Life in the Field- update from the Ruaha Carnivore Project.

By Amy Dickman, Director, Ruaha Carnivore Project

Amy Dickman and the Ruaha Carnivore Project were recently voted into the top 3 finalists at the Tusk Conservation Awards for their innovative approach to big cat conservation, an achievement they have every right to be extremely proud of after all the hard work that has gone into the project. To see the highlights of this year’s awards, click here.

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Dangers of life in the bush – carnivore mortalities

Part of RCP’s research is to investigate carnivore mortalities, whether they are caused naturally or by humans. Recently, lodge drivers and guests in Ruaha National Park were lucky enough to witness a pride of lions hunting buffaloes, which are an important prey species in this area. However, they are extremely large and dangerous, and during the hunt, the buffaloes charged and gored two young lions, with fatal results. This is one of the risks of hunting such large prey – but if successful, buffalo hunts provide rich rewards for the entire pride, as a single animal can weigh up to 900kg and would feed the pride for several days.

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One of the sub-adult lions killed during the buffalo hunt

Later on in the month, a dead lioness was found on village land near a pond that is frequented by people and livestock. From signs on the carcass, it seems like the lioness was snared, and the head was found apart from the body. The team thought that poachers had cut off the head to get back their snare, as metal snare wire can be hard to get out in the bush so is ‘recycled’ from kills like this one. Most snares are put out to catch antelope like kudu or impala for bushmeat hunting, but predators and other species are often killed in them too. Poaching for bushmeat is a major problem across Africa, especially in very poor communities where meat is a rare and valuable commodity, so improving local livelihoods is a fundamentally important element of long-term conservation.

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RCP assistants Mgogo and Justin examining the carcass and taking measurements

Conflict mitigation – reducing attacks

In addition to accidental snaring for bushmeat, local people often intentionally kill large carnivores, mainly because of attacks on their stock. Such attacks can have devastating effects on local households, as livestock is a vital source of both economic wealth and social status. RCP staff members respond as quickly as possible to any reported attacks in the local area so that we can better understand how they occur, and therefore how they can be best prevented in the future. This month, staff investigated several attacks, including one where spotted hyaenas killed one goat and injured another. The goats had become lost in the bush, where they are easy prey for opportunistic carnivores, so improving herder vigilance and livestock husbandry in the bush is a top priority for reducing attacks, and therefore retaliatory carnivore killings.

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Spotted hyaenas killed one goat and injured another after they were lost in the bush 

Livestock guarding dogs

One method that has proven effective at reducing bush attacks from carnivores is by employing specialised livestock guarding dogs, such as Anatolian Shepherds. RCP is conducting the first trial of these dogs in East Africa, and so far they are doing well. The largest of our dogs, Shujaa, has moved with his herd of goats and cattle to a temporary camp a few kilometers away from his home in Tungamalenga village. Food for livestock becomes more and more scarce towards the end of the dry season and new grazing areas have to be found. As usual we visit him three times per week to ensure he is being taken good care of in this new environment, since this is a physically demanding time for the dogs due to the extended walks with the goats through the bush.

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Shujaa eating his evening meal at his temporary camp

One important part of the regular dog checks is weighing them, but this is becoming harder every week for the team! Thankfully the dogs are very used to it and are cooperative, which is useful as they are now getting very large!

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RCP staff members Msago and Mgogo weighing a cooperative Hodari, who tipped the scales at an impressive 41kg!

Another important part of the health programme for these dogs is their vaccinations, with disease like rabies a particular concern as it is a serious threat to both animals and humans. This month, we vaccinated all the livestock guarding dogs as well as village dogs, in order to reduce the risk for the dogs, large carnivores (who can be infected by village dogs), and local communities.

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One of the Anatolians receiving a rabies vaccination from the local vet

Kitisi clinic provided with medicine due to help from RCP

In order for people to really want carnivores around, it is not enough just to reduce attacks – they have to see important benefits from their presence, which outweigh any remaining costs. Villagers voted that healthcare was one of their most-desired benefits from carnivore presence, so RCP has been working with officials and the local community to equip a healthcare clinic in Kitisi. Thanks to this partnership, the clinic now has its own full-time doctor and nurse, which is very important in this remote area. Recently, the Kitisi clinic was officially registered as a government institution, meaning that it should be able to receive medicines from the government in the future. So far, RCP has been providing medicines and equipment, and this month we provided another three months worth of medicine. To date 1315 patients have been treated at the Kitisi clinic, providing an invaluable benefit for local people.

