The Selous-Niassa Wildlife Corridor in Tanzania: Biodiversity Conservation from the Grassroots
May-June 2010, Volume 8-3

Practical Experiences and Lessons from Integrating Local Communities into Trans-boundary Natural Resources Management – A joint CIC-FAO publication

In Southern Africa cross-border conservation initiatives traditionally have started from the top with the signing of protocols by the heads of state. However, trans-boundary conservation activities ultimately take place at local level and more often than not the local level administration and managers, and in particular local communities most dependent on natural resources have been neglected in the planning and implementation process. Since there is growing consensus that conservation of biodiversity, natural resources and wildlife depends on the cooperation and involvement of communities living at the resource base, their level of participation and ownership are also key for the development of successful cross-border conservation.

How local communities can be successfully integrated into trans-boundary conservation and natural resources management in practical terms is illustrated with this case study about the development of the Selous – Niassa Wildlife Corridor. The Corridor is still “work in progress” and far from being finalized. However, CIC and FAO found the experienced gathered so far of interest for other African countries and therefore decided to present them in a small publication as part of cooperation program.

The protection of the corridor is essential for the conservation of the Selous – Niassa Miombo woodland ecosystem, which extends from southern Tanzania into neighbouring northern Mozambique. With an area of more than 150.000 km2 it constitutes one of the largest trans-boundary natural dry forest ecoregions in Africa with global importance for biodiversity conservation.

For its continued existence two core conservation areas are significant: The Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, a World Heritage Site and with the size of 50,000 km2 and one of the largest protected areas in Africa; and the Niassa National Reserve of 42,400 km2, located in northern Mozambique. The Selous– Niassa Wildlife Corridor, entirely located in Tanzania, provides with a total size of approximately 9,000 km2 a significant biological link between the two reserves. Starting at the most southern border of the Selous Reserve this corridor stretches over 160 km southwards until reaching the Niassa Reserve at Ruvuma River, the border between Tanzania and Mozambique.

This link on landscape level creates one of the world’s largest protected elephant ranges, also hosting large buffalo, sable antelope and half of the world’s remaining wild dog population. The entire area supports a great number of globally threatened animal and plant species cited in the IUCN Red List and CITES, including species not yet described in science.

After the Selous Game Reserve had lost almost two thirds of its elephant population during the 90ties due to poaching the Government of Tanzania recognised the limitations of its “fines and fences” conservation approach and started to embrace local communities in conservation activities. Efforts were made to devolve management responsibilities over wildlife to local communities and enabling them to establish a new category of protected area, known as Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), on their village land. In 1991 the northern part of the corridor had become a pilot area for this new strategy and over the years two WMAs were established as a bufferzone for the southern Selous Game Reserve. On request of the local communities this approach has been developed further to a contiguous network of 5 WMAs forming today the Selous – Niassa Wildlife Corridor. They are in the ownership and under the responsibility of 29 villages. Also cross-border cooperation in conservation and natural resources management between Tanzania and Mozambique has progressed. Initiated ten years ago it has grown gradually from an informal local level based initiative to a formal cooperation agreement on regional level.

With a Community Based Natural Resources Management approach practised in the communal WMAs the local communities have been integrated in the development of the corridor and trans-boundary natural resources management.

Since cross-border cooperation started from the grassroots, the involvement of the community and local level in the planning and implementation of natural resources management activities resulted in high participation, buy-in and ownership of the transboundary conservation process. This motivation is also attributed to the local importance of natural resources and the prospects of direct benefits and empowerment. While this development process has required time to build trust and new partnerships and had to be complemented with local capacity building and alternative income generating activities from natural resources, first results on the ground already have demonstrated that the bottom-up approach applied can be a successful and effective way for biodiversity conservation across political boundaries.

However, the development of the corridor is still in progress and as it is part of real life conservation work one or other challenges might have to be faced in the future.

A joint publication by: CIC – International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation and FAO – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Budapest 2009. 128 pp. ISBN: 978-963-87791-8-2; This brochure can be downloaded at http://www.cicsustainable-hunting-worldwide.org/publications.html

Authors: Dr. Rolf D. Baldus and Rudolf Hahn