An interview with Tim Davenport:
Conserving wildlife in Tanzania, Africa's most biodiverse country
November 8, 2006
With ecosystems ranging from Lake Tanganyika to Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania is the most biodiverse country in Africa. Though Tanzania is world famous for its safari animals, the country is also home to two major biodiversity hotspots: the Eastern Arc Mountains and the Albertine Rift surrounding Lake Tanganyika. Tanzania has set aside nearly a quarter of its land mass in a network of protected areas and more than one-sixth of the country's income is derived from tourism, much of which comes from nature-oriented travel.
Dr Tim Davenport in Tanzania's highland forest near Mt. Rungwe.
Working to better understand these threats and safeguard Tanzania's biodiversity for future generations is Tim Davenport, Country Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Tanzania. Davenport, who co-discovered a species of monkey in the Southern Highlands region of Tanzania in 2003, has been working in Tanzania with WCS since 1999.
In November 2006, Davenport kindly answered some questions from mongabay.com. He says that though "humans are not by nature a sustainable animal", conservation success in Tanzania is possible through education, better understanding of local economics, and sustainable development. To future conservationists, Davenport offers this key advice: "don't give up."
An interview with Tim Davenport
Mongabay: How did you get involved in conservation and why did you choose East Africa for your work?
Dr Tim Davenport after a hike in the Tanzanian forest.
I never actively chose East Africa. I stayed on with the Uganda Forest Department and then worked in Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks and also Makerere University. I ended up living in Uganda for five years. That was followed by a completely different experience working in the forests of southwest Cameroon with the Worldwide Fund for Nature. I eventually moved to Tanzania with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in 1999.
Mongabay: On paper Tanzania has set aside more than a quarter of the country in protected areas -- an outstanding conservation achievement. How does this translate in practice? Are parks well-respected or do they suffer from poaching, deforestation, and other issues? Do local people take well to conversation efforts or are there conflicts?
Bustani ya Mungu - God's garden. Satyrium and Habenaria orchids
on Kitulo Plateau. Photo: Tim Davenport / WCS
It's true that a large percentage of the country is nominally set aside, but in reality outside the national parks, resources to manage these areas are often very limited. That is a big challenge. Furthermore, the majority of protected areas were gazetted in colonial times and were based solely on the management of big game for hunting. This was well before the days of biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services protection and representative PA systems. That said, progress is being made, not least with the country's newest national park, Kitulo, which was designated primarily to protect its unique wild flowers.
Mongabay: Last year you co-discovered a monkey species that so unique that it was classified as its own genus -- the first such categorization for a monkey since 1923. What is the outlook for this species and other wildlife in Tanzania? What are the greatest threats to biodiversity and wild lands?
Davenport: As a conservationist I am an optimist by nature, although sometimes it is difficult to stay that way. The Kipunji is seriously threatened and will probably be designated as 'Critically Endangered'. We are currently just finishing a complete census - one in which we have tried to locate every group in existence, and count all the individuals within each group - and we will be making this information available soon. As you can appreciate, this has been time consuming, and with the steep montane forest terrain it's also been quite tough. However, it was important we could do this as quickly as possible, so that we can try and put in place the most effective conservation strategy. Spending so long in the forest has also enabled us to learn a lot about the ecology and behaviors of the Kipunji too, and that has been both useful and good fun.
The Kipunji (Rungwecebus kipunji). Photo by Tim Davenport.
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So we are working with government and local communities to see how best we can manage Mt Rungwe for the benefit of all concerned. We are also using the Kipunji and Abbott's duiker as 'flagship species' in our education work in the villages and schools around the mountain.
Mongabay: You've worked in the montane forests of Tanzania -- areas that seem like they could be vulnerable to climate change. Do you expect global warming to impact these forests? How much of a local threat is climate change?
Mt. Rungwe. Photo by Tim Davenport.
Mongabay: What's the best way to protect Tanzania's wildlife? How can conservation efforts be improved? Does eco-tourism have a role or can tourists be disruptive to habitats and local culture?
The Livingstone escarpment within Kitulo National Park viewed
from the summit of Mt Rungwe. Photo: Noah Mpunga / WCS
The Poroto Three-horned Chameleon (Chamaeleo fuelleborni) is
one of the rarest chameleons on the continent, globally restricted to
just four sites in Tanzania's Southern
Highlands. Reaching a length of 22 cm, the males of this arboreal
species are highly territorial, using their horns to fight for
females. They give birth to as many as 15 live young (Photo (c) Tim
Davenport / WCS)
There may not be a single best way to protect Tanzania's wildlife, but the better current approaches are usually broad based. I'll always think, for example, that education is vital.
For conservation practioners the stakes are high. Neither governments, local communities or donors tend to tolerate failure and yet in a business that is so complex, we all need the freedom to try new methods and learn from our mistakes. Sadly, there is rarely that luxury.
Eco-tourism does have an important role, although increasingly these days the phrase has become less meaningful. All too often the word has been hijacked by less scrupulous business people in a bid to attract customers. That said, tourism contributes 17% of Tanzania's GDP, so is clearly of massive importance to the country. It is important to remember however, that tourism is not in itself the panacea. Many of the more remote areas (such as the Southern Highlands) are unlikely ever to raise enough from tourism to sustain conservation, and so they will have to rely on other means or funds from other sources to support conservation efforts.
Mongabay: How can people here in the United States help with conservation efforts in Tanzania?
Photo by Tim Davenport.
Indirectly, I think it is extremely important that everyone helps keep the environment high on the political agenda. Future generations will not thank us for opting for quick profits now for a few, over a more sustainable and healthier future for the majority.
Mongabay: Finally, do you have any advice for students wanting to pursue a career in conservation?
Photo by Tim Davenport.
And finally don't give up. If you do, you were probably not right for conservation in the first place.
About Tim Davenport
Tim Davenport was born in Manchester, UK and has lived and worked in three African countries since finishing his Zoology PhD. In Uganda, he worked for the Forest Department, Makerere University and Uganda National Parks, and in Cameroon, he ran projects for the Worldwide Fund for Nature. Tim moved to Tanzania with WCS in 1999, and there he set up the Southern Highlands Conservation Program (SHCP) in southwest Tanzania, and the Southern Rift Program in Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique. Both programs carry out research, community conservation and protected area management in key threatened habitats. Tim has worked in over 80 African forests and reserves, and been involved in the designation of new national parks on both sides of the continent. He has published on subjects ranging from national conservation priorities to invertebrate ecology, and from the orchid trade to chimpanzee distributions. He led the team which first discovered the Kipunji (Rungwecebus kipunji) on Mt Rungwe, and was lead author in a May 2006 article in the journal Science that described the Kipunji as Africa's first new genus of monkey for 83 years. His photographs have also been widely published. In September 2006, Tim was appointed as the WCS Country Director in Tanzania. In addition to the SHCP, WCS has conservation projects in the Tarangire-Simanjiro Ecosystem in northern Tanzania, the Saba Landscape of Rungwa-Ruaha, the coastal forests of Zanzibar, as well as research projects in the Serengeti, the southern Tanganyika lakeshore forests and the Eastern Arc Mountains.
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