By Caroline Byrd
The spring rains hadn’t lasted as long as usual, so by July, northern Tanzania was parched. Fine dust billowed around our Land Rover, reminding me of a Montana blizzard. Dust infiltrated every crack and opening in the old car’s frame.
“Vumbi vingi!” — Swahili for “Wow, it’s really dusty!” — became our constant refrain as we bounced along dirt roads to visit with wildlife rangers and scouts.
Thank goodness for Simon Peterson, our guide and Conservancy wildlife intern. Simon drove like the native Tanzanian he is, coolly navigating the two-track and asking for directions in fluent Swahili when we encountered young goat-herding Maasai. Invariably we arrived exactly where we were supposed to be at about the time we were supposed to be there.
My and Simon’s objective was to visit disparate researchers, organizations, eco-tourism groups and villages that are monitoring wildlife and patrolling for poachers across this vast landscape. One goal was to offer support, coordination and a uniform protocol that could make everyone’s efforts more effective.
Our first stop was east of Tarangire National Park near the village of Loibor Siret. Staff and Maasai community scouts at the Noloholo Environment Center graciously extended their hospitality to our dusty entourage, which included my husband and our 10-year-old daughter. A project of the African People and Wildlife Fund, Noloholo deploys local scouts for its extensive and sophisticated wildlife monitoring and patrolling efforts.
By contrast, scouts from the village of Sikuru north of Loibor Siret are not as far along. Sikuru is an important region for wildlife, especially for wildebeest coming out of Tarangire, yet it has only four scouts. The village has entered a conservation agreement on its own initiative, but they need and welcome support and training.
We camped and shared roasted goat with Maasai scouts from Sikuru and neighboring Terat—their first time meeting. They embraced the notions of a common protocol, more coordination, and sharing resources and training.
We experienced much the same in West Kilimanjaro as we traveled around the mountain’s base. The Enduimet, Ndarakwai and Tinga Tinga game scouts gave us great feedback on structuring uniform wildlife-monitoring sheets. Everyone we met also expressed the need to protect wildlife corridors beyond their own territories.
Every group grapples with poaching and how to protect elephants and other wildlife. They all see the potential huge benefits of coordinating and standardizing their security and monitoring efforts. And they realize that reliable information could be a powerful tool to advance conservation and influence policy.
Bouncing back to Arusha and rinsing off the dust in a welcome hot shower, I was struck by The Nature Conservancy’s opportunity to play a powerful role across a vast area. By bringing people together, fostering large-landscape strategies, and providing resources and expertise — in short, doing what we do best — the Conservancy can accelerate the good work already happening on the ground.
By helping to coordinate these ongoing efforts and assembling solid wildlife-trend data, we can go a long way to protecting and enhancing the amazing wildlife and human communities living in northern Tanzania.December 02, 2011
Caroline Byrd is director of the Conservancy’s Western Montana Program. Her four-month fellowship with the Africa team involved mentoring conservation-planning and wildlife-monitoring programs in northern Tanzania.