Informing behaviour change to save threatened species

To ensure long-term conservation of wildlife, we must work hard to improve local communities’ livelihoods by promoting alternative income-generating activities that are eco-friendly.  This reduces over-dependence on nature and provides room for ecosystem recovery”. Maijo Simula Peres, Tanzanian TBA alumnus.

Working with communities requires a well-crafted plan that allows for their inclusion. Their knowledge on the issue at hand and the benefits they will gain from the activities should be shared with them at all stages. This approach will serve to achieve greater goals, may they be economic, ecological or social. Most conservation projects strive to bring in this element of community engagement building stronger bridges between conservation and development.

For TBA alumnus Maijo Simula Peres, promoting socio-economic benefits either directly or indirectly, is key towards protecting endangered species and fragile habitats. Maijo’s take is that investing in human and social capital will allow for communities to have greater capacity to manage natural resources. He notes that creating awareness among communities on the benefits of wildlife conservation to their livelihoods, and using results from research to inform the conservation status of wildlife are fundamental strategies towards involving communities in wildlife protection. With this perspective, Maijo’s work promotes wildlife conservation by discouraging anthropogenic activities detrimental to natural resources.

Through research, Maijo seeks to identify priority changes communities’ must make to enhance the survival of threatened species. A passion he credits to his TBA course in Uganda in 2015.

“Other than exposing me to various fields, from entomology and ethnobotany to primatology and ornithology, the TBA course introduced me to sampling protocols, how to deal with species diversity and population distribution in space and time. It also imparted in invaluable research skills for the real world; from identifying the problem, coming up with hypothesis to be tested, developing  methods for data collection, analyzing data, to reporting and discussing the results. This package was the foundation for me in becoming a researcher” adds Maijo. Working for Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute has helped Maijo hone his skills further, exposing him to research and community engagement opportunities geared towards shaping wildlife management decisions.

Building on this knowledge and growing experience, Maijo is making significant contributions to the conservation of endangered chimpanzees in Tanzania. He has for instance, provided critical baseline information on nesting and feeding habitats for chimpanzee in the Masito-Ugalla ecosystem, and how anthropogenic disturbance influence their use of critical resources in the ecosystem. These results came out through a Rufford-funded project, Maijo undertook in 2019. The project’s result also contributed to the Government of Tanzania’s decision to designate Tongwe West Forest Reserve, his study area, as a protected area, discouraging further encroachment on this chimpanzee habitat,  and  ultimately accelerating the recovery of local  chimpanzee population.

Central to the project’s success was the involvement of the local community. Beyond providing employment,   Maijo and his team impart knowledge on wildlife protection to field guides, who in turn shared the same with other community members. Maijo and his team also gave talks on chimpanzees, their behavior and threats facing them at local radio shows reaching out and educating the wider community in Western Tanzania.

Cementing gains made, the project plans to introduce beekeeping and tree-planting in the region as economic incentives to local communities to preserve natural habitats. Already, Maijo has secured new funding from the National Geographic Society, and this will help him scale up his work on chimpanzee in Tanzania’s Tongwe Forest Reserve. Appreciating his ‘2020 National Geographic Explorer’ role, Maijo notes “it’s important to remember that conservation is inseparable from local communities’ livelihoods”. This reminder is an important basis for his new project, in which he will study more chimpanzee families and cover a wider area than was possible with the Rufford grant project, and initiating sustainable income-generating options that enhance the protection of chimpanzees in the region.

Despite his progress and achievement, Maijo acknowledges that poverty and fast increasing population are key challenges to effective species conservation in Tanzania. “These challenges are primary drivers of encroachment on wildlife habitats leading to human-wildlife conflicts. As sustainable wildlife conservation cannot be separated from human lives and livelihoods, we need to be more aggressive in our efforts to improve livelihoods as a fundamental incentive to winning local support for conservation” says Maijo.

In his take home message, Maijo says it is only by changing community’s behaviours that we will achieve lasting conservation impact. This requires continuous and adaptive learning, and Maijo note his actions today are guided to a great extent by his past trainings and researches work, as well as close interactions with people on the ground.