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Dr Samuel Dally and the new Kitisi clinic nurse working with some of the medicines purchased with the help of RCP

Lion Guardian literacy days – lessons under the tree

 Another important benefit from RCP’s presence in the local area is the Ruaha Lion Guardians programme, which was developed in partnership with the Kenya Lion Guardians programme and Panthera. This initiative employs and trains young men in conservation-related activities, and enables them to fulfil important roles in the community. Several months ago the Ruaha Lion Guardians established the very popular ‘’Literacy Days’’ as a free education opportunity both for the Guardians and for other pastoralists. Besides the educational aspect, the literacy days help to increase the status of the Guardians and demonstrate additional value of working in conservation.

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The Barabaig Guardians studying hard under a tree by camp

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George (second from left) teaching English spelling and pronounciation, and teaching animal names in English

Lion Guardian park trips

We had good trips to the park this month with all the Lion Guardians. Our two newest recruits had never been to the park before, so this was the first time that they were able to see lions, elephants and other game so relaxed and at such close proximity. Previously, these new Guardians had only seen lions and elephants briefly on village land, where the scared animals ran away from them, so this was a great opportunity to really watch wildlife and learn about them in close quarters. Very excitingly, we also finally caught up with the resident pack of endangered African wild dogs that some of the Guardians regularly see while out patrolling their zones.

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The local pack of African wild dogs that are thriving in our area © Sean McEnery

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Lions reproducing! Good news for the lion population in Ruaha © Sean McEnery

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Lions displaying their more tender and affectionate side © Sean McEnery

The Guardians in Zones A and B have seen tracks of two mature lions and three sub-adults on many occasions recently. We are hopeful that we may have resident lions in the wilder areas to the north of the villages. Our hope is that these lions will stay around peacefully and continue to avoid killing livestock.

Three of the Guardians have had big community gatherings at their homes this month, where all the young people in the area and the many of the elders assembled for story-telling and cultural “games” that include the famous jumping dances. The reason behind these is in an effort to build even closer relations among the Guardians and the communities in which they work. The hope is that, as a result of the close bonds that develop at these gatherings, the Guardians will start to hear about any lion hunts and lion activity in their areas much earlier and with greater reliability. The idea has seemed to have been successful at this early stage, both the community members and Guardians have responded positively, enjoyed themselves and made new allies.

Visitors to RCP

RCP is lucky enough to receive support from various organisations, such as National Geographic and the safari company Asilia Africa. This month, Erik from Asilia’s marketing department visited RCP to learn more about the project, and generously offered to help us develop marketing materials. In addition, Allison Parrish from Global Adrenaline (a company which works with National Geographic) visited RCP and learned all about our work, so they can better explain to visitors the kind of conservation activities being undertaken in the Ruaha landscape.

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Erik and Amanda learning about the guarding dog programme and other RCP activities

 

Small beginnings

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By Marius Swart, Kwihala Guide

It’s the end of the dry season and conditions demand every last bit of everyone’s evolutionary armour to survive. The elephants are focussing their efforts on stripping the cambium layer from trees which are desperate for the rains, impala are now switching to mostly browse as grasses are desiccated and nutrition-less, clouds are building everyday making promises they do not keep and the heat is oppressive…it is a fairly inhospitable environ right now. Despite the prevailing conditions and completely illogically there are however signs of hope! In so many ways the magic of Nature reveals itself when it seems at its most futile. The first newborn impala lambs are greeting the world at its harshest. This one was hiding in mom’s shadow as the sun was beating down particularly fiercely.

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The Mdonya Juu pride also sport four new cubs, two are about 5 and the latest additions only 2 months old! We managed to catch up to them due to the fact that they brought down a giraffe cow and her young calf!

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The rocky area in the Mdonya River provides a great hiding place for the cubs not to mention playground! Late afternoon when the heat had broken a bit we were treated to a few intimate moments. These glimpses of dearness resonates with our own psyches and one cannot resist but feel a sense of deep connectedness…

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Of course elephants have their young throughout the year but it was specifically poignant to encounter this calf. I only managed to capture this image when he was already a week old. Festo got to see him on day one!

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As is usual for this time of the season, the wells are being dug to access subterranean flows. The changing topography of the river courses with every flood, translates into a seasonal variability in the spots where water is available. This season is no exception and places frequented last year are now vacant and new ones discovered. At this well the water was more than 1m below the surface and the little calf emulating mom had to kneel down and eventually lay down flat to stick his trunk in as deep as possible…not quite knowing why. Instead he reluctantly gave up and started suckling. It is not only in the mammalian world where new life is flourishing in these times. Trees have the ability to store reserves in the rootstock and cambium, which grasses can’t. Pre-empting the start of the rains the woody plants burst into leaf and draw on their stored resources in order to get their blossoms and leaves out to capitalise on the increasing daylight hours and be “ahead of the pack” when pollinator insects abound. The baby Tamarind foliage starts off bright red and gradually transform to a light green and eventually a darker hue as they mature. Often magic surrounds us in so many guises but it requires an open eye and mind to recognise and appreciate it.

