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Increasing Capacity for Anti-Poaching and Enhancing Human-Elephant Coexistence

Current initiative


Young Tembo Cup attendees in Kintanula Village read STEP’s human-elephant coexistence booklet.

Young Tembo Cup attendees in Kintanula Village read STEP’s human-elephant coexistence booklet. Credit: STEP

This is a three year project which aims to strengthen the capacity of wildlife authorities in Rungwa-Kizigo-Muhesi Game Reserves (RKM GRs) to combat wildlife poaching through support of aerial surveillance, ground patrols and increasing ranger capacity through trainings on the use of GPS and GIS in data analysis. It also aims to enhance human elephant coexistence in the villages surrounding RKM GRs via building community-run beehive fences, establishing Village Savings and Loan Associations to facilitate access to loans and credit, initiating community-led elephant monitoring networks and conducting awareness days. Southern Tanzania Elephant Program (STEP) works with the Protection Departments of the RKM GR to expand aerial surveillance operations and to increase capacity for integrating patrol and surveillance data into intelligence-led ranger mobilizations.

This project aims to increase food security, provide additional sources of income and eliminate human and elephant deaths, leading to increased tolerance of elephants among the communities in the Ruaha-Rungwa Landscape, thereby facilitating a reduction of poaching.



The project takes place in and around the Rungwa-Kizigo-Muhesi Game Reserve (15,200km2), part of the larger Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem (45,000 km2) in southern Tanzania. Rungwa Game Reserve was established in 1951, Kizigo in 1982 and Muhesi in 1994. The Game Reserves are characterized by miombo woodland, open grassland plains, rocky outcroppings and riverine valleys. The RKM GRs are managed by the Tanzanian Wildlife Authority (TAWA), a National agency operating under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism.

The poaching and wildlife trade problem

Species affected Abbott’s duiker Cephalophus spadix , African Elephant Loxodonta africana , Bushbuck Tragelaphus sylvaticus , Common duiker Sylvicapra grimmia , Dik-dik Madoqua , Greater kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros

Products in trade

Products in trade include ivory, timber (for firewood and building), honey (through illegal honey hunting or putting hives in protected areas), fish and gold from illegal gold mining.

Overview of the problem

Villagers around the protected areas are involved directly and indirectly in poaching. Around RKM GRs, people living in villages close to the protected areas illegally collect meat, honey, timber and/or fish in order to sustain their daily needs.

Due to the difficult nature of accessing this data from Protected Area staff, we have not been able to conduct detailed research on the primary drivers of poaching. From our extensive ground experience, we have observed that there is sometimes collusion with poachers from other regions, especially where ivory is involved. Members of local communities are often involved as trackers, skinners and couriers of ivory. We have also observed that most of the poachers apprehended claim to be pastoralists and/or farmers, although other occupations are also mentioned. Agriculture is fairly basic in the villages around RKM GRs; lack of inputs, low soil fertility and erratic rainfall (due in part to climate change), crop yields are inconsistent. Livestock disease and depredation affect pastoralists. Due also to the remoteness of the area, market access is extremely limited. This further limits employment opportunities, presenting poaching as a source of income.

The anti-IWT initiative

Project: Increasing capacity for anti-poaching and enhancing human-elephant coexistence

Leading NGO: Southern Tanzania Elephant 

The main strategy is to enhance anti-poaching capacity by supporting rangers and Village Game Scouts from both air and ground with data optimization, training and facilitating community involvement in key protected areas in Southern Tanzania. Specifics include:

1. Improving ground and air patrols in terms of coverage and data collection: regular aerial surveillance is conducted in a minimum of 4000km2 of Rungwa-Kizigo Muhesi Game Reserves. This includes coordinated ground-air response patrols and analysis of trends from aerial data which is shared with protected area management.

2. Improving data collection for quality reporting and decision making: STEP previously provided analysis of ground patrol data but now this is done within SMART (by GR staff)

3. STEP provides training in GPS and GIS to map patrol results which contributes to intelligence-led patrol planning.

3. Improving the ability to enforce laws related to illegal wildlife trade through increasing capacity for rangers to apprehend culprits by regular vehicle and foot patrols, training and donation of remote surveillance equipment (i.e. camera traps).


