Three Days Among Ruaha's Buffalo Herds in the Wet Season

 In October 2014, HALI and Ruaha National Park researchers sampled and placed satellite GPS collars on 10 adult female buffaloes in order to learn more about the health and herd movements of the Ruaha buffalo population.

Below you’ll find three days of dispatches from the most recent buffalo survey work. For a basic overview of the project, listen to this interview with David Wolking. Annette Roug is leading the HALI buffalo research in the park.

The goal of the wet-season buffalo survey was to determine herd sizes, locate collared buffaloes, and if possible, assess herd composition. We also wanted to record habitat types in areas most frequently used by the buffaloes during the wet season.
 
Day 1, February 25
Ruaha National Park graciously provided a plane that enabled us to conduct an initial survey from the air. We saw and photographed all but one of the buffalo herds with collared animals from the plane. Four animals were located north of Jongomero, one between Msembe and Jongomoro, one near Mdonya, and four in a remote section of the park that is located on a higher elevation plateau which is void of water in the dry season. These aerial photographs will help us determine herd sizes and better understand how the herd sizes are changing over the seasons.

Picture 1: A buffalo herd photographed from the air.


Picture 1: A buffalo herd photographed from the air.

In the afternoon we proceeded to search for the buffalo herds from the ground, and successfully located the herd seen near Mdonya. We were lucky and saw the collared buffalo. She was in great condition and the collar appeared to fit well. We did condition scoring of all visible buffaloes, estimated herd composition, and took notes regarding the vegetation in the area.

Picture 2: Collared buffalo near Mdonya on February 25th.

Picture 2: Collared buffalo near Mdonya on February 25th.

Day 2, Thursday February 26
We went north of Jongomero to locate a large herd with 4 collared buffaloes. On the way from Msembe to Jongomero we listened for one buffalo known to be with a smaller group using a VHF antenna and receiver. This was the group we had not been able to see from the air. We heard a clear signal but she was across the Ruaha River.

North of Jongomero we came very close to the collared animals and heard the VHF signals of all of them. We went off road to see the herd(s), but they kept moving in front of us (based on the many tracks and warm feces). The vegetation was very thick, brushy, and sometimes also muddy, so it was very difficult to drive. We saw a few buffaloes but they were very nervous and ran off into thick bush where we could not follow. We recorded the vegetation types of the area, approximated the herd size and recorded observations of the buffaloes we had seen. On the way back to Msembe we listened for the smaller group again, but she was still across the river. Daniel Mathayo (Ruaha National Park ecologist) said the river was high right now, so she likely would not cross back anytime soon.

Day 3, Friday February 27
From our collar data and the aerial survey we knew that the remaining four collared buffaloes were up on the higher elevation plateau, out of the Rift Valley. A ranger reported that he had seen a buffalo herd near the road to Mpululu (located on the plateau) the night before. We had not planned to drive up onto the plateau since there are only few roads and it gets very muddy after rain. However, the ranger reported that the road to Mpululu was open, so we went up there to try to see the herds.

We heard the VHF signal of 3 of the 4 collared buffaloes at different times and came within 2 km of the last location of one of the buffaloes (logged at 5 am Friday morning). We tried to drive toward the signal but kept running into water or very muddy areas. There were also a lot of thorn bushes, and we had one puncture (asante Erasto for changing the tire).

In the end we found a drier grassy area and managed to drive for a while towards the signals. After a few kilometers we were blocked off by a huge "korongo" (a seasonal waterway) with a 100 feet drop to the bottom. That was the end of it! We still could hear the signals there, but had to turn around.

Picture 3: Challenging wet season driving near Jongomero.

Picture 3: Challenging wet season driving near Jongomero.

We described the vegetation of the area (so we obtained useful information from the adventure) but did not see the animals. We have decent aerial pictures of those herds, so we will still be able to estimate herd size and possibly get some information on herd composition.

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Overall, we accomplished the main goals of the exercise, which was to estimate the wet season herd sizes and understand more about the seasonal habitat preference, but due to the tick vegetation and wet terrain, we were unable to reach all the herds. We are thankful to Ruaha National Park for the great collaboration on this project.

New HALI Publication: Bridging Local and Global Needs for Conservation and Development

Different stakeholders in the Ruaha Landscape have different needs and ideas for conservation and livelihood improvement.  Getting all stakeholders together to build collaborative regional development plans, though a challenge, may be the best bet in realizing conservation and development goals.  Photo by  Micol Farina via Mongobay.

