The Ecosystem Opportunity
Tanzania is pre-eminent among East African nations in the amount of land given special conservation status, including many areas created as new national parks or extensions thereof since independence in 1963. Examples are Katavi, Udzungwa, and Mahale. Indeed about 4.5% of the country is National Park, another 25% is game and forest reserve, and another 10% of assorted conservation status.
The current challenge is how to capitalise on the vastly greater revenue potential of non-consumptive tourism by shifting emphasis towards photographic tourism in game reserves and community lands. A specific challenge is how to bring rural communities more successfully into the conservation effort.
Making up part of the Albertine Rift, set alongside the east side of Lake Tanganyika and home to the Tongwe people, lies Tongwe-land; approximately 5,000 square km in size, the core zone is Ntakata, of which the Tongwe Trust is conserving roughly 450 square km. It contains a habitat of rich biodiversity including chimpanzees, elephants, leopard, lion, buffalo, zebra, giraffe, endemic birdlife, and butterflies.
The lake itself lies at 730m elevation, but the Mahale Mountains National Park’s highest point is 2,462m, which accounts for the presence of four ecological zones, beginning, in the foothills, with mixed open canopied woodland and followed by a small band of rainforest, Afro-montane forest and, towards the top, moorland. There are two seasons: rainy and dry, the rainy season lasting from October to April, the dry season from May to September. Rainfall levels fluctuate according to altitude and position. The west is much wetter than the east, with the lake and shore receiving 1,500mm per year, the higher parts between 2000mm and 2,500mm per year. On average, the area receives 1,800mm per year. Temperatures range from 18°C to 32°C. It is generally hot and humid, even at lake level, especially during the rainy season.
The Travel Opportunity
Ntakata village land forest reserve is a wilderness of dense forest containing a self-sustaining population of some of Tanzania’s last chimps. An itinerary concerning Tongwe, Mahale, and Lake Tanganyika would incorporate a few nights fly camping in hammocks under the Ntakata canopy beside the nearby ranger’s post. This is an off-grid, frontier safari experience at it’s best.
Greystoke Mahale Camp sits in the shadow of the Mahale Mountains National Park, on the edge of thick forest that stretches up to distant peaks. Run by Nomad, this luxury lodge located on the beaches of Lake Tanganyika, would be an ideal stop-off after a stint under the Ntakata canopy. With excellent feedback from previous guests, Greystoke has room for just 12 and is a small and attentive camp. Built from reclaimed dhow wood, the bandas that are scattered along the soft-sand beach with views of the lake and its hinterland, fit perfectly into these paradisiacal surroundings. This is an ideal place to lie back, relax and read.
Important to note that the camp inside the Mahale Mountains National Park is owned and operated by Nomad Tanzania Ltd. and is separate from the Tongwe Trust. Even so the two have worked closely together in the past with Roland as the key player between the two as director and shareholder of nomad and founder/patron of Tongwe Trust. Though Greystoke will be available as a luxury outfit, it is definitely worth noting the availability of alternative camps nearby with adventure as the main focus for example staying in a ranger camp, hiking the hills, and visiting local villages.
The Charitable Opportunity
Tongwe Trust is a community-based organisation, located in West Tanzania, working along the spectacularly remote shores of Lake Tanganyika and its Mountainous hinterland. Established in 1989, the Trust has focussed on Forestry Conservation through a strong web of community support. Most importantly, the Tongwe Trust is committed to keeping the Ntakata Forest intact as a shared community asset for future generations of Tongwe. Tongwe Trust has a five year business plan which involves four steps:
1. Strengthening staff team and increasing the sustainability in all aspects of the project. This will involve rigorous training for new rangers provided by seasoned staff, as well as new equipment such as bikes, uniform and camping kit.
2. Strengthening relationship between community and the land and increasing knowledge of environmental issues among the village so that increasing pride and sense of ownership of the forest occurs.
3. Income generating activities developed: beekeeping project and tourism enterprises such as off-piste camping trips in the forest and building a cultural centre.
4. Social projects developed and implemented: community groups, microfinance, vocational training centre and a health clinic.
The Campfire Introduction
Around the campfire you will meet Roland Purcell, Patron of Tonwe Trust who will talk about the project and how a potential investor could begin their conservation legacy in Tongwe Land; Said Katensi, the trusts Co-ordinator; Hamisi Sadi, the Tongwe Trust Chairman; Moshi Katumba the trust Secretary.
Hamisi Sadi has also just been appointed Chief of the Banyamkungwe Clan of the Tongwe, which includes the Mahale Mountains National Park and Ntakata Village Land Forest Reserve. This is partly in recognition of his work in the community and conservation.