Why this East African Tropical Forest is being protected at all costs.

East African Community Member Tanzania will officially establish the Magombera Nature Reserve to protect a 6,463-acre stretch of land at the foot of the Udzungwa Mountains.

The nature reserve, which is said to be housing “globally unique” species, has been a target for conservationists who designated it one of 10 key priorities for protection because it houses so many species. These include a number of monkeys, such as the endangered Udzungwa Red Colobus Monkey, as well as one of the smallest primates in the world, known as the Udzungwa Dwarf Galago.

Magombera chameleon (Kinyongia magomberae) first described in 2009. Photograph taken in June 2007 by Andrew R Marshall in the Mwanihana forest (Udzungwa Mountains National Park, Tanzania).

The region is also home to the endangered Magombera Chameleon, the African elephant, hippopotamuses, and a number of unique plants and important tree species.

The move to designate the Magombera Nature Reserve has earned significant global praise. ”Magombera is a global priority for so many reasons, ranging from its value to endangered primates, to its role as a wildlife corridor, to its phenomenally diverse plant community,” Rainforest Trust CEO Dr. Paul Salaman said in a press release. “Knowing of its extraordinary importance, it is a great privilege for us to band together with such a diverse coalition to work for Magombera’s protection and management.”

The creation of the nature reserve comes after decades of campaigning to protect the Magombera Forest. Research had predicted that without action many of Tanzania’s forests, including the Magombera, would fall to logging, land clearing practices, and poaching. Losing the forests would mean losing many unique and endangered species. This was something that international groups said could not happen, and so they banded together to create a solution.

The Rainforest Trust, together with the World Land Trust and the Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation, join a number of international stakeholders in funneling money, part of which was raised by supporters, toward this conservation effort.

Among those involved in the Flamingo Land Udzungwa Forest Project (UFP) which underpinned the creation of the nature reserve, was University of York’s Doctor Andrew P. Marshall who said in a press release that this is a win for locals as much as it is global conservation efforts.

“This wonderful news has followed more than 40 years of research and consultation,” Dr. Marshall said, “When I first began work in the forest 15 years ago it was clearly a biologically important place, but it rang with the sound of axes and machetes. Over the past few years, the Udzungwa Forest Project has worked with local villages to find alternative sources for wood and has even managed to reduce the frequency of wildfires in Magombera, leading to thousands of small trees now growing back into the once empty forest understorey.”

Udzungwa Dwarf Galago – Bernard-DUPONT

Of course, the designation of the nature reserve doesn’t itself do the work of protecting the area. While important in terms of setting the intention and formalizing the site’s protected status at the governmental level, there is now much work to do in order actually make that designation meaningful.

The local community, with the help of international partners, will now decide exactly what the rules are for this protected area. These usually involve easy-to-agree-upon things—like no poaching and no land clearing without express permission. They may also involve putting conservation strategies in place to offset any damage that might be done.

Other areas may be more contentious. For example, so-called traditional medicines are used in the Magombera area, so giving locals access in order to gather those materials may be one place where the government decides rules may have to be flexible in order to preserve the integrity of the agreement.

However, this project gives a great deal of power to residents to self-determine how they will protect this important site because it is they who live and work there and understand it best. We have seen how successful this kind of strategy can be in other areas where national parks and nature reserves have been established.

Using the site for carefully controlled wildlife tourism could further underpin this.,. There are positives and negatives to wildlife tourism. If not managed well, it can do a great deal of harm to some species. When communities can make financial gains on the back of conservation efforts, however, it incentivizes those efforts, making them doubly meaningful to the local community and its government.

We might expect that, over the next few years, a plan will emerge on how to best capitalize on this nature reserve without harming the mission of protecting and cultivating its precious animal and plant inhabitants.

This is an exciting and ambitious project that is all the more laudable because it has come about via international groups cooperating to facilitate local community-led change. That is powerful because it respects the autonomy of the regions in which this kind of support operates while helping to ensure that endangered species get the best chance at survival and that wonderful natural habitat can continue far into the future.

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