Claire Bracebridge has been working in Tanzania for yonks, and she very kindly found some time to tell us a bit more about what she does. She has left out a few particularly good stories like when she disappeared in Ruaha for two days but read on for really interesting insight into conservation in southern Tanzania.
Can you tell us briefly about what WCS does?
WCS is a large conservation NGO, with its HQ at Bronx Zoo in NY, and works in over 60 countries globally. WCS uses science to underpin conservation management support to important protected areas, as well as trying to harmonise the environment and sustainable development needs via community-based projects and education.
Vultures have become somewhat of a specialty of yours, how are you working with them right now?
We are currently tracking some vultures' daily movement patterns, after putting satellite units on them. This is helping us understand about their foraging ecology and ranging, as well as providing us with information at a landscape-level about ecosystem health, as white-backed vultures can act as early warning systems for disease outbreaks, poisoning events and poaching. In addition, one white-backed vulture left southern Tanzania and travelled through an astonishing eight countries - probably the longest dispersal known for a terrestrial vertebrate.
What are the challenges for vultures in Tanzania right now?
Human-wildlife conflict related poisoning - for instance when a cow is killed by a lion, there is often retaliatory poisoning, which whilst meant for the lion, also often kills much large numbers of vultures, who come to scavenge on the carcass. Deliberate poisoning of vultures for their parts in the Muthi / witchcraft trade is also a threat.
Favourite vulture species and why?
It has to be white-backed vultures, based on my experience of observing them and handling them during the trapping work. Watch out for that razor-sharp bill!!!
A lot of people have a very romantic notion about a job like yours, what’s it really like working in conservation?
There is a lot of "behind the scenes" work that goes on to run a conservation project, and much of it is pretty routine stuff. and involves good teams. Additionally to have a long lasting impact, conservation involves building and maintaining partnerships with lots of key stakeholders, which is not always easy and takes time, but is critical.
Spending nights stuck in the field in the wet season fighting off mosquitos and listening to colleagues snoring!!
Where do you think tourism fits into the conservation puzzle?
The demand from tourism and income generated from it can provide a critical incentive for the protection of some important natural areas, such as the fabulous Ruaha National Park in southern Tanzania. Keep bringing them here Paul. This can often help directly fund protection and conservation of the area.
Kilimanjaro or Safari lager?
How can people get involved with what you’re doing?
They can follow the WCS Tanzania Program facebook page, and help spread the conservation message.
The Southern Tanzania vulture project is a collaboration between WCS and North Carolina Zoo.