Human Elephant Coexistence strategies and approach:

4. Livelihood protection and enhancement through beehive fences (crop protection and household income diversification): By improving livelihoods, STEP hopes that tolerance for the presence of elephants will increase. Beehive fences have been trialled to reduce crop loss by elephants (and to produce honey).

5. Livelihood protection and enhancement through Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA). These are small-scale, community-organized systems which enable people without access to formal financial services to save, invest and access loans. Members buy shares on a weekly basis, which provide the capital for loans. Loans are typically issued to members for three-month periods and are repaid with small interest. Members also contribute an agreed amount in a social fund that is available to members experiencing emergencies without interest. This credit can be used to directly respond to incidents of crop damage, offsetting costs born by households. It is also used to diversify household incomes, investing in agricultural production or in other businesses. By making households more resilient, the impacts of human-elephant conflict are less damaging.

6. Awareness raising events aim to provide fundamental education about elephant behaviour, the drivers of human-elephant conflict and how to stay safe around elephants. An increased understanding will hopefully reduce interactions and increase tolerance.

7. Monitoring of human elephant interactions through collection of data about crop, tree and food store damage incidences as well as elephant use of village water sources around and in the village land. This data is analysed to understand more about the movements of elephant populations in the region and to inform interventions (beehive fence locations, advice about water point locations).


Improving the data collected by rangers on patrols and by STEP's Local Elephant Monitors will lead to improvements in our program and can increase coexistence in the ecosystem. If well collected and thoroughly analysed, this data can provide a picture of the human pressures the ecosystem faces and can inform how to address them.

In order to reduce risks associated with living with elephants, our program supports farmers to protect their farms and food stores. It also works to enhance livelihoods through beekeeping and involvement in Village Savings and Loan Associations. We hope this approach will improve the level of tolerance of communities towards elephants.

Our programs are designed based on Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Before designing our program, STEP conducted ground and household surveys to characterize land features, vegetation distribution, water sources, elephant movement patterns, frequency and seasonality and communities’ experience (perceived benefit and risks) about human elephant interaction. This information was analysed and informed our interventions, including the design of our 2019 Community Leaders’ Workshops, education and awareness-raising events (The Tembo Cup Football tournament with football matches, film nights and trainings in primary and secondary schools) and the content delivered at them. As much as possible, content generation and event planning (including scheduling, match rules and regulations) were reviewed and developed with the community. 

Through these interventions, community members, their leaders and government authorities share their views, listen to others and engage in discussion on how best to protect their farms, food stores and how to improve human safety around elephants


Inclusion of gender, age and ethnic groups

In this project, STEP engages with all community members equally, regardless of sex, age and ethnicity. However, due to the nature of the communities around Rungwa, there are dynamics that are taken into account to optimize outcomes. When community-level decisions are targeted, the buy-in of village leaders (who are often male and no longer youth) are sought. When trying to understand household dynamics both men and women are consulted, although women may be the ultimate decision-makers within their households. There are several ethnic groups present in Rungwa and a more determinative dynamic is the length of time that members of the community have been present in the area. Ethnicity may interact with this but it is often a separate factor. While we don’t claim to fully understand these dynamics, careful observation, learning, discussion and work with people from the area have informed our approach to optimize our outcomes.

For our work specifically, we seek to identify how different members of the community will engage with elephants and the environment. For example, many livestock keepers (who also engage in cultivation) live in peripheral areas where most human elephant interaction is intense. These areas are remote and therefore are optimal locations for illegal activity. We therefore engage them to learn their insight and design our work to enhance tolerance through reducing crop damage and human injury in their areas. Women often collect firewood and water in remote areas so we target our safety around elephants training to be germane to these tasks.

Our educational and awareness raising work takes a slightly different approach for youth: we engage girls and boys with the aim of affecting their planning for the future; the youth of today will make land use decisions in the future. By building a foundation of understanding and compassion for elephants, we can hopefully build an understanding of the drivers of human-elephant conflict and work towards a long term solution: more integrated land use planning. Engaging them with human elephant interaction skills enhances their preparation to lead on making effective decisions regarding how to stay safe around the elephants, how to select effective crop damage mitigation strategies, how to select land for agriculture and other uses as well as  how to transfer human elephant interaction experience to their children.

