By Jennifer Chin
No rain for eight months. This is a fact of life on Tanzania’s Maasai Steppe. The red-dirt roads crack in the dry air like aging skin, and the grasses and trees bake into endless shades of brown and gold. Maasai herders drive their treasured livestock far across village rangelands, seeking pasture. The wild savanna predators – lion, hyena, leopard, wild dog, cheetah – approach livestock enclosures and herds at pasture, seeking easy prey. It is a well-known recipe for conflict: Predators eat livestock; herders hunt down predators.
In the midst of the long dry season, I became an intern with the Tanzania People & Wildlife Fund (TPW), traveling three hours southwest from Arusha to the Maasai village of Loibor Siret. Twelve years ago, TPW co-founder Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld began working in and around Tarangire National Park. She sought a resolution to the human-wildlife conflicts that were causing approximately 40 lion deaths every year. TPW is now a permanent fixture east of Tarangire, making daily investments into big-cat conservation and community development. Their locally produced solution to livestock loss, “Living Walls,” is internationally recognized for its contributions to lion conservation. As a result, TPW advises nearly every major environmental decision made in the region.
My work for TPW made the most of my MBA/MEM from Duke University. I built financial models to measure potential community profit from wildlife-based tourism, delivered business planning and teamwork training to groups of local leaders, and developed a social survey to measure income from agricultural activities. The goal of my work was to generate higher, environmentally sustainable incomes throughout the region. In return, Loibor Siret residents welcomed me and my work with warmth and true pleasure.
For decades, conservationists have battled to deliver solutions for local communities that 1) impart financial and social value to threatened wildlife and (2) generate economic benefits. Experts agree that project failure is most often tied directly to an insufficient understanding of each community’s unique capacities. What TPW does – and what I believe is the biggest opportunity for other NGOs – is to make a crucial investment in building trust and mutual understanding on a social level. Once the region saw TPW as a member of their own community, they became willing to contribute opinions, expertise and local leadership, thus fully participating in solutions that work for wildlife and for the community.
On a nighttime drive toward the end of my stay, we startled a young lion in the long, whispering grasses. He leaped to his feet as our Land Rover jostled to a stop, his belly full from a recent feast. We caught a glimpse of his wide eyes in the moonlight, glinting back at us before he vanished into darkness. Why does The Nature Conservancy partner with TPW? Together, they and other partners can save the life of that wild lion, while still increasing social and economic benefits to pastoralists through wildlife conservation.
Last year, TNC and TPW facilitated the creation of a village Resource Management Action Plan. This process helped community representatives prioritize natural resource interventions, and sparked the formation of a committee that will provide leadership and accountability as the plan is implemented. Their work will advance watershed protection, develop women’s business skills and improve grazing-area demarcation. TPW and TNC are now supporting the committee and the village while they register as a formal government-recognized entity. It's an ongoing collaboration to preserve the Steppe’s resources for generations to come.September 11, 2012
Jennifer Chin interned with TNC partner Tanzania People & Wildlife Fund. She holds her MBA and MEM from Duke University.