Thursday, 3 December 2009


I've been busy abandoning Mama and the littlies for the last couple of days attending the biennial TAWIRI (Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute - the national body that coordinates research - and research permits) Conference. I was actually here for the last one, two years ago, so there are a few familiar faces this time around. And I thought I might briefly reflect on some of the more interesting topics that have been discussed so far - it's interesting to compare the programme with that of, say the British Ecological Society annual meeting. Certainly a lot more of the programme is concerned with basic natural history than anything else really - mostly because things are so unknown out here. So I sat though a rather nicly illustrated talk on the basic ecology of a newly discovered species of monkey (actualy a new genus), with a population numbering around 1100 individuals. And you don't usually get that sort of thing in the UK. There's also a whole load of people who seem to like pestering primates of one form or another - chimpanzees being the main target, but lots of others too. I just find it rather hard to believe that following habituated (i.e. tame) monkeys around for years at a time gives us great insights into anything much, but that's probably my prejudices.

Much more interesting (and challenging) has been the series of talks on human / wildlife conflict. I remember introducing someone who worked on "problem species" for DEFRA to a Kenyan who worked on Elephant problems at a UK conference once. The converstation ran something along the lines of
"so what problems do you have here?",
"well, we mainly work on controlling pest species",
"oh, so do you have big pest species here too?",
"well, some things are big problems yes"
"And do they also bother the people?"
"Certianly farmers get upset about things sometimes"
"But do they get hurt too - I mean in my area 2 people were trampled whilst protecting their farm for elephants last year"
"Oh, no, nothing like that really..."
"what about other dangerous wildlife, our farmers worry aout lions and things too?"
"err, no, nothing like that either I guess... We're more interested in aphids..."

There really aren't the same issues in the UK! So it was all a bit depressing to hear talk after talk about elephant problems and how to solve them (we've got some pretty good ideas, but it seems surprisingly difficult to persuade people to do things like plant chilli crops around their farms - there's surely some interesting study in perceptions of risk to undertake there), or talks on lion spearing and poisoning: sure the lions come off much worse (180 killed in 3 years around Tarangire NP), but that's still tough for the 10 people eaten in the same period. These are real problems and good to see some first attempts at a scientific approach to studying them. Lots more to do, though - I just hope it won't be too late for some of the areas.

And on the other hand some extremely encouraging talks on how it can go right sometimes: I loved the talk about how the Grumeti Game Reserve (one of the buffer zones for Serengeti NP, and a hunting concession) was taken over in 2003 by an individual with a real vision for conservation. They now busy the hunting quotas and pay the permit fees, but don't hunt anything and run the region as a rather exclusive extension of the NP. When they started in 2003 the resident wildife was almost non-existent after decades of poaching and unsustainable hunting. Since then, with strongly enforced anti-poaching and a range of community initiatives the wildlife populations have increased massively - at least doubling for all resident species, and 10-fold increases for some. Sure, some must be immigration from areas nearby where poaching is ongoing, but an economic and environmental success none the less (and I got myself an invitation to go and give a talk to the guides on what birds to be looking out for to be most useful...).

Overall, there's a great diversity of research going on around Tanzania. Much of it could be made more exciting and internationally interesting without too much difficulty - that's where the lack of training shows I think - and a real mix of big problems, but sparks of hope too. And a great crowd of (mostly Tanzanians) who really care for the wildlife around them. I'm looking forward to visiting lots of them around the country in the next few years!

1 comment:

  1. Aphids! Sounds about right. Looks like you had fun then. I'm trying that 'more exciting and internationally interesting' thing here in Scotchland, as you know, not much luck so far...and as for new species, we might be lucky with the odd lichen.