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Yours in awareness

Marius

By

Ruaha – Land of Giants

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By Ryan Green

On my first ever visit to Kwihala Camp in Ruaha National Park I had an inkling of what to expect after reading the reports from people who live and work in Ruaha and watching Owen Prumm’s amazing film about the lion and buffalo conflicts that occur at the end of the dry season (watch the preview here). I had three days to see as much of it as time allowed and was thrilled to come across so many incredible vistas and encounters with wildlife.

I wanted to photograph Ruaha’s vast and rugged landscape and its inhabitants the best way I could, but I understand the limits of being a visitor for a short time and expectations being set too high on what you hope to achieve.

So loaded with cameras and gear, I stepped off the plane into the searing heat of Msembe airstrip, where the dry air of late October made shimmering mirages over the landscape. This is the best time for game viewing. Animals congregate close to the dwindling sources of water in the Great Ruaha, Mwagusi and Madonya Rivers. The uncomfortable heat is a trade off with the excellent wildlife viewing you can expect in this iconic park.

With only a fraction of the park’s 20,000-odd square kilometres being utilised for game drives, I still only saw very few other vehicles while out on safari, comparable to being in a private concession elsewhere. I really enjoyed the company of the guides, Pietro, Festo, Lorenzo and Marius, and each of them has a passion for the wilderness and the magic of Ruaha that is obvious to all who encounter them. Sandy is an excellent and efficient manager, as well as a genial hostess.

The images below capture magical days of a truly unique and special place that will stay with me for a long time.

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The river may appear dry, but the elephants know that there is water just below the surface. They dig down to it, and then slurp away. After the elephants leave, other animals are then able to use these holes to access the water.

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Giraffe, zebra and baboons utilising the water holes dug by elephants on the

Madonya Sand River.

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Ruaha sunset, featuring a trio of the park’s iconic trees: Acacia Tortilis, Hyphenae Petersiana Palms,and the ubiquitous Baobab.

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Ruaha is known for its Baobabs, but I had no idea there were so many. I think I saw more of these incredible trees in one day than I have ever seen before. They spend 8-9 months of the year completely bare and then at the end of the dry season put out large white flowers that bloom at night, and only last a day. At the same time, they begin to produce leaves that will eventually grow into a thick canopy.

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Some trees just budding out with leaves, the others still bare.

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A male lion rests in the shadow of the branches above.

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We came across a large herd of buffalo resting in the shade of a grove of Tortilis trees.

Close by, a pride of lions dozed below a Rain Tree, keeping a wary eye on the herd.

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A little further on, we found these four females and a cub, resting off

what must have been a big meal.

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Ruaha has one of Africa’s largest concentrations of lions. This male wears the scars of a recent

territorial battle with another male.

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Another pride lies in wait for the unwary, scanning the white-hot glare of the dry riverbed.

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A large and colourful Agama Lizard

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A baboon feeding on the fruit of a Sausage Tree (Kigelia Africana).

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Monochrome zebras.

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Bat-Eared Foxes are normally very shy so it was a real treat to discover a den close to camp with very relaxed adults and puppies. The three puppies played outside of the den in the cooler temperatures of predawn or evening.

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The pups venturing out from their den.

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A tiny Dik-Dik antelope.

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A magnificent herd of Eland, the largest of the antelopes, with an

endless Ruaha vista behind them.

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A male Black-Faced Sandgrouse guards his cryptically coloured chick.

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A baboon mother and baby basking in the early morning sun.

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Giants of Ruaha : the park has Tanzania’s largest population of elephants,

estimated at 15 000 animals.

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Baobabs have the ability to heal and grow over the scars created by elephants.

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The landscape just seems to go on forever…

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And changes dramatically from place to place.

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On my last night, I saw Furaha (Joy in KiSwahili), a female leopard with her kill in a tree.

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This is a land of giants, and of a scale so great that one visit will never do it justice.

Impressions of Ruaha National Park

By Judith Rosink, Asilia Sales Manager, East Africa.

Judith recently had a whirlwind tour of the Asilia camps in Tanzania, and here she shares her impressions of a day at Kwihala Camp in Ruaha National Park with us.

