Wednesday, 3 November 2010


I'm busy putting together a talk for a workshop I'm going to next week over in Grumeti. The workshop is all about what happens to protected areas in the savannah when they get isolated from each other: 50 years ago when most of the National Parks in Africa were being formed (usually as hunting reserves) the land surrounding the proteted areas were pretty much indistinguishable from the protected area themselves and the boundaries just a line on the map with wildlife free to come and go. Now, with populations growing at up to 3% (that's Tanzania), this has changed - in South Africa most protected areas are now completely isolated (even fenced) from the surrounding area, and even in Tanzania although fences have yet to arrive the edge of a National Park is all too often immediately obvious - you can even see some of them on Google earth - with agriculture or overgrazing right up to the boundary. Now, as these National Parks were originally chosen mostly on the understanding that hunters had of where wildlife was during the hunting (dry) seaon, it turns out that for much of the year the wildlife isn't even in the protected area at all. So cutting off access to the other areas is a pretty bad idea.

The workshop I'm attending will have some scientists from South Africa (where basically it's too late), plus some working in Tanzania to see what we can learn about the consequences of this isolation, and to think about what we can do about it before it's too late here: there still are connections in East Africa, as can be seen nicely in Amboseli across the boarder in Kenya just now: this National Park suffered an absolutely catastrophic crash in wildlife population late last year following the failure of the rains for two years. But in the wet season this year the few remaining Wildebeest migrated out of the park as usual, and thanks to particularly heavy rains went further than normal, meeting and mixing with Wildebeest that had come out of Tsavo National Park and elsewhere. Now, when they returned to the Park for the dry season, they brough 1300 of these animals back with them to start the repopulation process: that's the way these connections should work, but amazing to actually see it happening.

Now my brief for the workshop has been to give some Tanzanian context and a wider ecological background to the processes happening here. But in thinking about my talk and looking for a way to end it I've been forced to dream. What do I really want? What is possible? If there was unlimited money, what would my conservation vision for Tanzania be, right now? And my mind has turned again to Tarangire and it's ecosystem: an amazing place as I've said before. But a shadow of what it was like 50 years ago - for all the wildebeest you see there today, in the 1960s there were five times as many. More so with hartebeest. And only around 5% of the Oryx population remains (no wonder we don't see them anymore!). (To say nothing of the extincion of Rhino and Roan Antelope.) Then, when the rains came, a massive migration took place, some heading right up to Lake Natron, others heading east to the Simanjiro plains in the Maasai Steppe (as most of the remaining animals do now). These routes are fast being cut off - but they're still just about there. So, why not aim to link Tarangire with Lake Natron again? And whilst you're at it, make the connection to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area - it's not much further anyway. I'm not thinking a strict National Park - but that's not necessary. But I am thinking adequate protectiong for the animals and agreements not to till this marginal land right the way up. And then, of course, you take a wider picture and think if that's possible, then surely it's also possible to do the same linking from Lake Victoria in the West right through to Saadani National Park on the coast north of Dar. It's still possible - population densities are still very low in most of these areas and most of them are pastoralists who could easily co-exist with this sort of plan. But it won't be for long. Just think though, wouldn't it be marvelous to have a protected area running all the way from the coast of the Indian Ocean to the shores of Lake Victoria? Hmmmm.... Now all I need to do is sell the vision! But, afterall, if you don't have a dream, then how you gonna have a dream come true?

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