STEP was founded out of a dire need to curb the elephant poaching crisis in Southern Tanzania that led to the decimation of one of Africa’s largest elephant populations.
Setup in 2014, this young organisation has come a long way in safeguarding elephants in this area and improving the livelihoods of the local human population. WFF speaks to Trevor (Founder and director) and Josephine (General manager) about their work to gain an understanding of the challenges they face, the successes they have had and what the future holds for STEP and Tanzania’s elephants.
How has Poaching progressed in Selous and the area you work in?
The Tanzanian poaching crisis started in the Selous around 2007. Once the elephant population dwindled there (by 70%), poaching spread elsewhere. In the Ruaha-Rungwa region there has been a 50% drop in elephant numbers because of poaching (between 2006-2015).
Overall, poaching has now reduced in Tanzania because of increased awareness and stronger conservation efforts. A dedicated task force has been pivotal in apprehending poachers and high level traders.
How did the poaching crisis affect elephant family dynamics?
We saw a significant reduction in older elephants over the age of 40. These individuals carry the knowledge to guide and protect younger elephants. As a result of losing them, we observed reduced survival of very young elephants between the ages of 0-5. We have also been seeing more tuskless elephants as poachers targeted elephants with tusks.
What are the main projects that STEP is working on?
We have been actively involved in working with local communities. Human-wildlife conflict as a result of crop-raiding by elephants is a real problem. We have started building bee-hive fences that deter elephants from farms and seen a significant reduction in crop raiding by elephants. The bees also provide farmers with an alternative source of income by selling their honey. This programme has been very successful.
Before establishing the bee-hive fences, STEP conducts research into which areas are the most affected and then works with farmers- teaching them how to care for the hives and extract the honey.
We also support anti-poaching patrols. We use a light aircraft for surveillance work, analyse poaching data in order to better allocate resources and train rangers. Rangers are taught how to use GIS (geographic information systems), GPS (global positioning satellites) and air to ground coordination. STEP also funds rangers’ wages, fuel for patrols and their training.
Josephine, can you tell us what a day in the life of a STEP manager is like?
It is very varied. I will co-ordinate field work which includes research and advocacy work with local communities. Raising awareness about our work and sourcing funds for conservation takes up some of my day. I also have to maintain the database on elephants, assess population dynamics and generate reports on our activities.
What can other people do to help?
Raising funds is one of our most important challenges. We rely on donations from people and organisations to continue our work. So that is always very helpful. Raising awareness about the plight that elephants face is also important. Occasionally we do work with skilled volunteers who help us with mapping, conducting research and educate rangers with important technical skills.
Trevor- founder and director
Trevor is a wildlife biologist and came to Tanzania 15 years ago. He has studied primates and large mammal ecology in Udzunga Mountains before he founded STEP 3 years ago. He is driven by a caring desire to empower locals and protect wildlife.
Josephine- General Manager
Josephine grew up in Tanzania and has always loved nature. She has a degree in ecology and evolutionary biology. She has a keen interest in applied research and is currently the general manager of STEP Tanzania.
Now its your turn to help:
Donate to an aspect of STEP’s work of your choice. You can make a donation online at www.STEP.betterplace.org or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow STEP on Facebook, Twitter, and via our website, and share our work and news updates.
Support local farmers living with elephants by visiting beehive fence projects in Udzungwa and Rungwa and by purchasing elephant-friendly honey.