Lions and Livestock in Tanzania

  • Robert A. Montgomery
  • Assistant Professor
  • Department of Fisheries and Wildlife
  • College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Members of the LIVEstock Initiative (from left to right): Susan-Rose Maingi, Jacalyn Beck, Bernard Kissui, Roselyn Kaihula, and Robert Montgomery.

Members of the LIVEstock Initiative (from left to right): Susan-Rose Maingi, Jacalyn Beck, Bernard Kissui, Roselyn Kaihula, and Robert Montgomery.

Robert MontgomeryRobert Montgomery leads an interdisciplinary team of graduate students investigating predator-livestock interactions in northern Tanzania.

"There are some particularly big problems that exist in northern Tanzania, primarily relating to agro-pastoral landscapes," Montgomery explained. "The local pastoral tribes are very dependent upon livestock, not only for their livelihood, but also for their cultural heritage. These are tribes that have been keeping livestock, going back two thousand years. It is in these landscapes where we have large carnivores that are killing people's livestock, which is more than just a financial problem."

Montgomery is an assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the director of the Research on the Ecology of Carnivores and their Prey (RECaP) Laboratory. He works in the area of applied wildlife conservation, which considers every wildlife conservation problem to be a human problem. In Tanzania, the problem is that large carnivores are killing livestock, and people are responding to that loss of property by killing or injuring carnivores.

Team Approach

These interactions are more complex than many recognize. To protect both the livestock and the carnivores, the team has identified five areas that need to be better understood: humans, carnivores, environment, livestock, and wild prey. Finding sustainable solutions will require a group of researchers with unique education and training. Montgomery's team represents various fields of study—including wildlife conservation, social work, spatial ecology, environmental studies, geography, social studies, economics, medicine, and the ecology of climate change.

There are also benefits to working in mixed groups that go beyond the gains made in a particular area of research.

"The great vehicle of good ideas is students, and student training," Montgomery said. "Let's imagine for a moment that within this broader human-carnivore conflict idea, we have actually five dimensions that contribute to this problem.

We have carnivores, what they're doing, how many of them there are, and where they exist. We have people. Then we have livestock. We have the environment, and, finally, we have wild prey. So, among those five things, we have a student attached to each one, where their Ph.D. is dependent upon them developing sustainable solutions for understanding that dimension."

Carnivores and Livestock

Jacalyn Mara Beck

Roselyn Kaihula studies the anti-predator behavior of cattle on the rangelands of the Maasai steppe, Tanzania.

Roselyn Kaihula studies the anti-predator behavior of cattle on the rangelands of the Maasai steppe, Tanzania.

Jackie Beck is a graduate student in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. She is looking specifically at the interaction between lions and cattle.

"This past summer I looked at the indirect effects of the risk of predation on the cattle," Beck said. "I followed around cattle every day and collected information on their movement patterns, grouping behaviors, and vigilance, which is when cattle stop eating and start paying attention to possible dangers. I will use this information to determine if they are behaving differently due to the possibility of being attacked by a lion."

The next stage of her research has Beck looking at the interaction from a different angle, asking how the presence of livestock and humans might be affecting lions' behavior, as well as their health.

Tanzania Partnership Program

The primary funding for this research comes from the Tanzania Partnership Program, which is overseen by the program director, John Bonnell. The work is also supported by a number of nonprofits, NGOs, and private donors.

"The Tanzania Partnership Program is a collaborative alliance of local and international organizations dedicated to improving local livelihoods. Tanzanian partner universities include the University of Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam College of Education, Sokoine University of Agriculture, and the Aga Khan Foundation," Bonnell said. "Essentially, MSU faculty and students partner with colleagues in those universities and institutions to design, implement, and assess research and development with rural communities in Tanzania."

"They have different management situations in the region where we work," she explained. "One area is completely protected for wildlife, so there's no livestock allowed in. The other is mixed, and so they raise cattle on-site, and the villagers are also allowed to bring their cattle in during the dry season. So they have human and cattle presence there year-round, as well as local prides of lions that live there as well. I'll be looking for differences in hunting success and cub survival, body condition and fitness, movement patterns, things like that."

