Creating the Magombera Nature Reserve in Tanzania
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An Udzungwa Red Colombus Monkey. Photo by Tanzania Forest Conservation Group
Tanzania’s Magombera Forest is internationally recognized for its diverse landscapes, ranging from tropical moist forests and open grasslands, to rivers and low mountains that support a wealth of rare and endemic flora and fauna. Situated between the Selous Game Reserve World Heritage Site and nearby Udzungwa Mountains National Park, the Magombera Forest is a refuge for many endemic species and serves as an important wildlife corridor for the region. Its lack of protected area status leaves this area vulnerable to threats such as deforestation for sugar plantations, pole-cutting, wood cutting for charcoal and timber and human-set fires. These actions have drastically scarred the landscape over the past 200 years and the 6,425-acre mosaic of habitats in the area of the proposed Magombera Nature Reserve is all that remains unscathed.
The proposed nature reserve hosts large numbers of iconic East African wildlife, including rare primates such as the Endangered Udzungwa Red Colobus Monkey, which is only found in a limited range around the Udzungwa Mountains. The cooler habitats in these mountainous forests shelter many other species as well, such as the Udzungwa Dwarf Galago—one of the smallest primates in the world. Many endangered and range-restricted plants are also endemic to the area.
To help protect this exceptionally diverse forest, Rainforest Trust is working with local partner Tanzania Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) to purchase 3,030 acres for the creation of the new Magombera Nature Reserve. The government will include an additional 3,395 acres to the nature reserve for a total of 6,425 acres. By ensuring the designation of the Magombera Forest as a protected Nature Reserve in partnership with local communities, this project will lay the foundations for a crucial wildlife corridor between two of Tanzania’s largest protected areas, while also making an important contribution to the long-term protection of one of the country’s most critical conservation priorities.
A Kinyongia Chameleon in Magombera Forest. Photo by Tanzania Forest Conservation Group
The proposed Magombera Nature Reserve has been identified as a top 10 Priority Primate Area in Tanzania, the only one of these sites currently without protected status. The area has also been listed as a “very high priority” site since 1996 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature/Species Survival Commission Primate Specialist Group. This designation is due in large part to the presence of the Endangered Udzungwa Red Colobus Monkey. This medium-sized monkey sports a conspicuous crown of spiky red hair, which stands out dramatically from the black and white fur on the rest of its body. The species is found exclusively around this area of Magombera Forest and nearby Udzungwa Mountains.
Large iconic species such as African Elephants and Hippopotamus are also found in the Magombera Forest, as well as a wide variety of smaller fauna, including endemic species such as the Kilombero Reed Frog and Endangered Magombera Chameleon – only discovered here in 2009. The area is also an important bird dispersal corridor between Udzungwa Mountains National Park and the Selous Game Reserve, both of which are recognized internationally as Important Bird Areas.
In addition to a diverse range of wildlife, the Magombera Forest is thought to contain more than 500 plant species. Nearly half of all trees in these forests are either globally threatened or restricted in range; this is more than double the proportion among trees in the adjacent Udzungwa Mountains National Park.
A tree cut for charcoal or timber. Photo by Tanzania Forest Conservation Group
The high biodiversity forests of this area once spanned thousands of miles. However, this landscape has been destroyed or degraded over the past 200 years. Since the 1950s, progressive agricultural conversion of the Kilombero Valley has removed nearly 1 million acres of forest and woodland. The largest single loss of habitat occurred during the 1960s-‘70s when a sugar company cleared thousands of acres of forest. Now, the 6,425-acre mosaic of habitats in the area of the proposed reserve is all that remains.
In addition to clearing forests for agricultural expansion, young trees are threatened by widespread pole cutting and large trees continue to be removed for charcoal and timber. However, recent increases in village tree planting, alternative fuel strategies and collaborative ranger patrols are helping abate these threats.
Community members participate in an education program. Photo by Tanzania Forest Conservation Group
More than 30 tribal groups are represented among four villages that lie around the Magombera Forest. These villages are home to more than 10,000 people, many of whom rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods.
There is positive support among local villagers for conservation of the Magombera Forest. This is due in part to an ongoing conservation and education program administered by Rainforest Trust’s partner TFCG and the Udzungwa Forest Project (UFP). Because of their efforts, local people understand the importance of forests for species, climate and soil fertility for crops. Villagers also currently benefit from an informal system of entrance fees paid by tourists to visit the forest and from other livelihood initiatives.
A group of villagers recently showed their support by traveling over 30 miles to the district government to protest against forest encroachment by a wealthy landowner. During interviews conducted with 20 randomly selected village elders in 2015, all stated that conservation of Magombera Forest was important to their household, particularly for soil fertility, climate and village income from international visitors.
Field assistants make botanical collections in Magombera Forest. Photo by Andrew R. Marshall
Rainforest Trust is working with its local partner to establish the new Magombera Nature Reserve. Covering 6,425 acres, the reserve will protect critical habitat for the Endangered Udzungwa Red Colobus Monkey and a wealth of other threatened plant and animal species, while serving as an important wildlife corridor between larger protected areas.
Once established, the new reserve will have a management plan that will benefit local people, wildlife and plant biodiversity. Ranger patrols will be implemented to safeguard the reserve, and the long-term management plan will aid in establishing ecotourism and alternative livelihood projects with local villages.