Trapping wildlife… with cameras!
As one of the most bio-diverse countries in Africa, Tanzania is home to an abundance of wildlife. However, due to deforestation and habitat loss, the number of threatened species living here has tripled in the last decade. The Lindi region in southern-eastern Tanzania, where our work is based, is well known for its forest habitats which host a rich variety of animal and bird species. This vast landscape borders with the Selous Game Reserve to the west, one of Tanzania’s many national parks, and reaches all the way down to Mozambique’s Niassa Nature Reserve in the south. With our support, the help of local government authorities and the Tanzania Forest Service, this patchwork of land is increasingly being managed in a sustainable and socially equitable way. The Kilwa District is one of the most prominent examples of successful Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM) in not just Tanzania, but south-eastern Africa. CBFM activities have been supported here by Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative (MCDI) since 2004, whereby we help communities to demarcate and declare sustainably managed Village Land Forest Reserves (VLFRs). The combined effort of rural communities to sustainably manage their forests has ultimately resulted in attracting a large amount of donor funding to support conservation in this area. This funding has enabled us to go beyond forest conservation and tree planting activities in order to monitor and protect wildlife in the area as well.
Previously, community wildlife monitoring was conducted through forest patrols undertaken by Village Natural Resource Committees (VNRCs). However, this method was limited because it only provides data for diurnal species (species who are active during the day) and does not include nocturnal animals, thus it was unable to give us sufficient information regarding species in the area. In 2017, United States Forest Service (USFS), a partner to MCDI, supported the organisation with six camouflaged camera traps with motion sensors that can operate undetected for weeks at a time. Initially, these were installed for a pilot survey in the villages of Liwiti and Ngea for a four-week period. In 2018, after the success of the pilot study, we were provided with a further three camera traps for monitoring activities. The use of these camera traps has enabled MCDI to undertake more effective biodiversity monitoring across VLFRs and adjacent areas, the main use being to record images of animals without disrupting them in their natural habitat. This has allowed us to capture images of new species and rare animals, through which we can identify and monitor their presence consistently. We are able to record better the changes in wildlife population, especially with regard to deforestation and habitat loss. In the last few years, we have helped communities in the villages of Liwiti and Nanjirinji A to set up nine camera traps in their VLFRs across three different types of forest habitat (coastal forests, riparian zones, and miombo woodlands). As before, the cameras were collected after a four-week time frame and resulted in images of more than twenty different species such as elephants, leopards, aardvarks, bushbucks, African civets, baboons, hippopotami and more. Alongside implementation, members of the VNRCs were given training pertaining on the use of camera traps as well as protocols for conducting biodiversity monitoring. One of the key advantages of using camera traps is the ability to record in the dark, allowing us to track the movements of nocturnal species, such as leopards, who predominantly hunt at night. Prior to the implementation of these camera traps, we were unaware that leopards were prevalent in this area. Sadly, widespread habitat loss (21% in sub-Saharan Africa in 25 years) is likely to have affected leopard populations by a reduction of more than 30% across three leopard-generations. Camera traps provide an insightful means to understanding leopard populations in the areas in which we work, as well as other animal and bird species. Encouraging communities to sustainably manage their land through CBFM reduces the risk of further habit loss and deforestation, and provides a means of better monitoring biodiversity in their VLFRs – especially with the use of cameras!