Funding Serengeti Wildlife Conservation

By Lucy Emerton 

The Serengeti ecosystem has been called the eighth wonder of the world. Spanning more than 25,000 km2 of north-west Tanzania and south west Kenya, it contains some of the densest wildlife populations in East Africa. Over a million wildebeest, three quarters of a million zebra and gazelles, thousands of lions, as well as elephants, rhinos and giraffes, rub shoulders with more than 500 species of birds. All against a backdrop of the rolling savannahs and plains of the Maasai steppe and the steep slopes and forests of the Loita Hills, the Gol Mountains and the Eyasi Escarpment. This is the holiday destination that dreams are made of. The three strict protected areas in the Serengeti ecosystem - the Maasai Mara, Ngorongoro and Serengeti National Park - are famous the world over, and account for the lion’s share of tourism earnings in both Kenya and Tanzania. 

Trouble in paradise 

For some time now there has been trouble brewing in the paradise that is called the Serengeti. Wild animals are not the only populations who depend on the ecosystem, and foreign tourists are not the only humans who enjoy its natural bounty. National Parks and wilderness areas are only one of many possible land uses. Hundreds of thousands of people also live in this part of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, and earn a livelihood from the land and its resources. Smallholder farmers in the west, pastoralist herders in the north and east, and hunter-gatherer populations in the south have to live side by side with the Serengeti’s wildlife. And as this human population has grown, conflicts over land and resources have intensified. 

The co-existence of humans and wildlife has become increasingly uneasy over recent years. Although this is partly to do with the wildlife itself, it has been exacerbated by the way in which conservation has been imposed in the area. Management of the Serengeti’s wildlife and natural habitats has involved the imposition of progressively more draconian controls - largely at the cost of local people. As early as the 1950s large populations of pastoralist Maasai were evicted from the Serengeti National Park and moved to Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  

Today, although a human population is permitted to remain in Ngorongoro, they face severe limitations on just which land and resource uses they are permitted to carry out. Over the last four decades, virtually no human entry into the Serengeti National Park has been allowed (except, of course, for tourists), and a number of Game Reserves have been established on the western fringes of the Serengeti that have involved resettling all their former inhabitants. All of this, although perhaps a necessary condition as far as conservation is concerned, has neither helped land pressure in surrounding areas nor endeared the local population to wildlife. 

Such problems are perhaps most profound in the north west buffer of the Serengeti, in Bunda and Serengeti Districts, which are among the most densely-populated and intensively-used parts of the ecosystem. Today, more than 75,000 people live on this triangular piece of land that abuts the National Park and Game Reserves. And this number is rising - at almost 3% a year, in an area that is effectively bounded by the Kenyan border to the north, by Lake Victoria to the west, and by Ikorongo and Kijereshi Game Reserves and Serengeti National Park to the east and south. There is no room for expansion. At the same time as the human population has been squeezed into a more and more confined land area, wildlife numbers have been declining drastically and natural habitat has been slowly but surely turned over to farmland. Land and resources have simply proved to be insufficient to provide for the survival, and growth, of both wildlife and human populations.    

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this human population have come to view the Serengeti’s wildlife as more of an economic burden than an asset. As agricultural land becomes more scarce and sources of income and employment more hard to access, local residents have become increasingly unwilling (and in many cases economically unable) to tolerate the presence of wildlife, or to endure the existence of areas into which their own entry is prohibited. 

Making islands, building bridges 

Since the early years of this century, Tanzania has enacted a series of legal instruments and controls designed to safeguard wildlife against human interference, involving restrictions on human land and resource utilization in and around protected areas. This type of approach, which carried on well into the 1980s, has been aptly termed by Tanzania’s current Ministry of Wildlife, Natural Resources and Tourism as a “policy of isolation from surrounding communities - an island mentality”.   

This island mentality has had devastating effects on local livelihoods, effectively cutting off huge tracts of land and barring local access to vital natural resources. Unfortunately, it has also done little to improve wildlife conservation. Poaching and agricultural encroachment have continued largely unabated. As conflicts between local communities and park authorities intensified (sometimes to extreme levels, involving direct physical violence and destruction of property - from both sides), it became clear that any attempts to conserve wildlife were unlikely to succeed unless they engaged the active support of adjacent populations. In 1985 a Regional Conservation Strategy for the Serengeti was established by the Tanzanian government, and wildlife management activities began to seek to actively work with local landholders. The Serengeti thus became the first protected area in the country to pilot a community-outreach approach to conservation that aimed to promote both conservation and development, each without detriment to the other, and to promulgate positive human-wildlife interactions.    

By the 1990s this approach had evolved. Tanzania National Parks established a Community Conservation Service, set up a fund to support community-initiated development activities, and began to write community conservation activities into its policy and planning documents. Over the same period the Wildlife Department (which controls the Game Reserves bordering the Serengeti) started to share the revenues raised from hunting activities with adjacent District Councils, so that they could be ploughed into local development. 

