Just ten years ago, two young explorers set up camp by a small acacia at the top of a hill given to them by the rural Tanzanian community of Loibor Siret. That camp was to eventually become a permanent base for the African People & Wildlife Fund’s conservation programs focusing on the lions of the Maasai Steppe – a program that now protects thousands of head of livestock and 100 lions every year with over 500 Living Walls. With one side of the hill looking to the community rangelands and the other side looking to the eastern edge of Tarangire National Park, a flagship haven for African biodiversity, the location was a perfect metaphor for the work they set out to do.
Those two explorers were Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld and Charles Trout, now directors of the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW). What started as a tent on top of a land rover has grown into an operation that spans 19 communities across 30 000 km2 of Northern Tanzanian rangelands. The small two-man tent has been replaced by the Noloholo Environmental Center, a one-of-a-kind emblem combining traditional architecture and sustainable design that stands on top of the hill where it all started and marks the organization’s headquarters in Tanzania. The newly released 2014 Annual Report highlights the milestones of the last ten years, and as we celebrate a decade of success on the Steppe we invite you to share in celebrating Big Cats and Communities in Northern Tanzania.
With community-based organizations, relationships mean everything. The people we support are also our neighbors; we share our lives with them. Our programs involve community members at an early age, with over 5000 primary students receiving environmental education in the form of after-school wildlife clubs and summer camps. After primary school, our Noloholo Environmental Scholarships provide a full-ride to secondary school and have been awarded to 22 outstanding students so far. Our adult education program has reached 825 adults since 2012 through our natural resource management seminars, and 10 community trainers now teach and inspire sustainable resource management in the communities in which they live. 27 women’s environmental business initiatives and 4 small grants are being enacted in those same communities, improving local economies as well as the livelihoods of over 250 women entrepreneurs. And this is all made possible by our own community of supporters in the U.S. and around the world, so thank you for joining us on this journey.
The distressing news of the decline of the great cats that first inspired Dr. Laly and Charles’ work continues to permeate the media, but in Northern Tanzania the community-driven Living Walls project is changing the conservation landscape. The APW team now includes 17 local big cat conflict officers who provide fast responses to 12 communities – they have been monitoring the effectiveness of their predator-proof fences since the program began. We published the results of that study this year in the scientific journal Biodiversity and Conservation and provided compelling evidence that these walls work for both people and lions. Each year Living Walls protect 100 000 cattle so that each night 10 000 local people can sleep better; every year 100 more lions avoid conflict with humans and continue to roam free. As the program continues to expand, in strong partnership with the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative, which continues to be our largest annual donor, we hope to work with other organizations to help solidify Tanzania as a global stronghold for lions.
Though we continue to grow, we are committed to remaining grounded in our simple beginnings, and all of the people who helped us get here. And the acacia that marked the first campsite so many years ago? It’s flourishing.