Tilting the scale in favour of carnivores

African large carnivores have disappeared from most of their former ranges. It has been estimated that, as of today, three of the largest East African carnivores – African wild dog, lion and cheetah – are no longer found in over 90% of their former range. Of the five large East African carnivores, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies three (lion, cheetah and leopard) as Vulnerable and one (the African wild dog) as Endangered. Livestock raiding and the ensuing conflict with pastoralists is one of the major threats for large carnivores in Africa as pointed out by the IUCN.

In the open land that surrounds many protected areas in East Africa there are a variety of communities that depend mostly on their livestock (pastoralists) or are subsistence farmers. These communities are highly rural and isolated and few other sources of income are available, except through occasional unskilled jobs at the lodges or in maintaining the tourism infrastructure.

To link community benefits directly to the presence of wildlife on village land (rather than just to the presence of a conservation project), we ensure that communities are fully engaged in a process, called ‘community camera-trapping’ (CCT) they have helped design. Villagers surrounding the Ruaha National Park are placed into groups of four comparable villages, and each one is given camera traps to be placed on their land, outside protected areas. Each village then selects CCT ‘officers’ which we train and employ to do the monitoring. Each individual wild animal spotted in the cameras generates points, with more points allocated to more threatened and conflict-causing species. Therefore, carnivores are the most valuable to record on village land – a lion generates 15,000 while a wild dog generates 20,000 – with herbivores having lower scores.

Setting a camera trap on village land. Each community selects two CCT Officers who look for wildlife signs and choose the locations where the camera traps are to be set in order to capture most wildlife images.

Farming and keeping livestock close to a National Park is not without risks. Farms are regularly raided by elephants, warthogs, bush pigs and other animals. Livestock owners suffer attacks by lions, spotted hyaenas and leopards that can result in devastating loss of livelihoods.

Traditionally, people have reacted to these attacks by trying to eliminate these ‘pests’. This understandable response has occurred all over the world and in some countries has contributed to the drastic reduction of the wild carnivore populations. In Ruaha, thanks to the support of the IUCN Save Our Species, co-funded by the European Union, we are trying to shift the cost-benefit balance, by giving these wild animals a value that, in the eyes of the community, is bigger than the loss they might occasionally incur.

A male spotted by a CCT camera in Idodi village. Each lion will give the community 15,000 points – but lions can also attack livestock if they are short of food. The community now has an incentive to conserve this lion because it will win points every time it is spotted in the cameras.

Every three months the points from the CCT programme are tallied and the village that wins receives a prize of $2,000 worth of community benefits. For many villages in the area this will be a very important source of income. The second village wins $1,500 worth of benefits, the third $1,000-worth and the fourth $500-worth. The benefits are decided by each village according to their needs, with a focus on healthcare, education and veterinary care.

For example, in Mapogoro village – second in this round of the competition – they used their benefits to enrol 93 people in the government rural health insurance scheme for a year. Everyone covered by the scheme can attend any public health centre in the country and obtain medicines free of cost. Idodi primary school received 1,650kg of maize so they can give the children porridge at school. Some children walk up to 10 km to school and often come to school on an empty stomach. Thanks to their wildlife they won’t have to go hungry. Providing food in local schools has increased attendance and academic achievement, so has multiple community benefits.

As the pastoralist community is especially vulnerable to carnivore attacks, one third of the benefits are put aside for them. On most occasions they use it to buy medicines to prevent and cure disease in their livestock. They may still suffer some carnivore attacks, but they are reducing mortality from disease, which overall causes far more livestock deaths than depredation.

A pastoralist woman in Kitisi receives one year of health insurance for herself and five dependents, thanks to the CCT competition. RCP gives a card to remind them that this was possible thanks to the presence of wildlife in their land.

Overall, this programme – made possible through the generous support of IUCN Save Our Species, co-funded by the European Union and other partners – is improving the lives of local villagers while also improving tolerance for both predators and prey on village land. Since June 2021 the CCT cameras have spotted lions in village land every month. In the past, it was very rare to get pictures of lions in community lands which might mean that the area is becoming safer for carnivores. We are excited to now be sharing this programme with partners in other countries, as this is a model which could have broad applicability to improving both conservation and development in many sites in Africa and beyond.

This publication was produced with the financial support of the European
Union through IUCN Save Our Species. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Ruaha Carnivore Project and do not
necessarily reflect the views of IUCN or the European Union.