All of this constituted a major step forward in recognizing, and attempting to address, the conflicts that inevitably arise when wildlife and people are forced together in a confined area. But has it been enough? The answer is, sadly, no. Relations between park authorities and local communities have undoubtedly improved, and both sides have reached a much better understanding of each others’ problems and needs. But the fact still remains that it is difficult to reach a compromise between two such different land uses - farming and wildlife conservation. Wildlife is still a local liability, and farming still denies wildlife their natural habitat. 

Wildlife gains and losses 

One of the root causes of the problem, and a major bone of contention, is the distribution of the economic costs and benefits of the Serengeti’s wildlife. Farmers and landholders gain little or nothing from living on the doorstep of one of the world’s premier wildlife habitats. And as they still continue to face pressing and urgent needs for food, income and other resources, the situation is barely tolerable.     

While the Serengeti earns significant income for some (in 1998, it generated revenues of more than US$1 million for the Tanzanian government, and many times this amount for commercial safari operators), little trickles back down to the local population. Despite a policy of revenue sharing by Tanzania National Parks and the Wildlife Department, less than $20,000 found its way to the 10,000 households living in the Serengeti’s north-west buffer - that’s less than $0.25 per person. And most of these “wildlife benefits” were received indirectly, through the implementation of broad social development activities such as road construction, water and health interventions and educational investments. Even worse, wildlife actually imposed real monetary costs on local residents, regardless of the number of new roads, wells or school classrooms that were constructed. In the same year crop losses due to wildlife damage totaled $0.5 million in the north west buffer area, and the zones set aside as Game Reserves represented an area which could have potentially quadrupled available arable land, translating into foregone farm income of more than $20 million. Most people continued to be far worse off as a result of wildlife. 

Redressing the balance 

Even with benefit-sharing arrangements, there is still a long way to go before wildlife becomes a practical land use option in local economic and livelihood terms. But the situation is slowly starting to change, and the balance of wildlife costs and benefits is beginning to alter dramatically, at least in parts of the north-west buffers of the Serengeti. And interestingly enough, the impetus for these changes is coming not from the government, the donor community, concerned development agencies or conservation bodies, but has arisen largely as a result of private-sector demand, and the dependence of commercial tour operators on communities’ compliance in matters of wildlife conservation.    

A large number of private sector wildlife enterprises operate in the north-west Serengeti. As well as generating substantial profits, these operations have a direct interest in conserving wildlife, and depend on local support in order to do so. Over recent years, they have begun to radically rethink the nature of their relationships with the people who live in the Serengeti’s north-west buffer zone and upon whom the survival of wild animal populations (and thus tour operator profits) so crucially depends. A number of innovative partnerships and agreements are beginning to be negotiated with communities in the north-west buffer zones which are increasing substantially the local economic value of wildlife. There is every indication that these arrangements can prove to be a sustainable, and appropriate, way of tipping the local economic balance in favor of wildlife. 

From sharing to partnership 

To date, a variety of agreements have been reached between tourist concerns and local communities. These range on a spectrum from activities that merely attempt to redistribute private profits, through those that try to ensure that wildlife earns income in the context of existing livelihoods, to those which are based on increasing the degree to which communities control and manage the wildlife on their lands as an economic asset.    

The first category of activities is based mainly on hunting. The major, and most lucrative, wildlife-based tourism enterprise in the Serengeti’s north-west buffers is currently tourist hunting. And hunting depends on a ready supply of wildlife. As a result of negotiations with both local communities and tourist operators, the Wildlife Department recently introduced a voluntary levy on all tourist hunting operations equivalent to a charge of 10% over and above normal trophy fees. At current levels of tourist hunting, this could generate revenues of between $10,000 and 20,000 a year for the north-west Serengeti. As much again as is currently accruing to the whole local population from government benefit-sharing arrangements.    

On the initiative of two private companies this idea of a voluntary levy has been taken even further. The Cullman Rewards and Benefits Scheme, established in 1990 by commercial outfitter Tanzania Game Tracker Safaris, is today operated in the western Serengeti by Robin Hurt Safaris Tanzania Ltd. Its overriding aim is to benefit local people from wildlife utilization and management and to turn wildlife into a resource that will yield more through conservation than through destruction and over-exploitation. The scheme raises money from voluntary fees paid by hunters of 20% over and above the fees that the government charges. These fees are used to fund local anti-poaching teams and provide cash rewards for activities and information that can be used to capture and prosecute poachers. Participating villages are also issued with game culling licenses and provided with a share of the meat hunted by tourists. Currently operating in two hunting areas the scheme generated nearly a third of a million dollars between 1990 and 1993.    

Wildlife has many potential values that local communities have traditionally had no access to. One lucrative market is that of game meat and trophies. Under the Serengeti Regional Conservation Strategy, a series of community wildlife cropping quotas has been issued, permitting local villagers to legitimately consume and sell wildlife products. As well as generating substantial income through the sale of hides, skins and other trophies, this arrangement has effectively knocked the bottom out of sales in illegally-poached game meat - as well as providing a cheap and easily available source of protein in local markets.    

