Ruaha Carnivore Project
For carnivores and people
The Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP) was established in 2009 by our joint CEO Dr. Amy Dickman to help develop effective conservation strategies for large carnivores in Tanzania's remote Ruaha Landscape. This vast, amazing wilderness supports around 10% of all remaining lions, as well as one of the only four cheetah populations in East Africa with >200 adults, the third biggest population of endangered African wild dogs left in the world, and globally important populations of spotted hyenas and leopards.
The Ruaha landscape in Tanzania
Ruaha is an extremely important area for carnivore conservation. However, even here, they are threatened by many factors including intense conflict with local people, as the Park is unfenced and human-dominated land outside the Park represents a key part of carnivore range.
Despite the huge global value of these carnivore populations, local people often see little or no value in their presence, while also suffering significant costs - such as through livestock attacks - from their presence.
The Ruaha Carnivore project works with partners in Tanzania and across the world to do two things:
Gather baseline data on carnivore numbers and ecology, in order to help develop appropriate conservation strategies
Work closely with local communities to effectively reduce human-carnivore conflict. This work will have vital benefits for both people and predators in this globally important landscape. Human-wildlife conflict is one of the most severe and rapidly growing threats facing wildlife today, and has major impacts on local people, so lessons learned from Ruaha can also help inform conflict mitigation strategies i the many other places where this is a critically important issue.
RCP works closely with local villages to reduce attacks on livestock, and helping empower people to implement better, non-lethal livestock protection methods such as the use for fortified enclosures and livestock guarding dogs, In addition Lion Defenders respond to any reported threat of lion attack at a household, and will ofter sleep at the households and chase lions in order to protect both people and livestock. This work helps to reduce both preventative and retaliatory killings, and also helps to better protect peoples' livestock and therefore secure their vital economic and social assets.
These fortified livestock enclosures have been shown to reduce livestock depredations by 95%.
Our mobile canvas boma programme has two primary purposes: protect livestock and provide natural fertilizer.
Initiatives such as predator-proofing enclosures and placement of specialised livestock guarding dogs, as well as the work of the Lion Defenders, have significantly reduced both attacks and carnivore killings.
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.
It is also 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, we 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
We have therefor developed individual programmes under each of those three main themes. Those programmes have been extremely valuable and well-received, but it is important that the people who maintain most wildlife populations (and therefore risk the costs) should receive more benefits than people not living alongside as much wildlife. Therefore, we developed the community-trapping programme, where villagers monitor their own wildlife populations and villagers with more wildlife receive the most additional benefits.
Many of the carnivore killings which occur around Ruaha are done in order to protect livestock, so we are reducing the threat to stock by predator-proofing enclosures and placing specialised guarding dogs. However, this is not the only reason: there is also a strong cultural element to lion killings in particular. Young warriors around Ruaha, particularly from the traditionally pastoralist Maasai and Barabaig tribes, feel that it is an important of their warrior role to kill lions, in order to protect cattle, defend their communities and gain status.
We have spent a lot of time with traditional pastoralists, gaining understanding of exactly why they go on traditional hunts, and what the benefits of such hunts are. Interestingly, it was revealed that the warrior who first spear the lion on a hunt receives gifts of cattle form the community - they can gain 2- cattle, worth several thousand dollars, from spearing a single lion. The warriors explained that it was one of the few ways that men could get cattle, and that it also provided them with status within the community.
To address these killings, we worked with Panthera and Lion Guardians, who have dealt with very similar issues with the Maasai in Kenya., We worked together to develop a culturally appropriate warrior engagement programme, but from lion conservation instead of lion killing. Together we initiated a Lion Guardians model in the area, where warriors are employed by the project to patrol across large zones of village land. The help to retrieve lost livestock, which is a valuable community service and also prevents them being killed by carnivores, which would be likely to lead to lion hunts. They also reinforce traditional livestock enclosures with thornbush if people cannot afford wire bomas. Crucially, they look for any signs of lions in their zones, and if they are detected, they warn the community and help provide additional protection, often by physically chasing away lions if they come close to households. This work ensures that they are seen as fulfilling their traditional warrior role by protecting the community, while also having a direct conservation benefit.