Different stakeholders in the Ruaha Landscape have different needs and ideas for conservation and livelihood improvement.  Getting all stakeholders together to build collaborative regional development plans, though a challenge, may be the best bet in realizing conservation and development goals.  Photo by Micol Farina via Mongobay.

- David Wolking

In December 2013, the HALI team released a new publication on a study investigating the challenges associated with the sustainable management of landscapes like the Ruaha Ecosystem in Tanzania, where diverse stakeholders rely on natural resources for livelihoods.  Authored by Dr. Michel Masozera, who completed his PhD with HALI's partner the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont, the study used conjoint analysis to assess the preferences of different stakeholders like local communities, government officials and non-governmental  organizations towards conservation and development goals.  Conjoint analysis is a technique used to establish the importance of different factors in service provision, typically used in marketing research for the identification of factors influencing demand of a product or commodity.  

In the study, Michel and team conducted focus groups at the village and district levels to identify critical problems facing local communities. They then formulated attributes or management alternatives based on the focus group discussions taking into account management concerns, public issues, resource use and development opportunities in the Ruaha Landscape, and bundled these attributes into a series of hypothetical management strategies. After recruiting representatives from each of the stakeholder communities for a workshop, they conducted an interactive conjoint survey where participants ranked the management alternatives to determine the relative importance of each attribute to overall preference.  Finally, using probit models and other statistical techniques, they assessed and compared the ranked preferences and acceptable tradeoffs to identify potential management strategies that would best serve Ruaha's diverse stakeholder community.

Findings show that there is little agreement among these different stakeholders about the best development strategies and investment opportunities in the Ruaha area, a major concern for developing sustainable management policies perceived as beneficial to community and district level needs.  At the local level, participants ranked investments in farmer's cooperatives, loans and capacity building as paramount, while NGOs and district government officials placed greater emphasis on investments in health and education infrastructure.  Developing sustainable and acceptable management policies for the Ruaha Landscape to promote conservation while also improving livelihoods will need to reconcile these diverse needs, facing tough tradeoffs between short-term gains and long-term impact.

Perhaps most critical though, is improving communication and information sharing among all stakeholders in the area and building foundations for trust across groups.  Masozera's study produced a spark for improving inter-group communication in Ruaha, and the conjoint analysis workshop provided an ideal platform to bring these groups together and highlight the diversity of voices and needs.  The next steps are to build on this foundation by drawing on the insight provided by the workshop and working collaboratively towards the formulation of regional development plans.

 You can find a link to the full article at Environmental Management here.  

Twiga Take-Down!

What does it take to safely anesthetize and collect samples from an adult giraffe (twiga in Kiswahli)?  In short, a very carefully planned take-down with highly trained veterinarians and wildlife health technicians....

Check out our slideshow to learn more about HALI's partnership with Ruaha National Park and Sokoine University of Agriculture veterinarians on an investigation into an emerging skin disease in the local giraffe population.

Read more about HALI Partnerships in Wildlife Health here...

3rd Annual Ruaha Roundtable Meeting

See you at the Roundtable... (photo credit: W. Miller)

See you at the Roundtable... (photo credit: W. Miller)

On June 15th, the HALI project is hosting the 3rd annual Ruaha Roundtable Meeting in Iringa, Tanzania.  These roundtable meetings provide a forum for discussion and planning involving stakeholders working in natural resource management, health, and development in the Ruaha Ecosystem.  Participants include Tanzania National Parks -  Ruaha National Park personnel, the Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania Veterinary Investigation Centres, livestock extension officers and district game officers, the Wildlife Conservation Society Ruaha Landscape Program, the Friends of Ruaha Society, Ruaha Carnivore Project, The Wildlife Connection, representatives from the Ruaha tourist industry and hunting companies, and other interested stakeholders in conservation, resource management and health.

This year's roundtable meeting will emphasize discussions on projects and activities in the area, along with a working session on data sharing and potential collaborations among projects.  HALI is excited to host our friend and former project collaborator Alphonce Msigwa for a special student research presentation.  Alphonse is finishing his research at Sokoine University of Agriculture, and will give the opening presentation entitled “Diversity and relative abundances of small mammalian carnivores in MBOMIPA Wildlife Management Area” at the meeting.

We look forward to these roundtables to connect with our partners and stakeholders, and to improve collaborations and communications among research and intervention programs in the area.  One of our HALI team members will post a summary of the meeting outcome with some photos on the blog in a few weeks, along with any meeting highlights and plans for moving forward.  

Wish us luck!