This was going to be my first time to visit this National Park — I had read a lot about it and had been told that it would be very remote and completely different to the parks in the so-called Northern Circuit of Tanzania. We were only three passengers in the plane; a Dutch lady with her daughter were my travel companions and coincidentally, they too, were going to spend a few nights at Kwihala Camp. Upon our arrival at Msembe, we were warmly welcomed by our guide who offered us cold drinks while he arranged our park fees. The drive from the airstrip to the camp was 17 km, and since we had been delayed by an hour we had to go straight to camp. The landscape on the way was stunning- changing every five minutes from open plains to areas full of wild date palms, to beautiful woodlands.

When we arrived, Michelle the relief manager was awaiting us with a snack platter lunch, and while the two other ladies prepared themselves for their afternoon game drive I took some time to investigate the camp.

At around 19h30 we were all invited to have a drink at the “bush television” fireplace, where the most delicious snacks were offered. Pietro the guide insisted for the whole group to have dinner below the stars, so a large dining table was set up outside. Dinner was served by candlelight, and the meal was absolutely mouthwatering!

Afterwards I went to my tent for a good night’s sleep – I did not close the curtains because I really enjoy experiencing bush life and woke up to every single sound I heard to see what was surrounding me. Something small was scratching my canvas almost the whole night. I could not see what it was, but I suspected it would be a gecko. The next morning I had to wake up very early to go on a game drive with Pietro and the two other Dutch guests. After only ten minutes of driving, (it was still dark and we were using a flashlight), something large came out of the woodland – it was a very relaxed mature leopard who was obviously on his way to hunt. We tried to follow him but after 30 minutes we lost his tracks. It was too dark to take pictures but the memory will always remain with me.

We continued on our way, and witnessed the most amazing sunrise. Half an hour later we saw a group of young male lions courting a lioness. Unfortunately our game watch was brutally disturbed by some other tourists being noisy so we had to leave. It was our luck that after ten minutes we spotted another male lion, and he was not alone – in fact he was very much in love, courting a lioness! We followed them, as when they are mating, the act will usually occur every few minutes, and go on for days.

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Afterwards, both of them were drinking water at a waterhole when the lioness decided to walk away. Suddenly we heard the roaring of another male lion close by. The first male did not hesitate a second and started running towards the sound. We followed, and found the two males fighting. Being in the same territory, these two males would have known each other, most possibly being members of the same coalition. In such a case, the two lions would have established a hierarchy of dominance long before, and the fight was merely to reassert this claim, and wouldn’t result in serious injury on either side. Had the battle been for territory, the outcome would have been far more violent, possibly even fatal.

The first male won the battle, and then he continued his courtship of the lioness.

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Since we had left camp without breakfast, Pietro found us a beautiful spot close to a riverbank, with elephants walking around us. We had a late breakfast laid out on the bonnet before we continued on our game drive. Lorenzo (one of the other guides) called to report that a leopard had been spotted on a rock, and we set off on our next mission. It took us an hour to reach it but sadly, by that time the battery in my camera had died!

At 4pm we left again for a game drive and came across a herd of elephants in what appeared to be a dry riverbed. By using a combination of extraordinary sensory perception and experience passed down over generations, these animals have learned to perceive where water lies beneath the surface of the sand. At a point where it is shallowest, they dig a perfect hole, scooping out sand with their trunks until they can access the cool water below.

From where we sat, we could even hear the sound of the water slurping into their trunks, which made for a spectacular sighting!

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This phenomenon is not unique to Ruaha’s elephants, as it has been seen in many dry areas of the continent; but it is a testament to the incredible intelligence and adaptive abilities of these animals.

Continuing on our way, there was another surprise was waiting for us. Two male giraffes were measuring up who was the strongest, showing off by slapping their tall necks against each other. This is a dominance display where the combatants pound each other using the full force of their necks: with a combination of considerable weight and momentum, their heads and horns become sledgehammers, and it happens that giraffes knock each other out, and in rare instances are killed from these blows.

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Moving on, we tracked a pride of 14 lions feasting on a giraffe. In Ruaha, the lions are known for their large pride numbers, and this forces them to take on bigger, more dangerous prey: a giraffe is a considerable prize, and would provide enough sustenance to last them at least a few days.

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We then returned to camp for another delicious candlelit dinner below the stars, and later as I lay in bed I thought how incredible it was for me to have experienced so many exciting encounters in just one day!

The following morning it was time for me to pack and get ready for my journey back to Arusha, completely blown away by this incredible place – I will definitely return, that’s for sure!

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A friend of the enemy- A conservationist intervenes in the conflict between people and predators

In an article that first appeared in Africa Geographic, Amy Dickman, who is the director of the Ruaha Carnivore Project, shares with us the background to this challenging project and the remarkable vision of the people involved in reducing the conflict between people and predators in the village lands surrounding Ruaha National Park.