The strategy

Strengthening disincentives for illegal behaviour

Raising community awareness about wildlife crime penalties and sanctions
Further detail

We raise community awareness about wildlife crimes, penalties and sanctions primarily through education and outreach events (such as the Tembo Cup football tournament, evening film nights, school trainings and through workshops and meetings with village leaders). In July 2019, when STEP conducted the Tembo Cup and associated events, we were joined by the Rungwa Game Reserve Community Development/Extension Officer who spoke about wildlife crimes, penalties and sanctions. He reviewed prohibited actions and associated penalties. Discussions were reinforced by film nights which showed poacher conflict with rangers (with rangers succeeding). The end goal was to help encourage community members to value wildlife as their own property, which contributes to construction of schools, water access points, health and road facilities. Employment opportunities presented by the wildlife sector were also discussed as benefits. 

Increasing incentives for wildlife stewardship

Further detail

STEP endeavours to help community members to understand the contribution of wildlife to their life via community awareness raising events and discussions (as discussed above).

STEP works with the government authorities to develop awareness raising materials, organize community events, facilitate learning discussions and  distribute information on how revenue collected from wildlife (such as protected area fees from photographic and hunting tourism) are shared to support construction of schools, health facilities, water infrastructure and road development within their village. STEP also helps communities to understand employment opportunities offered in conservation projects like in tourist companies, government agencies and NGOs and how these projects directly contribute to the improvement of societies wellbeing in their village. 

Decreasing the costs of living with wildlife

Preventive measures to deter wildlife
Further detail

Previously, STEP has trialled beehive fences with farmers’ groups (who are registered as CBOs and trained extensively on beekeeping best practices). These beehive fences are intended to deter elephants from entering crop land, thereby reducing crop damage (and hopefully increasing tolerance). The fences are also intended as income generating projects through the production and sale of honey. While beekeeping has potential in the Rungwa ecosystem, the structure of beehive fences is not conducive to high levels of occupancy. Bee populations in Rungwa move frequently in search of food and water. They prefer to establish hives far off the ground. We have struggled with occupancy in our beehive fence and are instead trialling the efficacy of ‘dummy hive’ fences, fences with wood made to look like hives instead of actual hives. We have distributed modern hives to our beekeeping groups to hang in trees in an effort to increase occupancy and therefore derive income from honey sales.

We have also distributed modern hives to other beekeepers outside of our farmers’ groups in an effort to stimulate demand for new technology. Existing beehive practices involve using hives made from bark which are constructed by cutting down an entire tree to produce one hive. The existence and persistence of beekeeping indicates that it is seen as a viable source of income. This trial intends to increase productivity and decrease detrimental environmental impact.

STEP also has established Village Savings and Loan Associations with these farmer groups in an effort to mitigate the impact of human-elephant conflict by increasing economic resilience. These Village Savings and Loan associations help farmers to get access to credit and loans without engaging with formal financial systems. Farmers are able to access loans that are repaid with interest (which gets shared out at the close of a cycle) and smaller emergency loans that are issued without interest.

As outlined above, STEP also facilitates education and awareness-raising events to discuss human elephant interaction, its causes, perceived risks and the benefits of living with elephants. STEP has also facilitated communities’ dialogue about crop and food stores mitigation strategies and ways to stay safe around elephants in their farm and homes. STEP has recently begun a trial expanding the role of its Local Elephant Monitors (LEMs), data collectors that track elephant movements and incidences of crop damage. LEMs are now also conducting one-on one training, explaining about elephant behaviour and ways to stay safe around elephants when they meet with a farmer who has recently experienced crop damage. By increasing access to this training, STEP hopes more farmers will learn about the drivers of human-elephant conflict. STEP also intends to learn more about the decisions surrounding land use planning and farm establishment; Rungwa is an area with a steadily growing population, mostly of recent arrivals from other parts of the country. Without local knowledge networks, these individuals often settle in elephant corridors or buffer zones, creating conflict interfaces. By learning more about the criteria for land selection, we hope to influence this process and to stop HEC at the source.

Increasing livelihoods that are not related to wildlife

(Non-wildlife-based) enterprise development/support
Further detail

As elaborated upon above, STEP supports beekeeping activities through the provision of modern beehives to add value on existing traditional beekeeping.

STEP also seeks to develop non-wildlife based enterprise development and support through access to financial services via Village Savings and Loan Associations.

