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Mkomazi Research Project 1992-1998

An ecological survey of the Mkomazi Game Reserve in northern Tanzania, providing base-line data to underpin long term conservation and management plans for the reserve.

Organised by the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) in collaboration with Department of Wildlife, Tanzania.

The Mkomazi Game Reserve in northern Tanzania is of great biological significance, representing species and ecosystems not commonly found elsewhere in East Africa. However the reserve brings few local and national economic benefits, while internationally it has become a cause célèbre for both those championing the rights of people to resources, and those seeking to preserve and restore ecosystems.

The process of addressing these controversial issues needs to be well informed and in this context, the Tanzanian Department of Wildlife and the Royal Geographical Society undertook the five-year Mkomazi Ecological Research Programme. The programme was established as a collaborative venture, associated with local Tanzanian institutions and departments. The main objective has been to describe the fauna, flora and physical geography of the area in order to develop a viable and long-term management plan for the reserve, balancing rich species diversity with growing population densities and associated pressures along the periphery of the reserve.

The Reserve covers an area of 3,701 km² along the Kenya-Tanzanian border, between Kilimanjiro and the coast, (adjacent to the Tsavo National Park, 21,000 km²). This area of semi-arid savanna comprises a single ecological unit, individual parts of which provide seasonal refuges for many species of large mammals and migrant birds. The flanking ranges of the North and South Pare and Usambara mountains provide climatic and topographical diversity, which in turn produces great habitat and species diversity, especially in the western and central areas. In addition, the Reserve lies at the southern extremity of the Sahel, the great arc of semi-arid savanna, into which many Somalian species of plants and animals are funnelled, but beyond which they are unable to extend their range, concentrating species diversity, and making this one of the richest savannas in Africa.

To date, almost 450 species of birds have been recorded and over 100 species of plants. Entomologists studying the arthropod fauna of the commoner savanna trees suggest that the total number of insects could approach 90,000 species. To integrate the individual components of the ecological inventory studies, a Geographical Information System has been developed.

Two artists were commissioned to record their interpretations of Mkomazi and the Programme’s work. Sponsored by The British Council, Jonathan Kingdon, and his Tanzanian colleague Professor Elias Jengo, have worked together to produce a joint exhibition of their work called ‘Mkomazi Mind and Memory Maps’ which has been shown in Dar es Salaam and in London.

Important conservation areas such as Mkomazi are coming under increasing pressure from neighbouring populations, which in some regions have doubled in the last ten years. If the Mkomazi and similar areas are to survive, ways of generating a substantial income, which can be shared with local communities, need to be found. The anthropological team under Professor Katherine Homewood examined the livelihoods of local communities and the potential for conflicts between conservation and development interests.

· RGS Mkomazi Project summary and bibliography PDF

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