Category: Africa

Traveling Naturalist: Elephants, Kudus and More in Tarangire National Park

The Traveling Naturalist visits Tarangire National Park in northern Tanzania, home to one of the largest herds of elephants in Africa, unusual antelope, migrating zebras, lions and warthogs and much, much more. Can it stay that way? Does tourism help?

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The Cooler: Can Hillary Clinton Help Stop Elephant Poaching?

Hillary Rodham Clinton has made stopping elephant poaching her new cause. Can she really make a difference? Perhaps conservation history holds a hopeful answer.

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Conservation Future: Announcing the 2013 NatureNet Fellows

Nine young scientists — with specialties ranging from energy infrastructure to urban ecology, Kenyan pastoral techniques to nanotechnology — inaugurate a program designed to help kick-start conservation toward addressing the challenges facing people and nature in the 21st century.

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For Some Elephants, an Uncertain — But Not Stressful — Future

In a thick pocket of acacia trees, a group of savannah elephants quietly munch leaves. Tails swing, ears flip and flap. Occasionally one scoops up a trunk full of dirt and tosses it across its face and back, to cool the hide and displace insects.

A few yards away, 3 researchers crouch in the brush, watching and filming. The setting seems peaceful and quiet, but the researchers are tensely aware: wild elephants can charge if frightened or startled. And the last thing a scientist wants is to be charged by the largest land animal in the world — especially while in pursuit of its poop.

Yes, poop.

“We needed fresh dung in order to gather DNA material,” explains grasslands ecologist Marissa Ahlering of The Nature Conservancy. But what for? While collecting dung samples from wild elephants is somewhat dangerous and far from glamorous (see video), the work has been providing useful insight into whether elephant populations in Kenya could live in proximity to people and livestock without stress.

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Quick Study: Do Elephants Get Stressed Out When Living Alongside People?

The Study: Ahlering, M.A., J.E. Maldonado, L.S. Eggert, R.C. Fleischer, D. Western and J. Brown. 2013. Conservation outside protected areas and the effect of human-dominated landscapes on stress hormones in savannah elephants. Conservation Biology, 27: 569–575. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12061

The Big Question: In East Africa, savannah elephants are increasingly expanding outside of protected parks and into surrounding areas where people and agriculture dominate. Do elephants experience stress when living alongside human populations — even in situations where they are not being actively poached? The answer, according to this new paper from lead author Marissa Ahlering of The Nature Conservancy and colleagues, can be found… in their poop.

Study Nuts and Bolts: The ability to measure stress hormones in wild animals has improved dramatically in the past decade with the development of fecal metabolite analysis techniques. In this study, scientists compared the levels of glucocorticoid (GC) hormone (which increases in response to stress) of elephants in a community conservation area (CCA) established by Maasai pastoralists with elephants at two nearby protected areas, Kenya’s Amboseli and Maasai Mara National Parks. The elephants in the CCA are exposed to “dense human settlements, agricultural areas, and intense livestock grazing on a daily basis,” while the elephants in the national parks are only exposed to humans through limited ecotourism and research.

To measure the stress hormone, scientists collected fresh dung samples and extracted DNA and hormone samples. The hormone samples were frozen immediately in liquid nitrogen, transferred to Nairobi for storage and then shipped overnight on dry ice to the United States where they were run through a series of metabolic analyses.

The Findings: The researchers found no evidence of chronic stress in the elephants living within the CCA. The stress levels of the CCA elephants were the same as elephants in the nearby protected area of Maasai Mara, although elephants at Amboseli exhibited lower stress than the other two groups.

What it All Means: The results surprised the researchers — they expected the elephants in the CCA to exhibit higher levels of stress due to a higher degree of contact with humans. These findings indicate that elephants can successfully live in human-dominated areas — and suggest that CCAs should be part of the solution in efforts to restore elephants to areas where illegal ivory poaching has decimated their populations.

Editor’s Note: Check back later this week for a more in-depth report on this research. 

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Fish and Chimps

Chimpanzees don’t eat fish. They don’t even swim. But at Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania, scientists have found that to save chimps, they must look underwater.

That’s because here, everything—people, fish, water, forest, and chimps—is interconnected. Attempting to conserve the apes without accounting for the health of the fishery that provides food and income for local people would doom these efforts.

Today, fish supplies are dwindling, villages are growing fast and chimps are getting squeezed into smaller and smaller forests.

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Eddie Game: Why Tanzania is Wrong to Pursue ‘Fortress Conservation’ with the Maasai

Maasai milking a cow, Tanzania. Credit: mar is sea Y/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.

Maasai milking a cow, Tanzania. Credit: mar is sea Y/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.

The recent move by Tanzania’s government to seal off 30,000 Maasai people from access to 1,500 square kilometers adjacent to the Serengeti in the name of wildlife conservation has drawn intense protests from both the Maasai and non-governmental organizations working in the country. The government will prevent the Maasai from grazing their cattle on a choice grazing area in the Loliondo Highlands — which the Maasai consider ancestral lands — but will allow a “Dubai-based luxury hunting and safari company” access to the land, reports The Guardian. The argument is that Maasai grazing practices are harming wildlife.

Eddie Game, conservation planning specialist at The Nature Conservancy, has written a blog post for the Australian site The Conversation arguing that the Tanzanian government’s tack is an example of “fortress” conservation that is “unnecessarily blunt and crude.” While Maasai grazing practices have reduced long-lived grass species prevalence in Tanzania in favor of seasonal species with deleterious effects for wildlife, Game says northern Kenya provides a shining example of “how pastoral livelihoods and wildlife conservation can be compatible.” Money quote:”

Through the agreement of community-run conservancies, sections of communal pastoral lands in northern Kenya are set aside as grass banks. These areas are reserved for wildlife to graze but can be used by traditional pastoralists as emergency grazing lands for cattle in times of drought.

The grass banks are complimented by establishing rotational grazing practices that encourage pastoralists to graze their animals together and in a systematic fashion, allowing land to rest ungrazed for a period each year. Regular treatment of cattle for disease (a concern also in the Maasai lands) is provided as an incentive for collective grazing. A guaranteed price and safe transport of livestock to markets gives pastoralists the security to reduce their herd sizes. And the rapid spread of mobile connectivity and mobile banking technology is providing an alternative avenue for savings in remote rural areas.

Tourism is also thriving in these community-run conservancies, notes Game — with tourists clamoring to see both wildlife and pastoralists at work. “It is sad indictment of the Tanzanian government that the international public are being presented with an overly simplistic and unnecessary choice between wildlife and the traditional lifestyle of the Maasai,” Game concludes.

Read his full post here.

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Salmon Cam Returns

We’re pleased to return Salmon Cam, a live view of spawning Chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout.

What is Cool Green Science?

noun 1. Blog where Nature Conservancy scientists, science writers and external experts discuss and debate how conservation can meet the challenges of a 9 billion + planet.

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3. Home of Weird Nature, The Cooler, Quick Study, Traveling Naturalist and other amazing features.

Cool Green Science is managed by Matt Miller, the Conservancy's deputy director for science communications, and edited by Bob Lalasz, its director of science communications. Email us your feedback.

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