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By Amy Dickman, Director, Ruaha Carnivore Project.

When I was 10, I had clear dreams of my future – I would be a big-cat conservationist, driving around in a shiny zebra-striped Land Rover spending all my time gazing happily at lions and cheetahs. Here in Ruaha, over 25 years later, some of those dreams have come true – I am a big-cat conservationist, and our project owns three Land Rovers (although none are shiny – they are usually broken – and no-one will let me paint them in zebra stripes). However, I rarely get to spend any time watching big cats – instead, I deal with complexities that I would never have imagined, such as tribal identity, people-park conflicts, and trying to figure out how on earth we can expect grindingly poor people to bear the additional costs of coexisting with dangerous carnivores.

Ruaha is a breathtakingly beautiful wilderness supporting some of the world’s most important carnivore populations, and I feel privileged every day to work here. However, Ruaha’s carnivores are not restricted to the park, but sometimes stray into the adjacent populated areas where they cause intense conflict with local people. The Great Ruaha River runs along the southern border of the park, and in the dry season, it is a magnet for prey and predators. But, during the rains prey animals disperse so carnivores range beyond the park, often preying on poorly-protected cattle and goats.

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A Barabaig girl herds the cattle her community depend on. Understanding the value of such livestock is key to protecting predators from people. ©Andrew Harrington

When the Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP) was established in 2009, we found that about 60% of local people had suffered attacks by carnivores. This had crippling economic consequences in an area where 90% of villagers live on less than $2 a day. Unsurprisingly, people frequently snared or poisoned carnivores – either to prevent attacks, or to retaliate for them.

Furthermore, very few people saw any benefits from carnivore presence. Usually the only people who did were young warriors who could receive gifts (zawadi) from their community if they speared a lion – one of the very few ways that young men could earn wealth and status. A warrior could earn 20 cattle (worth around $4000) in zawadi by killing one lion.

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Clockwise from left: A cow fallen prey to a predator; A lion killed in retaliation for preying on livestock. Local people remove sections of lion fur for traditional use, as a kind of amulet; A leopard snared in a village. ©Ruaha Carnivore Project

In the early years of the project, most of the lion carcasses we found had the right front paw missing – a clear sign that it had been killed for zawadi, as the central claw is removed and taken in order to prove the killing. These preventative, retaliatory and cultural killings led to the highest documented rate of lion killing in modern East Africa, with over 35 lions killed in just 18 months, the majority occurring around a single village. So we decided to base our field camp there, and try to work out how we could effectively improve the situation for both people and predators.

But improving the situation depended upon understanding it, and gaining the trust of the local community, including the secretive Barabaig who are notoriously hostile to outsiders. We established a field camp near the village in 2010, but for over a year, our attempts to engage with the Barabaig failed completely. Most villagers would not speak to us, and those who did approach us were beaten up. We tried everything, and were almost ready to give up. But then, in mid-2011, it all changed. We installed a solar panel and, bizarrely, that was the breakthrough we needed. The Barabaig suddenly appeared at camp to charge their mobile phones. We would never have imagined that the way to reach this remote and traditional group would be through modern technology, but it provided a reason for people to come to camp, see what we were doing and to talk to us. More than two years after the start of the project, the Barabaig invited us to a traditional community meeting. They slaughtered a cow and said that they were ready to work with us. As a long-time vegetarian, I never imagined I would be so happy to receive a huge hunk of meat, but I was. It meant that our work could finally begin.

It became clear that the human-carnivore conflict around Ruaha was incredibly complex, involving not only the high costs of depredation, but also the lack of benefits to the community, antagonism towards the park, little knowledge about the reasons for conservation, and the fact that killing lions was one of the only ways for young men to gain income and status. So we started with the simplest thing – reducing attacks.

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A boma is reinforced with wire to protect livestock from predators. ©Andrew Harrington

Our research showed that 65% of attacks occurred in livestock enclosures (bomas), the majority of which were poorly constructed. We introduced a cost-sharing initiative to construct predator-proof bomas made of diamond-mesh fencing. To date, we have constructed over 70, and they have proved 100% effective at preventing attacks. However, some attacks occur in the bush, so we have begun trials using specially trained Anatolian shepherd dogs to guard livestock. Although the project is in its infancy, the approach seems to have promise. In addition, we work intensively with village households to teach people how to identify carnivore attacks, and how simple, low-tech measures can prevent such attacks recurring. Together these measures have significantly reduced depredation and so reduced both economic pressures on people, and the need for preventative or retaliatory killing.