But perhaps the greatest potential for local gain from wildlife, and for increasing the direct participation and control of landholders over wildlife management, comes from the involvement of community members themselves as wildlife entrepreneurs. For the first time, private sector tourism concerns have started to work directly with villagers rather than through state authorities. As well as generating significant profits, these arrangements are starting to put landholders in a position to determine the terms and conditions under which the wildlife on their land is managed and used for economic gain.    

One example of this type of partnership is a land lease arrangement. In 1994 Ikoma Bush Camp negotiated a lease with Robanda Village, which lies just outside the Ikoma Gate into the Serengeti National Park. This allowed the establishment of a tourist camp on village land, based on a fixed rental fee, bednight levies and on agreed investments by the company in local infrastructure. Between 1994 and 1998 more than $30,000 was remitted to Robanda Village Council and used to implement a series of local development projects.    

Taking this idea even further, a new wildlife tourism facility, Dream Camp, is in the process of being developed on land adjacent to Grumeti Game Reserve. This land falls under the jurisdiction of Iharara Village. The camp will be run as a three-way joint venture between a commercial company, the Iharara Village Council and a Scandinavian bilateral donor. A 40 year lease has been agreed for the construction of the 30 bed camp, which includes the allocation of equity in safari operations to the Village Council, a renegotiable annual land rent and bednight fees charged for every visitor. In addition to this, the management of Dream Camp have committed to support village income and employment through sourcing foodstuffs locally, drawing staff - including management trainees - from the locality, and establishing a micro-credit scheme for village enterprise development. Potentially, this arrangement could yield the 200 households in Iharara village income in excess of $20,000 a year, in addition to local earnings and employment. 

Where does it go from here? 

The future of wildlife, and of local livelihoods, is certainly starting to look more rosy in the north west buffers of the Serengeti. The innovations described above have significantly increased the level of local economic gain from wildlife - from under $20,000 a year to about $150,000. Perhaps more importantly, in combination they are more than sufficient to balance current wildlife crop damage costs for many households.    

Perhaps the balance of economic costs and benefits is at last beginning to tip in favor of local landholders, and wildlife is starting to become a viable land use option. Although little can be done to diminish the financial damage that wildlife visits upon local communities - and such costs are incurred all over East Africa on a regular basis - it is clear that action can be taken to increase financial benefits to a level, and in a form, that balances out or exceeds these losses. And it is also clear that a major potential for redressing wildlife-related inequities lies with the private sector.    

Yet despite, or perhaps because of, the type of innovations that are taking place in the north-west Serengeti, wildlife will continue to incur costs on landholders. In many cases, it will never be possible to balance these costs. In many others, companies will not be willing or able to undertake these types of partnerships. Alongside such success stories there are an equal number of disasters. Although commercial concerns have a strong incentive to cooperate with communities, there is no guarantee that they will act in the best interest of either local communities or wildlife conservation. Landholders in wildlife areas are often among the poorest and most marginalized sectors of society, starting off from a weak bargaining position, and have little knowledge or experience of the potential gains from new wildlife markets and enterprise opportunities.    

In one of the tourist hunting blocks in the north-west Serengeti, for example, villagers allowed their land to be used by a foreign outfitter for no charge at all. They envisaged that, while hunting would interfere little with local life, tourist development could provide a valuable source of income and employment. Having obtained the use of this land for free, the concessionaire promptly proceeded to close off his concession and bar all local access. He offers only temporary and occasional local employment, and pays salaries that are well below the national minimum wage rate in Tanzania.    

These problems, however, and others that will likely crop up along the way as partnerships mature, have proven to be surmountable, and there is a great deal of room for honest brokers - primarily the NGOs that work with local communities in and around wildlife areas - to ensure that the partners understand and respect each other’s needs and desires. Indeed, there can be a place for both people and wildlife, if we can only get the economics right. 


This paper reports on one of a number of case studies of the Evaluating Eden Project, carried out and funded by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). This project aimed to evaluate the environmental, social and economic dimensions and impacts of community wildlife management initiatives in East and Southern Africa. The research also formed a component of IUCN Eastern Africa Regional Office's Biodiversity Economics Programme, and is one in a series of case studies being carried out on the economics of environmental conservation in Eastern Africa. These case studies aim to document existing conservation efforts from an economic viewpoint, contribute to available biodiversity economics information and methodologies in the Eastern Africa region and provide recommendations for the formulation of conservation policy and practice. The research was carried out in collaboration with the Serengeti Regional Conservation Strategy, a joint initiative between the Government of Tanzania Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment's Wildlife Department and NORAD. The Serengeti Regional Conservation Strategy has since 1985 been working in the Districts around the Serengeti National Park to integrate and reconcile conservation and development objectives so that each can be promoted without detriment to the other. 


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