Photograph © Tim Davenport

Ruaha Landscape Programme

Introduction

The Ruaha Landscape Programme was initiated 2003 and focuses on the districts of Chunya, Iringa, Kilolo, Manyoni, Mbarali, Mufindi, Njombe and Sikonge in southern Tanzania. The Ruaha Landscape is dominated by the Great Ruaha River and is located in an ecotone zone where the northern Sudano-Sahelian Commiphora-Acacia vegetation communities merge with the southern Zambezian Brachystegia-Isoberlinia (miombo) communities. Ruaha is known for its elephants and large carnivores – such as lion and the African wild dog - and their prey, including sable and roan antelope, and the greater kudu. At the heart of the landscape lies the Ruaha National Park, but wildlife corridors surrounding the park have become key conservation targets to ensure wildlife can continue to maintain the park’s integrity.

Conservation significance

In addition to the miombo plains, the Ruaha landscape also features the Isunkaviola Highlands to the southeast, the flat plateau to the north-east, the Ihefu wetlands in the southern Usangu Plateau and the tail end of the Eastern Rift Valley. Together with the influence of the Commiphora, Acacia and Brachystegia vegetation communities, these attributes provide a complex and diverse suite of flora and fauna.

The Great Ruaha River is the most economically important water course in Tanzania. Rising in the Southern Highlands, it winds north and east before merging with the Rufiji and on to the Indian Ocean having passed through the Ruaha landscape. The Great Ruaha provides vital ecosystem services, most particularly in the Iringa and Mbeya Regions. Its hydro-electric dam at Mtera serves more than 75% of the country, and the river supplies 20 million people with water for domestic, livestock and irrigation use across the south and southwest.

Challenges

More than 85 percent of Ruaha’s rural communities depend entirely on the region’s natural resource base, and agriculture accounts for about 80 percent of their livelihood. Misuse of water for irrigation, and other uses have led the Great Ruaha River to dry up each year since 1993, although in 2009 it started to flow again. Woodlands are cleared for charcoal. Human-wildlife conflict is an issue of critical conservation importance. Other challenges include unmanaged fires, poaching, wildlife disease, and unmanaged grazing and land use activities.

WCS Involvement

WCS played an important role in Ruaha’s designation as a national park in 1964. These days the WCS Ruaha Landscape Programme helps to develop community-based initiatives through which local people can benefit from the landscape’s wildlife and natural resources, and thus have an interest in their long-term survival and integrity.

WCS has been much involved in setting up new Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs); a relatively new type of protected area managed by local village associations. The Pawaga-Idodi Wildlife Management Area is now operational, successful and profitable thanks to the support of WCS. Current work in Pawaga-Idodi involves a cash-for-work initiative, which employs labourers from the WMA villages to complete the last infrastructural components of the WMA, thus resulting in immediate and long-term benefits to the local communities.

Two new WMAs, WAGA and UMEMARUWA are being set up by WCS and villages in wildlife corridors in the landscape. This participatory process can take several years to complete the legalization of the WMA. In the interim, WCS has initiated alternative income generating schemes with the WMA villages, such as providing bee hives, and assisting in human-wildlife conflict issues, for example training in the use of chilli fences to prevent elephant crop damage and predator-proofing livestock bomas. WCS is also working on capacity building of the WMA’s Village Game Scouts to enable effective patrols and data collection to facilitate management and monitoring of the wildlife in the WMA. Other WCS activities in the landscape include the provision of clean water and sanitary facilities to selected villages, monitoring the flow of the Great Ruaha River during the dry season, education and awareness of the local communities on the significance of conservation and wildlife management and identifying the role of trade off in decision making between conservation and development. We are also engaged in human-elephant conflict studies, fire management, ecological monitoring, and corridor research. We also monitor the wild dog and strive to ensure that Ruaha’s carnivore community remains ecologically functional and can coexist with humans across the landscape.

Photograph © David Mutekanga

Photographs © Tim Davenport / David Mutekanga © WCS 2010