Serengeti 2001

The project

The project ‘biodiversity and the human-wildlife interface in the Serengeti region, Tanzania’ is an interdisciplinary project which aims at developing a management plan for the Serengeti. My field work enters into a particular part of the project which deals with the economics of human-wildlife interactions along the border of Serengeti National Park. When it comes to the methodology, this part of the project combines econometrics and bio-economic modelling. Other parts of the project examine social and cultural human aspects, plant-herbivore interactions, wildebeest population structure, trends of migratory and non-migratory herds, and parasitology related to large herbivores.

The study area

The project is located along the western border of the Serengeti National Park. The national park covers 14 763 km2 and is on the border of Tanzania and Kenya. In 1981 it was inscribed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites and a Biosphere Reserve.


     View over the huge Serengeti National Park

The Serengeti National park permits no human settlement or extraction of natural resources. However, a number of conservation areas with less restriction on
human utilization have been established on the western border of the park. These areas allow tourist hunting, game cropping, limited cattle grazing, firewood
collection and bee keeping.

The Serengeti ecosystem is characterized by the yearly migration of wildebeest. The migratory herds know no boundaries and make extensive use not only of
the gazetted land, but also the open areas in the districts outside the borders of Serengeti National Park. During the migration they spread beyond the park into
the western frontier and enter land settled by humans. This side of Serengeti National Park is densely populated, and the population is increasing. People in this
area are mainly engaged in subsistence and cash crop farming, as well as livestock husbandry. In addition, they add to their income and food-base through
hunting, particularly of the migratory herds.

The illegal killing of the migrant ungulates is potentially the most serious threat to the Serengeti ecosystem (see Sinclair and Arcese 1995, Serengeti II).
In western Serengeti this activity is supposed to benefit 1 million people. In order to design a management system for the Serengeti, it is therefore of crucial
importance to understand people’s incentives to exploit wildlife.

     Each year, more than 1 million wildebeest migrate across the Serengeti ecosystem


The objectives

In the period of June-September 2001 we conducted a survey in Bunda and
Serenegeti districts on the western border of the Serengeti National Park. The
survey covers six villages and 297 households and it deals with several
topics, all centred on the human-wildlife interface. The objectives of the survey
 are to:


Identify patterns and extent of illegal hunting.


Identify characteristics and extent of land use and livestock keeping.


Investigate wildlife-induced damage to crops and livestock.


Examine strategies for integrated wildlife conservation and community


Data collection

Traditionally, the wildlife conservation policies in Serengeti were based on strict protection through establishment of protected areas and use of anti-poaching law enforcement. Today, however, the management system also aims at providing the local people with benefits from wildlife through wildlife cropping. This part of the management scheme is organized by the Serengeti Regional Conservation Project (SRCP). Since the early 1990s, SRCP has provided the project villages with game meat. The staff at SRCP has a thorough knowledge about the villages in western Serengeti and was invaluable to me in selecting villages for the survey. In addition, during the whole period SRCP provided me with a car and a driver.

Because I don’t speak Swahili myself, I gained the assistance of two native speakers, John Maziki and Mike Mayengo. They were provided with necessary training on how to fill out the forms and how to approach the sensitive questions on income and illegal hunting. In addition to the interviewers, I engaged two persons in every village to guide us to the respective households. This assistance was invaluable to us as houses were often located far from the road and only accessible for the acquainted.



     Local inhabitants guided us to every household and often we had to cross
several agricultural fields on the way

     Outside the office of the village administration in Bukore village


We approached the district- and village authorities to request permission to
conduct the survey. All of the villages agreed to participate in the survey.
It was a bit more challenging, however, to select the households as it turned
out that the village authorities kept no record of their inhabitants. Fortunately,
all village chairmen got down to it and provided us with a list of names of
all households in their respective village. Further, in order to reflect the
geographical spreading of the households in each village, the households were
grouped by the location of their house. Then, the respondents were picked at
random from these lists.


There are many potential pitfalls related to questionnaires, especially when it comes to controversial issues like illegal hunting. Because some respondents
fear that information will be handed over to the anti-poaching authorities, it may be difficult to obtain reliable data on this activity. Attempts were made to
deal with such problems by visiting the villages and people’s homes prior to the interviewing in order to give a thoroughly explanation of the purpose
survey. In addition, I was present during the whole period of the survey to assist the interviewers, both during and between the interviews. In this way we
were able to detect any problems at an early stage and make necessary corrections in order to gain the confidence of the people. During the interviews our
impression was that many people were confident and, moreover, grateful for the opportunity to tell us about the human-wildlife conflicts, including illegal
hunting. Several people told me that they felt honoured with our visit and some even gave me valuable gifts – the most significant one was probably the
goat – as a sign of this. In order to make people feel comfortable and also to protect them from any suspicious villagers, the interviews took place in the
respondents’ homes.