 

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Amy hard at work in her field camp near a Barabaig village. ©Andrew Harrington

However, living near carnivores will always mean there are costs, and long-term conservation depends upon local people seeing tangible, relevant benefits that outweigh those costs. The villagers voted on which benefits they would most appreciate from carnivore presence, and chose education, healthcare and veterinary medicines. To improve education, RCP established the ‘Kids 4 Cats’ school-twinning programme, in which village schools are linked with an international school that can help raise funds for much-needed supplies.

We also established competitive ‘Simba Scholarships’ to enable pastoralist children (both girls and boys) to attend secondary school. To improve healthcare, the project equipped a medical clinic in the heart of the pastoralist area, with a particular focus on maternal and infant health. In terms of veterinary medicines, we worked with authorities to help provide subsidised, high-quality medicines to households that had invested in a predator-proof boma. This helps to recoup their initial costs by reducing livestock loss to disease. Although these initiatives are small, significantly more villagers now report seeing a personal benefit from carnivore presence on village land.

 

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Local people are better able to support conservation initiatives if they see tangible benefits:

1. Opening of a healthcare clinic.©Ruaha Carnivore Project 

2. A newly reinforced boma to protect livestock. ©Jon Erickson

3. Visitors to Ruaha National Park learn about the role the park plays in conservation. ©Ruaha Carnivore Project

Despite living so close to Ruaha National Park, the majority of local people have never legally entered the Park, and know little about its role. RCP now conducts weekly trips to the park for villagers, enabling them to learn about wildlife in a non-threatening atmosphere. These have been incredibly valuable, with 95% of people saying the experience had (positively) changed their attitude towards species like lions, and 99% saying it gave them a greater appreciation of the role of the park. Education is also provided through DVD nights, which are very popular, and we are now working with international partners to translate some key wildlife DVDs into Swahili for greater impact.

To address cultural killings, we partnered with Lion Guardians and Panthera to replicate the Kenyan Lion Guardian model around Ruaha. Under this initiative, warriors are trained as lion trackers and community guardians. Through this programme, they are given highly-valued literacy training, and receive a good income so they can buy cattle instead of killing lions to obtain them. The Lion Guardians receive status through their jobs and, as influential warriors, dissuade others from going on lion hunts because their jobs, status and income depend on the survival of carnivores in their zone.

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A leopard surveys Ruaha from the bough of a tree. ©Pietro Luraschi

Despite challenges at the start, we are already seeing progress. Local people are more economically secure, are seeing real benefits from wildlife, and are gaining conservation awareness. Hearteningly, the largely-Barabaig community just awarded us land for a permanent camp. And let’s not forget the animals. Carnivore killings in the core study area have dropped by 80% since 2011.

There is much we still need to do as RCP works intensively in only a few of the local villages, but we are hopeful as we go forward. My experiences in Ruaha have taught me that, although real big-cat conservation differs vastly from my childhood dreams, it is richer, more complex and more rewarding than that wide-eyed 10-year-old could ever have imagined.

To read the full Africa Geographic article, plus additional video clips and further stories from Ruaha, click here

Meet your hosts at Kwihala Camp

Guides1TrackingGuidesKwihala Camp has a well-deserved reputation for the top level of guides and guiding that guests enjoy while visiting Ruaha National Park. Here we introduce you to the personalities you will encounter when you travel to this magically remote outpost of truly wild Africa.

FestoFesto Ntayaye was born in 1974 to a father who was a game ranger in Rungwa and Selous Game Reserves. Festo accompanied his Dad on numerous patrols and thus developed a fascination for nature and the wildlife they observed. After school, Festo completed a one year course in guiding and started working as a guide in Selous Game Reserve where he conducted drives and walks, sharing his knowledge and experiences with guests. After a few years in Selous he found an opportunity to guide in Ruaha National Park, which is situated next to his childhood haunt of Rungwa. Here he honed his skills as a guide and excelled as an interpreter of all things wild. Today he is still in Ruaha and his passion for the Park is clearly visible. Festo really enjoys bird-watching as well as taking time to calmly sit and observe the events around him as they happen. “This way one is able to really get to understand how things fit together” he says.

LorenzoLorenzo Rossi was born in Italy in 1984. On completing his studies in Economic Engineering in Milan in 2009 he decided to visit Tanzania to enjoy his passion for nature. He visited Arusha and Kwihala Camp in Ruaha and then decided to make tourism and guiding in Tanzania his career. “Wild, spectacular, exclusive. Ruaha is still a mostly unexplored park. It’s the largest national park in Tanzania and only maybe 4% of it is really regularly touched by game drive routes. I have never seen a concentration of lions like here, the number of elephants is outstanding,” he says. He first took a course in South Africa and gained his level 1 in guiding with FGASA (Field Guide Association of Southern Africa), and now holds his Level 2 qualification. He loves football, tennis, fishing and just to be out in the bush. He speaks English, Italian and Kiswahili.