Build/and or support sense of community ownership or stewardship

Further detail

Through awareness raising about the contribution of revenue collected from the wildlife sector to improve community development through  projects like school building, health facilities, water infrastructure and road development, STEP helps communities to build and support a sense of ownership and stewardship. STEP also does this through discussing employment opportunities in the wildlife sector including in tourism companies, camping sites, hotels, government agencies and NGOs.

Improving education and awareness

Further detail

Again, as outlined above, through facilitation of a large education and awareness raising campaign centred around a football tournament, Tembo Week exposed more than 10,000 people to information about elephant behaviour and how to stay safe around elephants. STEP also achieved this through distribution of specially-designed booklets and fliers that directly address the challenges of human-elephant conflict in Rungwa. We intended for our program to build a more positive association with elephants through football tournaments. In addition to football matches, the film nights, community trainings and trainings at schools that we conducted reached more than 10,000 people. When we conducted simple knowledge retention surveys, an average of 79% of respondents retained knowledge regarding several key aspects of elephant behaviour and safety around elephants.

Has the initiative made a difference?

We are currently not certain whether the project has contributed to a decrease in the rate of poaching in the area. We believe the program has somewhat decreased the number of poaching incidents during wet season when the rangers can not access remote areas (due to bad road network and flooding of rivers in the reserve). Recent aerial patrol data has shown a decrease in mining pit- encounters when compared with data collected at the beginning of the program. Access to remote surveillance technology has contributed to an increase in the number of arrests made per year because rangers can now arrest poachers without physical encounter in the reserve. However these data are inconclusive as to whether there has been a decrease in poaching rates. 

However, through monitoring indicators relating to human-elephant coexistence, we have observed that incidents of both crop and food stores' damage have decreased. This may suggest a concurrent improvement of tolerance among members of the communities living with elephants (assuming that crop damage is a driver of low levels of tolerance). Through close monitoring of elephant movement in the community, we have recorded 84 crop damage incidences in 2019, a 30% decline relative to 2017 in our two primary areas of data collection. For food store damage, we recorded only five incidents in 2019, compared to 12 incidents in 2018 (>50% decrease).

With our Village Savings and Loan Associations (which are intended to help diversify household incomes, making them more resilient to the impacts of human-wildlife conflict, thereby increasing tolerance), we monitor the number of loans that members are able to access and basic information about how they are used. In 2019, 19 farmers accessed loans that supported business establishment and agricultural activities.

As discussed above, through facilitation of a large education and awareness raising campaign centred around a football tournament, Tembo Week exposed more than 10,000 people to information about elephant behaviour and how to stay safe around elephants. STEP also achieved this through distribution of specially-designed booklets and fliers that directly address the challenges of human-elephant conflict in Rungwa. We intended for our program to build a more positive association with elephants through football tournaments. In addition to football matches, the film nights, community trainings and trainings at schools that we conducted reached more than 10,000 people. When we conducted simple knowledge retention surveys, an average of 79% of respondents retained knowledge regarding several key aspects of elephant behaviour and safety around elephants.

What works and why

Opportunities through education and awareness-raising: In areas with low population density, events that bring a large number of people together have potential to amplify important messages. STEP reached over 10,000 people through events conducted as part of The Tembo Cup 2019. During these events, STEP distributed 900 specially-designed booklets and leaflets to build community understanding of their interaction with elephants. 

Using local community members to support with monitoring of elephant activities: STEP enrolled 3 residents to monitor elephant movements within community land. The monitors collect data on crop and food stores damage incidences, use of village water sources and tree damage by elephants. These were achieved between January and December 2019 and collected data are analysed and used to inform our future planning.

In combating poaching, aerial surveillance has proven to be an effective method of detecting and deterring poachers, especially in protected areas with poor road networks in wet seasons. Our aerial missions have resulted in several arrests, removed poacher’s camps, apprehended illegal timber and other contrabands. The aircraft has widened the perspective of the rangers on the ground, helping them to patrol areas that were previously not accessible during rainy season.

Factors for success

Supportive, multi-stakeholder partnerships with a shared vision

Sufficient time investment in building relationships and trust between the initiative and local communities

Further detail

STEP has been working in Rungwa since 2017 and has made an effort to connect with key stakeholders on the ground to create a shared vision for its work. We have a collaborative relationship with Rungwa Game Reserve in which data is shared and strategic planning is synergistic. STEP works closely with village, ward and district-level government. These relationships ensure we have current information and help with implementation of and buy in for new projects.

