Over the next few months the Tanzania Marine programme wants to initiate a conservation and ecotourism project for the Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious). The island of Mafia harbours a relatively small population of hippos; these inhabit a network of lagoons found North-West of the island. Being it a nocturnal and semi-aquatic mammal poses numerous challenges when monitoring this species. There is no exact number of the actual population size in this area of Mafia Island, however, the Frontier team has managed to record around 20 to 40 individuals throughout their census.
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Image courtesy of Camilla Faurholdt-Löfvall
Today the hippopotamus is considered to be a vulnerable species although its distribution range across Africa is extensive. There have been episodes of local extinctions due to habitat loss and fragmentation in various parts of its home range. Furthermore, numerous human-wildlife conflicts, such as persecution due to crop damage and hunting for meat have rendered the hippo increasingly vulnerable to extinction. On Mafia Island the primary threat posed to this species comes from the conflict with local villagers caused by hippos trampling and eating their crops.
The Frontier hippopotamus conservation project first started in 2011 with the aim of monitoring and protecting the hippo population on Mafia Island coupled with the clear commitment of improving the livelihoods of the local communities. The objectives were focused on starting an ecotourism project whilst setting up an ecotourism board in one of the villages surrounding the lagoons where hippos reside. The village that was chosen for the task was Gonge: this was surrounded by the highest number of hippos compared to other villages and the community appeared to have a positive attitude towards the project. Unfortunately Gonge village has decided to dissolve their board and not to act on the advice given by Frontier Tanzania Marine in 2011.
Image courtesy of Peter Harrison
Throughout the next few months, a new phase of the project has been discussed and is ready to begin. The ecotourism project has been moved to another village called Dragoni. The locals seemed to be interested in the cause and are willing to help. Over the next phase Tanzania Marine will try to obtain an accurate population assessment of hippos living in this area such as their distribution, population size, health and movement patterns. The ecotourism project will also be initiated to promote tourism in these areas, to protect the hippopotamus and provide a possible income for the community of the village. The funds from the ecotourism project will be reinvested in building fences and ditches for local communities against crop damage from hippos and for new conservation management strategies to protect the species. Tanzania Marine will meet up with the Dragoni villagers this month in order to begin structuring a new board and ensure that the locals are still willing to undergo these changes for their own benefit and the conservation of the hippopotamus.
By Eleonora Arcese
Learn more about Frontier's wildlife and marine conservation, teaching and internship projects in Tanzania.