Even before Tarangire was established as a national park back in 1969, AWF had been working to protect the phenomenal natural resources in the area. Though not as well known as its sister park a few miles distant on the Serengeti plains, Tarangire is one of the brightest jewels in Tanzania's crown. Now, AWF is undertaking an ambitious new conservation effort that encompasses the entire Tarangire ecosystem--not only the park but the corridors used during the great migrations of antelope, wildebeest and other species in their seasonal searches for food and water.
"The key is to work with all vested interests in this effort," says AWF President R. Michael Wright, "most importantly the people who live near the park and the Tanzanian government." The short name for the project is PORI, an acronym for Partnership Options for Resource-Use Innovation and a Swahili word meaning "wild" or "wilderness." With a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development and in collaboration with organizations as varied as the Masai association, Inyuat e Maa, and the U.S. National Park Service, the project aims to improve the outlook for ecosystem management and the well-being of people living in the region.
"Through PORI, we hope to build on AWF's groundwork in Tarangire to find ways of managing the area's fabulous wildlife and landscapes so they benefit surrounding communities and endure for generations," says Patrick Bergin, AWF's community conservation director.
AWF helped acquire land for the Tarangire Game Reserve prior to its designation as a national park in 1969. Over the years it has provided supplies, housing and technical support for park rangers. In the late 1980s, Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) and AWF selected Tarangire as the site for its experiment in community conservation, a program designed to help local people realize the economic benefits that can be derived from conserving the natural resources in their midst. Since then, the practice has taken root throughout Tanzania's park system.
Through the years AWF has nurtured relationships with village elders and local organizations that continue today. In collaboration with these neighbors, AWF through the PORI project is developing an overarching strategy that addresses conservation, land management and development for the Tarangire ecosystem.
Much of the effort will be devoted to promoting and managing tourism. Tarangire, less visited than other parks in the region, nonetheless has a great deal to offer tourists, from the exotic birds that skim over emerald-green swamps to huge herds of plains animals that congregate in golden grasslands. "We cannot overstate the importance of tourism revenue," says Wright. "It is the park's lifeline." AWF will work with TANAPA, the Ministry of National Resources and Tourism and communities on ways to boost tourism.
(One of Tarangire's best assets is its elephants, which sometimes assemble in unusually large groups of more than 100 individuals. AWF is supporting research by Charles Foley of Princeton University, who is studying the elephants' seasonal behavior. The findings could lead to increased protection in certain areas.)
Among the proposed tourism activities are improving mapping, signage and campsite maintenance, refurbishing the park's gate and offering visitors a menu of activities and viewing options. The U.S. National Park Service plans to train Tarangire staff in the nitty-gritty of tourism management and visitor services.
Equally important to boosting tourism is expanding community-based management of natural resources, especially in neighboring pastoral lands, and developing local wildlife-related businesses that are environmentally sound.
"We hope to help local people come up with management plans that enable them to obtain legal rights to their resources and then generate their own tourism revenue," Bergin says. "It is a long but worthwhile process, because it is a chance for sorely needed income and economic security." AWF will take local leaders on study tours to see how other communities manage their natural resources. It will help them inventory their own resources and find ways to accommodate the community's needs, say, for grazing and crop lands with the presence of wildlife.
"From a larger perspective, expanding park ties to local groups enlarges the area that is devoted to conservation," Wright says. "The bottom line is that if we are to be successful in conserving natural resources in the long run, then we have to work outside of protected areas and involve all the players. We can't just limit our work to the park."
"PORI," he adds, "has the potential to completely change the way the world looks at ecosystem management."
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