Keeping Carbon in the Ground to Protect Chimpanzees, Simple Surely?

Ten years ago Jo and I established Carbon Tanzania with one aim, to value ecosystems through carbon and by doing so protect unique biodiversity and human cultures. To focus on wildlife corridors or seasonal dispersal areas, to focus and conserve areas under threat. Our first step was to protect the last remaining land for the Hadzabe, a unique and threatened human culture. Working with our partners, we now have 35,000ha of Acacia dryland forest under a robust management regime, community owned and protected. Taking what we learned in Yaeda, we then moved into the southern edge of the Maasai steppe; in this case to protect an elephant dispersal area and dry season refuge for Maasai in the Makame Wildlife Management Area, a critical part of the Tarangire ecosystem.  By truly integrating conservation with development, our newest and most ambitious project is no exception.

So, first a little background. Mahale Mountains National Park, an isolated mountain on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, is famous for one thing, chimpanzee (the foremost lodge there is called ‘Greystoke’, which sort of says it all). Due to extensive research over the last 40 years, the chimpanzee populations in Mahale are habituated, as a tourist you can just sit there and let them walk around you. A fantastic experience, literally time spent with our closest relative. The chimp populations in Mahale number a few hundred and in Gombe National Park further north, perhaps only 80 remain in this isolated park.

To the east and south east of Mahale Mountains National Park there are a series of hills, mountains and a plateau spanning 1000’s of square kilometres of rich miombo woodland, bamboo and grasslands that we call the Southern Greater Mahale Ecosystem (SGME). Over the last few years, survey work by the Ugalla Primate Project has added enormously to what we know about these areas, and the numbers of chimpanzee that inhabit them.  In 2014 a survey of the area estimated 751 chimps in the SGME, establishing this area is critical for chimpanzee conservation.

But of course, there is another story within this ecosystem, a story common across Tanzania, a story all too familiar to us. This story is of human needs: for grazing lands, for agricultural lands and of course for the desire to convert forest resources into cash. It’s really this story that we’re interested in and, along with The Nature Conservancy, we are now in the process of creating a landscape conservation project with a 30 year plan. Just like in Yaeda and Makame, we will be using finance as an instrument to inform better land-use planning, pay for scouts to patrol and enforce village by-laws and of course meet the financial needs of many of these communities. Our aim is to make conserving forests more valuable than cutting them down. We are just at the beginning of this next step in our evolution, fitting that it should be focused on protecting forests for chimpanzee’s our closest living relative.

Contact us if you would like to support our work on this new project in the SGME

Written by Carbon Tanzania Co-founder, Marc Baker


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