Our EPI Friend of the Month for April is Sam Shaba, who works with Honeyguide, which promotes community conservation in Tanzania. Sam is the Programmes Manager.
Please tell us how you first became interested in conservation, and what led you to
I got into conservation by accident. Growing up in Mbeya, Tanzania's southern highlands, one does not hear much about wildlife or conservation as a career. My parents wanted me to be a medical doctor, so I studied biology in high school. Unfortunately, I did not get good enough grades for a medical degree and instead was accepted to study Wildlife Management. While at university, I became interested in the application of technology in conservation. After graduation, in 2014, I came across a job post for a GIS (Geographic Information System) and mapping officer at Honeyguide. In 2014, I applied, got the job, and have held various roles within Honeyguide ever since.
Can you explain what exactly is the philosophy behind Honeyguide, and what it hopes to achieve in northern Tanzania?
At Honeyguide, our philosophy is that local communities living next to protected areas need to be active (not passive) actors in the management of natural resources for conservation to succeed and be sustainable. We focus our energy on developing strong, robust, and capable governance and management of Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). We have piloted a few successful examples in northern Tanzania, and we hope to scale up the model elsewhere in the country.
Tanzania is famous for its national parks… so please tell us why, from a wildlife conservation point of view, we also need to be concerned about the surrounding landscapes?
Our national parks are not surrounded by fences. Research has shown that more than 60% of wildlife in Tanzania roams outside of state-owned national parks, on community land, in search of pasture and breeding grounds. These community lands are critical dispersal areas and migratory corridors between national parks. Our national parks alone are not big enough to contain all our wildlife. Yet people in surrounding areas are expected to protect and coexist wildlife, but they don't always benefit from doing so. Many people suffer the economic costs of living with wildlife through crop-raiding and livestock attacks. From a conservation point of view, the community lands surrounding national parks and the people who live there are critical to the long-term existence of wildlife in Tanzania. Therefore, we should focus on these lands and communities, ensuring both wildlife and people can benefit from each other.
You’ve had a lot of experience watching wildlife and pastoralists co-exist. Can they live in harmony, or do they inevitably come into conflict?
Wildlife and pastoralists can live in harmony. They have an interdependent relationship where wildlife depends on people to share their land, and in return, wildlife helps regulate rangelands and provides economic opportunities, such as eco-tourism. While wildlife can cause financial losses to pastoralists due to livestock predation, they also present a competitive economic opportunity. The key is to ensure that the benefits (both tangible and intangible) outweigh the costs to local communities in order to motivate them to
We talk a lot about an increase in human-elephant conflict across Africa. In your experience, is it increasing in the areas where Honeyguide works, and if so, why?
Across Africa, there is definitely an increase in incidents of elephants raiding farms, scaring people in settlements, and roaming far from protected areas to places where they have not been known to go in a long time. Consequently, there is also an increase in retaliatory elephant killings. For example, in northern Tanzania, there are probably more elephants killed in retaliation than poaching. In areas where Honeyguide works, we have experienced an increase in crop-raiding incidents in the last two years. It is possible that we may be victims of our own success. Since the protection efforts in the areas we work in have been very successful, the elephant population has increased, and elephants feel safer roaming onto community land, resulting in more crop-raiding incidents. However, in areas where Honeyguide works, human-elephant conflict mitigation initiatives have successfully reduced wildlife damage to crops by over 90% using a suite of innovative crop protection toolkits. Within the last 5 years, there have been zero retaliatory killings in these areas.
Finally, tell us about your hopes and aspirations for the area where Honeyguide works. What would you define as success?
My hope is that conservation as a business is understood and continues to make sense to the people at the frontline of it all. I wish to see an environment where people and wildlife benefit from each other’s existence for generations to come.
Where Honeyguide works, we aspire to achieve ecological, social, and financially sustainable conservation that is community-led. For us, success is achieved when 1) The Wildlife Management Area (WMA) generates enough revenue to cover operational expenses without relying on donor funding. 2) The resources are well protected and are used in a manner that does not threaten ecological viability. And 3) The people who own the WMA see its value.
We are committed to developing methodology, tools, and examples of successful, functional, and resilient community-driven conservation areas that are sustainable on the three fronts.
Once they achieve that sustainability, our job is done.