Wild Dogs at 20,000 points each, providing 60,000 points for Luangwa!

Elephant on the CCT, earning 15,000 points for Luangwa. Elephants offer a large number of points because they are costly to live alongside, damaging crops.

Young Herders checking out the Community Camera Trap in the January Village Complex, Luangwa.

Future Plans

CCT has been highly successful, directly engaging and training local people in wildlife monitoring on their land, whilst providing an extremely clear link between wildlife presence and the provision of local benefits. In Ruaha, whole villages have imposed community bans on lion and elephant hunting which both used to be rewarded. This is a huge transition and demonstrates that communities can change quickly if they see a reason to do so. Ultimately, Lion Landscapes has goals to expand this CCT programme further across Tanzania, the Luangwa and Luano Valleys and implement it in Laikipia, Kenya.

Lion Landscapes. Stop the Loss. Reduce the Cost. Unlock the Value.

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