MariusSince 1992 Marius Swart has been passionately sharing the splendours of nature with friends and strangers alike. With a penchant for walking safaris he developed a sense of awareness and pace, which provides for an experience of being an observer rather than a participant in Nature’s flow of events. Considering himself as a generalist, as his interests are as divergent as nature itself, he thrives in discovering new wild places and piecing together the components that underpin their cycles. Preferring small groups of guests and quiet concessions, this has led him to some spectacular and unknown regions where interpretation occurs naturally and spontaneously, as the events and behaviour displayed by the wildlife are observed. Of Ruaha, he has this to say:”Besides the astounding biodiversity, topography, incredible elephant and lion encounters, it is the fact that for most part, it is not overrun!” Marius enjoys photography, adventure motorcycling and flying as hobbies when he isn’t “working”.

PietroPietro Luraschi has this to say of Ruaha: “Around every corner is a surprise, every few kilometres there is a different landscape unravelling in front of your eyes. Riverine forests, open plains, combretum woodlands, huge granite kopjes, all within easy reach. Small dirt roads moving slowly through a great wilderness, huge number of elephant making the bush alive, a hectic cat population that year after year keeps us wondering about the complexity of natural patterns, entire baobab forests with an eerie edge that speaks of ancient beliefs, all this is Ruaha, all this peppered with a constant sense of discovery.”Pietro’s passion for Africa took him to the continent first as a volunteer in the Tarangire Lion Project, a research project on the lion population in the Tarangire National Park in Northern Tanzania. He studied to become a professional guide in South Africa in the Kruger National Park, where he received his qualifications for ARH (Advanced Rifle Handling) and Level 2 qualification from FGASA (Field Guide Association of Southern Africa), the most accredited association of safari guides in Africa. He also received a qualification as a Trails Guide, again from FGASA, regarding the conduct of walking safaris in areas with potentially dangerous game. This was obtained at Beho Beho in Tanzania. He has worked as a guide and as camp manager in southern Tanzania in two of the wildest and most untouched areas in the African continent, Ruaha National Park and Selous Game Reserve. During these years he has heightened his knowledge of the bush by working for three different camps, Mdonya Old River Camp, Selous Impala Camp and Lake Manze Camp. He also speaks Kiswahili.

Steve

From an early age Steve Roskelly has been preoccupied with wildlife and nature and his working life has been spent in the field of nature reserves, wild animals and wide-open spaces. Living in, and having travelled extensively in, Southern Africa, he realises that nature is where his heart and passion lies. Private and guiding journeys to the wilderness areas of Tanzania, Botswana and Namibia have re-enforced his keen desire for travel and the exploration of unknown habitats and their natural inhabitants. Guiding experience from open vehicles, on foot and in light aircraft, from low veldt savannas to lowland sand forests and rugged coastlines are among Steve’s repertoire of working activities. In addition to guiding, Steve has also spent time training the next generation of Field Guides based in various reserves across the Limpopo lowveld. Steve’s formal credentials include a degree in Botany & Zoology as well as top guiding and tracking qualifications from the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa. Steve’s passion for nature and photography together with his bush-skills, honed over many years as a wildlife guide, have taught him to be humble in the presence of the wildlife that surrounds us. “Ruaha is a special place with a beautiful and inspiring landscape and some of the most incredible savanna wildlife viewing in Africa,” he says.

Sandy Mellett 2Sandy Mellet is a third generation Zimbabwean with a passion for nature and outdoor life. She completed her Junior and Senior school studies in Zimbabwe and then went on to train to become a qualified chef at Christina Martin School of Food and Wine in Durban, South Africa. After working and travelling for several years abroad, Sandy was very happy to return back to Africa. She branched out into Front of House management when she moved to Zanzibar in 2006. In 2012 she found her home with Asilia, managing their Zanzibar property Matemwe Lodge and Retreat for two years. She was very happy to get the opportunity to go back to the bush, which she is so passionate about, to manage Kwihala Camp in Ruaha National Park.

With their vast combination of knowledge and experience, coupled with skills ranging from photography to the art of vehicle maintenance, plus a dash of great humour, charm and hospitality, our team at Kwihala are what makes many of our guests keep returning to this amazing place again and again!

