Photograph © Charles Foley

The Tarangire Ecosystem

The Tarangire ecosystem in northern Tanzania covers an area of approximately 20,000 square kilometres and stretches from the Tanzania-Kenya border in the north to the Masai Steppe in the south; the west is bordered by the eastern Rift Escarpment. The Ecosystem has a diverse array of habitats and is dominated by Acacia woodlands, Commiphera bushland and open grassland. The area contains many of the East African savanna mammal species, including important populations of Wild Dog, Fringe-eared Oryx and provides the last remaining stronghold of the Blue Wildebeest subspecies (Connochaetes taurinus albojubatus). The largest protected area within the ecosystem is Tarangire National Park, which is one of the main National Parks in the northern tour circuit and covers approximately 2,600 square kilometres. Tarangire National Park is best known for its large herds of tame elephants that can be seen in groups of several hundred individuals along the main river valley during the early wet season.

Protecting wildlife migration corridors

The principle threat to the long-term sustainability of the Tarangire ecosystem is the loss of migration corridors and dispersal areas outside the National Parks. Large mammals disperse widely within the Tarangire ecosystem; during the early 1990's as many as 55,000 zebra and wildebeest migrated in and out of Tarangire Park on a seasonal basis, making this one of the largest migrations of wildlife in East Africa. These migrations are driven by water availability and variations in the mineral content in the soil. Tarangire National Park has very low concentrations of phosphorus, an essential mineral for lactating female ungulates, which causes the large ungulates (namely elephants, zebra, wildebeest, and buffalo) to migrate to phosphorus-rich grazing areas outside the Park during the wet season. When the ephemeral water in these dispersal areas outside the Park dries up, the wildlife returns to the National Park. Because of these unusual mineral gradients, access to dispersal areas outside the Park is essential; if the large ungulate species were restricted to Tarangire's less nutritious grasslands for any lengthy period, their populations would eventually collapse.

Unfortunately important migration routes surrounding the Park are under increasing threat. A rapid increase in agricultural activity around the Park has led to the loss of five of the nine main migration routes in Tarangire, and a further two corridors are severely degraded. The majority of the land in these dispersal areas belongs to the pastoral Masai communities, who do not traditionally hunt wild animals. The continued tolerance and stewardship of the local communities towards wildlife on their land is therefore essential for the long-term conservation of the ecosystem.

Conservation Easements

The Tarangire Elephant Project is working with local communities and tour operators to protect the main calving grounds for wildlife in the Simanjiro plains. Following an agreement between tour operators and villagers, the villagers established a Conservation Easement on their land that allows livestock and wildlife use only, and prohibits all agriculture and permanent settlement in the designated area. In return, the participating villages receive annual remuneration from the tour operators. Local villagers are also trained and employed as Village Game Scouts and conduct wildlife monitoring and anti-poaching patrols in the Conservation Easement. To date, two villages have set aside approximately 60,000 acres of critical dispersal habitat in the Simanjiro plains under this program. This model serves to safeguard both wildlife habitat and traditional livestock grazing areas, while contributing additional revenue to the village.

Photograph © Charles Foley

Photographs © Charles Foley © WCS 2010