As a side project, Beck is also looking at how mixed cohorts perform. A lot of research suggests that diverse groups perform better, and she is looking to see if working on a diverse team leads to better research and more success publishing for graduate students.

Wild Prey

Steven Gray

Steve Gray is a graduate student in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. His research is looking at wild prey.

"The distribution of carnivores is closely tied to that of their wild prey," Gray explained. "It can be assumed that if wild prey are going into some of these village lands that carnivores will inevitably follow."

Often then, carnivores turn from their natural prey, which have adapted to evade predators, to livestock, which can be an easier target. By studying wild prey, Gray hopes to understand how they might influence where human-carnivore conflict occurs in the broader landscape in Northern Tanzania.

Carnivores and Livestock

Claire Hoffmann

Claire Hoffmann is a graduate student in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. She is studying carnivore attacks inside livestock corrals (or bomas).

"I will be comparing encounter rates (carnivores present at the bomas, encountering potential livestock prey) to attack rates (carnivores attempting to prey on livestock) of different carnivore species at the boma," she said.

She will then collect data on the specific conditions—weather patterns, vegetation, and the quality of the boma—to see if there are conditions that correlate to increased attacks or encounters.

"Basically, I'm interested in whether it's possible to predict patterns of livestock depredation at the household scale," she said. "That is where the majority of human-carnivore conflict occurs in the region, so it is important to try to find patterns in the rates of livestock depredation at that scale, as that would allow us to develop effective conflict intervention plans that are both appropriately placed and appropriately timed."

People

Roselyn Wilbard Kaihula

Rose Kaihula is a graduate student in the School of Social Work. She is also from Tanzania. Her research has her looking at the community experience of the carnivore-livestock issue.

"I want to study how people see these conflicts and what they say about these conflicts," she said. "Most people doing research in this area, they have maybe a geography background, wildlife background, or are in another field, but for me as a social worker, I've been trained to work with people and to hear people's voices and to engage people in different ways. I really want to hear what people say about these conflicts, about their interaction with wildlife, and what they think could have been done better to make sure that they fully engage in this initiative for a systemic solution."

She is returning to Tanzania to engage the community with a photo-voice project, asking participants to take photographs that represent their experience of carnivorelivestock interactions. Discussions then follow, using the images as a starting point.

Partners in Tanzania

Jacalyn Beck studies the anti-predator behavior of cattle on the rangelands of the Maasai steppe, Tanzania.

Jacalyn Beck studies the anti-predator behavior of cattle on the rangelands of the Maasai steppe, Tanzania.

One of the partners Montgomery and his students work with in Tanzania is Bernard Kissui, director of the Center for Wildlife Management Studies at the School for Field Studies and the researcher leading the Lion Conservation Science Project for the African Wildlife Foundation.

"Our work involves conducting research on carnivore populations in the Maasai Steppe of Tanzania, and working with local communities to implement human-carnivore conflict mitigation to promote conservation and co-existence between carnivores and humans," Kissui said. "We focus on studying the status and trend of carnivore populations, demographic as well as ecological studies of large carnivores. In addition, the applied work we do is focused in identifying the mechanisms associated with the spatial pattern in depredation of livestock by carnivores at various scales in order to facilitate development of human-carnivore conflict mitigation."

The issue of carnivore-livestock interactions, Kissui explained, is a key driver of the existing human-carnivore conflicts in his study area. These interactions lead to substantial economic losses for local communities, and retaliatory killings of carnivores contribute to the decline in carnivore populations.

Kissui is working with Montgomery and his students to examine these interactions. In particular, they are looking to see how factors on the ground influence carnivore attacks on livestock.

"The work might help communities, especially by contributing to and facilitating intervention planning towards human-carnivore conflict mitigation," Kissui explained. "Reduction in conflicts would reduce economic losses to communities and could improve their livelihood and well-being. By promoting human-carnivore coexistence the work would help conservation of carnivore populations and restore ecosystem health."

  • Written by Matt Forster, University Outreach and Engagement
  • Photos courtesy of the LIVEstock Initiative