Biodiversity in Tanzania's Kolo Hills

Butterfly sighting during the Kolo Hills biodiversity scoping expedition

AWF ecologists, experts from the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), and local community members embarked on an eight-day ecological survey of the Kolo Hills area in northern Tanzania. The team surveyed the presence and distribution of birds, small mammals, insects, and trees as part of a baseline biodiversity assessment to be completed before Kolo Hills can be validated as a REDD+ project site. Several AWF ecologists from different sites in Africa have joined the survey, including Nakedi Maputla, AWF’s Congo landscape ecologist.

Day One

We arrived in Kondoa, Tanzania on the evening of Tuesday September 9th 2014. Kondoa lies within the Maasai Steppe Landscape, which comprises Tarangire National Park, Manyara Ranch, and Kolo Hills Community Forest. The team included Michael Maina (GIS Officer – Nairobi), Ann Githaigi (Landscape Ecologist – Samburu), Nathan Gichogi (Landscape Ecologist – Kilimanjaro), and Jean-Claude Kalemba (GIS Officer – Maringa Lopori Wamba Landcape). The aim of our trip was to conduct a biodiversity baseline survey for the REDD+ Project in the area. Biodiversity, which encompasses the differences between and within species, is a measure of success of several conservation initiatives. For this baseline survey, we had planned to focus on trees, insects, birds, and small mammals. REDD+ is an acronym for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation. To achieve this goal, biodiversity and ecosystem processes must also be protected because they ensure the persistence of the vegetation, which in turn provides this crucial ecosystem service.   

It took us approximately five hours to drive from Arusha to Kondoa. Along the way we passed Tarangire National Park, and Manyara Ranch. It was a hot day, but on the whole the trip was pleasant. When we eventually arrived in Kondoa, Jean-Claude noted the peculiarity of the landscape by saying: "The rivers here have bridges, but no water; in the Congo (DRC- most notably the Maringa Lopori Wamba Landscape) rivers are always flowing, but there are no bridges." We all had a good laugh at this keen observation. Upon arrival we met our colleague Pastor Magingi, who is the programme manager at the site. He was very excited to have us at his place of work and was raring to get things started. He promptly suggested that we meet at the Tanzanian Forestry Service offices for a briefing meeting.

Day Two

The meeting started just after nine in the morning with Pastor introducing the participants and objectives of the work we were about to embark on. Among the attendees were representatives from the Tanzanian Forestry Services, Tanzanian Forest Research Institute, Tanzanian Bird Atlas, Tanzanian Wildlife Research Institute and members of the Kondoa community. Michael then projected a map of the project area showing transects that would be followed and the different land types delineated by land use and vegetation type. He was followed by Nathan, who explained the process that would be followed during the transect surveys. This was followed an introduction to the small mammal and arthropod survey strategies. Michael and Nathan would walk transects to survey the vegetation, large mammals and birds, while Jean-Claude, Ann, and I would work on the small mammals. Thereafter we broke up into teams to fine tune the plans going forward.

Unlike diurnal trends seen in large mammal and bird species, small mammals are generally nocturnal and are difficult to identify from tracks and other signs. In addition, small mammals are a major challenge for taxonomists because often they may look the same in shape and form, but differ genetically, drawing the term, cryptic species. We therefore have to trap them to identify different species and to estimate abundances; meaning that walking transects is not a suitable method for small mammal surveys. In our case, we would only identify them up to genus level if needs be. Similarly, the arthropod group in addition to catching insects in nets, would use the same strategy adopted for the small mammal method. However, the traps are pitfall traps designed for crawling insects.

And so, at 16:30 together with the arthropod group, we went to the field near Kondoa to set up the traps. To capture small mammals we use a mixture of peanut butter and oats. Sometimes we add vanilla essence to enhance our chances of attracting as many small mammals as possible; mostly the shrews. In two hours we were finished with the traps. We then headed home to prepare for the following day.

If you enjoyed reading about the area's biodiversity, read more about AWF's Kolo Hills REDD+ project.