     Interwiev of a woman in Rwamchanga village...

     ... and a family in Bukore village

In order to get as precise estimates as possible, we interviewed the head of the households. As a consequence, some 80% of the respondents were men.
The respondents vary with respect to age, but one half of them are in the 25-44 age group and relatively few persons are younger than 25 years of age or
older than 65 years of age. The sample varies also in terms of whether or not the respondents have any education. There is, however, less variation in
the level of education among the respondents. The education level is low and usually limited to primary school education.

     Relatively few respondents were older than 65 years of age



     On a visit to one of the primary schools in the area


Illegal hunting

One of the main purposes of this survey is to examine the extent of wildlife hunting among the local people living close to Serengeti National Park. All hunting recorded in the survey is illegal. Although it is possible to buy hunting licences from the district government, none of the households that we interviewed were possessed of a licence. Some 30% of the households voluntarily admitted to be involved in illegal hunting and these households told us about where and how often they hunt, targeted species, motivation for hunting, etc. Wildebeest is the major targeted species, followed by gazelle, zebra and topi. The hunting methods are primitive and dominated by the use of snares, spring traps, and weapons such as bow and arrow, panga and hunting spears.


People living in this area rely on agriculture as the major income generating activity. Almost every household owns land for cultivation. However, the plots are small, with an average size of 7.4 acres. The main crops grown are cotton, maize and millet. Cotton is the only cash crop in the area, but the production of this crop is geographically limited to the villages furthest west. This is probably due to differences in soil quality and access to markets. The average annual income from crops is, however, low for both cotton (US$ 80) and non-cotton (US$ 50) producers.


     Weapons are often self-made. Here, hunting spears.

     Cotton is the only cash crop grown in the area

     Harvesting cotton

Livestock and poultry keeping is the second major activity in this area. Some 50% of the households own livestock and 75% keep poultry. Livestock is kept as a source of income, meat for the household, draught animals in cultivation (i.e. cattle), insurance against poor conditions in the future (e.g. drought), etc. The average annual income from domestic animals is some US$ 30.

Some 15% of the households earn income from other sources than agriculture and domestic animal keeping. These sources include charcoal and firewood, sale of fish, sale of water, making beverage, and business. A small fraction, 4%, is employed in the formal sector.  

For the purpose of wildlife management it is crucial to identify and examine the human-wildlife conflicts on the border of the national park, such as illegal hunting, livestock grazing and cultivation. However, the human-wildlife conflicts are twofold in this area as wild animals destroy people’s crops and livestock and sometimes even kill humans. People in the survey claim that crops are destroyed by elephant, baboon and bush pig, livestock is killed or injured mainly by hyenas, while poultry are killed by eagles and mongooses. Hunting seems, however, not to be a way of exercising damage control. Instead people protect their field and livestock by keeping guard on the field, herding livestock, building fences etc. 

     At the local market to buy meat






     A woman is preparing chapatti for
a customer in her café

     The elephant is one of the species imposing damage to agricultural crops

     Sisal is sometimes grown as a fence to protect
agricultural fields or domestic animals

Some closing remarks

An appropriate knowledge of how economic and biological factors shape the patterns of wildlife exploitation is essential in order to design a wildlife
management scheme that can succeed in encouraging the local people to reduce illegal hunting and change to more park-friendly activities. However,
we often lack knowledge about the economy of human-wildlife interactions. Research on the local economy provides valuable information on how to
regulate exploitation activities. In the project 'biodiversity and the human-wildlife interface in the Serengeti region, Tanzania’ we focus, among other
topics, on different types of policies and how they affect wildlife conservation and human welfare in Serengeti. Some of the policy schemes are the so-called
Integrated Conservation and Development Projects (i.e. SRCP), agricultural improvements, control of wildlife-induced damage, formal employment,
and anti-poaching law enforcement.  To view some of the results, see:

Johannesen, A.B. (2003): ''Essays on the economics of African wildlife utilization and management'', a dissertation for the degree of dr. polit., Department
of Economics, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway.