Chris Daborn

Name ID 2062

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Arusha Times
Extract Author: Dr. Chris Daborn
Page Number: 372
Extract Date: June 4 2005

Can wildlife survive without pastoralists?

Pastoralists have been described as the original Conservationists - which might be thought paradoxical when there is such an influential body of opinion that views Pastoralists as a threat to wildlife conservation. All the lands of Northern Tanzania that harbour the remnants of the once huge populations of wildlife are lands which, until comparatively recently, were also universally sustainably supporting Pastoralists. If pastoralism posed such a threat then why was such a diverse and abundant population of wildlife found in these lands? The reality is of course that Pastoralists do not pose a threat to wildlife. It has been shown, from as long ago as the first millennium BC, that wildlife can survive with Pastoralists. However if, as it now seems possible, pastoralism were to fail B the question that would need to be urgently addressed is - Can wildlife survive without Pastoralists?

Pastoralism is an eco-friendly practice that in Tanzania is rapidly approaching a crisis of sustainability. The core problem is one of an ever decreasing amount of watered rangeland to range on. It is generally accepted that Pastoralists are specialists at surviving on marginal lands which, due to inadequate and unevenly distributed rainfall, are semi-arid and largely unsuited to the cultivation of crops. In earlier times these semi-arid rangelands were left relatively undisturbed whilst cultivators concentrated their efforts of toil, tillage and pillage on the more fertile and higher rainfall areas. Rangelands, despite the problem of an inadequate distribution of water, lend themselves to a sustainable extensive system of livestock production. This system is so successful that for zero cost in imported materials more than 70% of the meat consumed in Tanzania [and Nairobi!] is produced by Pastoralists from the rangelands of North, West and Central Tanzania. This major contribution to the national economy seems curiously to receive very little if any recognition and the consequent paucity of institutional support, if not outright adverse policy environment, is inexorably bringing the system into crisis.

What makes the rangelands so productive and healthy for livestock is the quality of the grazing and the relatively low challenge from vector borne disease transmitted by ticks and tsetse flies. It can and has supported massive populations of livestock and wildlife. What is more the two populations are not, as so many believe, mutually exclusive. This is because livestock are largely grazers and wildlife are largely browsers. There is in fact a benefit in terms of an improvement in the quality and quantity of edible plant matter available if the two populations are allowed to integrate. Both Pastoralists and wildlife have long co-existed as living proof of this fact and thus it was normal to find large herds of livestock sharing and successfully exploiting the rangeland resource with equally large and diverse species of wildlife. The Pastoralists, as specialist extensive system livestock managers, have centuries of experience at managing the range and have developed knowledge and practices that sustain and improve the grazing and conserve the water sources B practises that the wildlife benefited from in equal measure.

So why are Pastoralists and their specialist range management skills so important for the survival of wildlife? The answer is that Pastoralists like wildlife depend on the range for their survival B though more immediately so. When pastoralism cannot be sustainably practised on the range, it is largely due to problems with the grazing or water and generally both together. In the past this problem was solved by moving to an area where the rains had been more favourable. 21st Century Pastoralists are being increasingly >fenced out= by various boundaries created by administrative borders, national parks, commercial farms and the ever encroaching cultivation. When movement or access to adequate grazing and water cannot take place the peoples we call Pastoralists can no longer survive on pastoralism - full stop. This reality is happening to an ever increasing area of what was once the extensive unfettered rangelands of East Africa. Without urgent interventions to create an enabling environment for the sustainability of the pastoralist system the practice will be gone B as soon as in our life time if not sooner!

The problems leading to the demise of pastoralism in the short term will also be faced by the wildlife in the medium to long term. In the short term the wildlife have the advantage that they can retreat back into the protected areas of the National Parks. But, if wildlife cannot freely access and graze on the rangeland that borders the National Parks they too will surely follow the Pastoralists into extinction. This is because the rangelands are essential for successful breeding and for ensuring a necessary mixing of genes which occurs when populations from different locations meet. Isolate one population of wildlife in one National Park from another population in another National Park, by making the intervening rangeland a no-go area, and this vital process of intermixing of genes will not occur leading to genetic weakening, loss of important survival characteristics and the eventual prospect of a non-viable population.

At the centre of this issue is the impact of activities affecting the capacity of the range to support both grazing and browsing herbivores. The success of Pastoralists in exploiting this resource is an indicator of the capacity of the resource to support herbivore production. If Pastoralists are unsuccessful at producing livestock due to rangeland conditions then for the same reasons wildlife will be adversely affected. If action is not taken, sooner rather than later, the current progressive loss of the rangeland resource to support large populations of grazing animals will result in irreversible losses of those populations. We need an informed debate leading to the adoption of a strategic action plan that will secure the productivity of the range and all the communities that depend on it for their sustenance. If pastoralism should fail through the loss of access to adequate grazing and water from the rangeland resource the same forces will inevitably lead to a progressive decline in the wildlife population. This projected decline in wildlife numbers will pose a direct threat to the sustainability of the vitally important tourist industry and then it will be realised, but too late, that Wildlife really cannot survive without Pastoralists!!

Dr. Chris Daborn works with Tropical Veterinary Services, Karatu, Tanzania

Extract ID: 5073