This approach also means that we have strong relationships with the communities in which we work. The members of our Team on the ground are trusted members of these communities.

What doesn’t work and why

Several of the human-elephant conflict mitigation methods that we have trialled have not worked due to climatic and market factors. A considerable challenge has been that very little donor funding is available for trying things. It is available for scaling things that work. However, different contexts require different interventions and new contexts require trialling interventions before they can be scaled. We have run into this challenge several times, proposing mitigation techniques as solutions when we are unsure of their viability. For example:

Trialling of chilli briquettes and Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) did not work within our context. STEP did not conduct a thorough viability study on the value that these two mitigation strategies would add to farmers in protecting their crops in their farms or crop storage facilities.

Generally, failure of chilli briquettes was due to the initial trial design which required farmers to grow hot peppers for production of chilli briquettes (instead of using locally available varieties). There may still be an opportunity to test the viability of this method but cultivated hot peppers do not have a sufficient return on investment to justify labour. 

With PICS bags (three layer plastic storage bags), STEP observed that PICS were not seen as providing sufficient return on investment due to large land sizes and subsequently large harvest quantities which complicate the investment in individual storage units. 

Beehive fences faced the challenge of low occupancy due to prolonged dry periods and short bursts of heavy rain (with an especially heavy 2019-2020 rainy season), limiting the flowering of key tree species and reducing water availability to support bee activities. Low occupancy limits honey production, complicating the value proposition of the fence.

We have struggled with low participation, mistrust and a lack of transparency among members and their leaders in our Village Savings and Loan Associations, due in part to not frequent enough follow up. Low participation resulted in a lower amount of money available for lending, limiting the perceived value of VSLAs. In general, frequent and dynamic monitoring and evaluating (of operational indicators, not just impact-indicators) is critical for any field-facing project.

From the Protection side, we introduced a remote real time satellite linked surveillance system to combat poaching in Rungwa. The system consisted of cameras, magnetic sensors as well as a Graphic User Interface (GUI) to monitor the system. The system initially performed well but there was a challenge of reliable internet connectivity for the operation of the GUI. This caused rangers to miss most of the triggers sent by the system. Not only that, the system required close monitoring for 24 hours and a standby team to respond to triggers as they arrived on the computer in the control room. We decided to replace the system with conventional camera traps which needed less manpower and resources to operate. Conventional camera traps have been a success, helping rangers to apprehend poachers in collaboration with their confidential Informants.

Factors that limited or hindered success

Lack of coordinated and coherent sectoral policies/legislation (For example, land use planning, agricultural etc...)

Lack of long-term donor support that is flexible, adaptive and/or based on realistic time goals

Ineffective and/or untrustworthy community leaders

Further detail

Land use and land selection dynamics (particularly unregulated expansion of settlements) has created conflict between humans and wildlife (especially elephants), specifically in the forms of crop damage and human death. Due to limited infrastructure and interaction in peripheral areas, there is little knowledge exchange and new immigrants lack localized information about elephant corridors.

As outlined above, donor support that insists on scaling untested interventions (and hitting targets for scaled interventions) limits our ability to iterate and develop dynamic strategies informed by realities on the ground.

Mistrust among community leaders (who often have leadership roles in CBOs or Village Savings and Loan Associations) and group members has discouraged their participation in weekly meetings, affecting both the real and perceived values of VSLAs (expected to add to livelihood of the farmers in project areas).

Climatic limitations, primarily water and food (for bee colony survival and success) have limited the effectiveness of our bee hives fences to deter elephants from crop damage.

Organisers, donors and partners

Organisers: STEP

Donors: IWT, Disney Conservation Fund, WildAid, Monaco Foundation and Ivory Foundation


Amani Beekeeping and Maendeleo Farmers Groups: Partners in implementing community-based coexistence projects.

Village and District Councils: Partners in community outreach, implementation and evaluation·

Rungwa-Kizigo-Muhesi Game Reserves: Our partners in design, implementation and evaluation.                                                                                                                                   

Tanzania Wildlife Authority (TAWA): STEP has a five-year MOU with TAWA of which protection, enhancing human-elephant coexistence and capacity building are major components.

For further information contact Emma Impink (