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Baobabs and other pachyderms

By Martyn Bowen

Martyn Bowen, born and brought up in Tanzania, now visits Africa as regularly as possible – his job in Europe with a sports company encompasses Africa in his area of responsibility, and he always takes the opportunity to combine business with what he sees as his obligation to bring both the magic and the precariousness of Africa to the attention of his own small universe. With the aim of raising awareness in the developing world, it is the least he could do for a continent that has given him so much. Here he shares his recent experiences at Kwihala Camp with us.

white fronted go away bird snorkel2

Lorenzinis Ampullae are sensors that sharks use to sense the presence of other animals in their vicinity – supplementing the other senses such as sight, sound and smell. The use of all senses other than the obvious one of sight is a huge advantage when looking for game in the wilds of Africa. When the haystack you are looking for a needle in is the size of Ruaha National Park, then you take all the help you can. Kwihala guides Festo and Pietro and indeed the eponymous Lorenzo possess these additional senses in abundance. It is no myth to relate that the leopard Festo found was sensed rather than seen. While driving in the early morning looking for a totally different species of cat, the alarm call of the baboons immediately set off the ampullae in Festo’s sensors. Baboons don’t bark like that at nothing, and as a professional guide, one is well advised to heed the call of the wild. Firstly locate the baboons (up in the trees clearly keeping something in sight) and then switch on the other senses. When the leopard did eventually come into sight, crossing the road at a trot, the sense of satisfaction was similar to solving a particularly difficult cryptic crossword clue. The cause of the noise was a slightly built young female leopard, clearly on the move, checking scent marks at every bush, possibly scouting for evidence of the territorial male.

lady leopard

Years of observation tell one that the vultures are not roosting, nor just resting but indeed waiting for the lions invisible from the road, to move on… the speed at which a vulture comes out of the sky will indicate whether he is looking for a roost or a snack. What is the instinct that tells us the buffalo may well be coming down to drink but are not alone – someone is watching them, even if we can’t see them? The behaviour of the buffaloes themselves is the best evidence.

I was lucky enough to revisit this park with my two sons having first visited as a seven year old some time in the seventies. And I have to realise that much like language skills which get rusty if not used, so are the observational skills, but constant use and observing the guides brings the old skills back to life, as well as opening up new ones.   It was just as exciting to analyse a hole in the riverbank and hear the two guides conclude it was a pangolin, not an aardvark, despite no sign of the animal in question. The birds are similar – if you can’t get a  clear view, then maybe the way it is flying will tell you whether it is a Bateleur (balancing like the tightrope walker it is named after, as its tail is too short to add stability) or a Tawny eagle or even if you are lucky, a martial eagle. The latter has a favourite food, a tree hyrax, and their favourite mode of attack is to come straight out of the sun, where they can’t be seen. Fascinating however, is to learn that scientists have discovered a special lens in the Hyrax’s eye to be able to look directly into the sun.

Martial eagle with dassie

And finally a word must be reserved for those great grey pachyderms which populate Ruaha seemingly everywhere – and under threat from those around them – I refer to the Great Baobab, majestically withstanding drought, elephants, and most importantly of all, time. How old a tree can get is a subject of some debate, but the myths of 10 000 year-old trees are probably just that – myths. They probably can live for up to 1500 years, and of all trees, are the only ones which can survive ringbarking by foraging animals – they survive the elephants who splinter off the pithy flesh using their tusks, and seemingly are never in leaf. For an untrained eye, the bare branches reaching up to the sky are dead. So many are the unique properties of this tree that some have contended it cannot be classified as a tree at all. But the memories as a kid of finding their fruit lying on the ground around the massive trunk, up to 30 40 metres in circumference, finding a stone to crack open the hard wooden shell covered in a soft fur, to reveal the white mint-humbug sized seeds inside – a treat for any kid to suck on and wince at the tart but sweet taste, full of ascorbic acid which also encourages the uptake of other nutrients in the bloodstream. And so it acts as a magnet for other species from fruit bats (who pollinate the blossoms which only bloom at night) through baboons all the way to elephants – and in Ruaha you will even find leopards in a baobab…

sun baobab

And the elephants of Ruaha? Worth a blog all of their own, but suffice it to say – when we talk of using extraordinary senses the elephant is the king – a dry river bed is for them simply a challenge – for they forget the evidence of the eyes and smell which says water has not been seen here for weeks. They sense it running underground, and possess the skill to dig perfectly formed sinkholes, lifting out the sand until they reach the water far below, and sucking it up with their trunks to squirt into their mouths.   They too as a result act as a magnet for the other wildlife of Ruaha – without the elephant many other species would fail to find water, and so once more the extraordinary extra-sensory ability of one species to solve the puzzle benefits other lesser species – that is how the guides of Ruaha are to be judged – if you like Sherlock Holmes, you are just going to love Ruaha and its guides.

elephant drinking sand