Updating the Tanzania Mammal Atlas Database

Purpose

The Tanzania Mammal Atlas Database provides protected area managers with the most up-to-date information on mammal distribution, trends, and abundance around Tanzania to help inform management strategies.

About

Tanzania has the most abundant and diverse large mammal assemblage of any country in Africa, including the largest populations of several iconic species, such as lions, leopards, wildebeest, zebras, giraffes, and African buffalos. Wildlife tourism is a hugely important and growing industry in Tanzania, and more national parks are being created to prioritize conservation and support wildlife tourism.

However, despite these riches, there are still knowledge gaps on the distribution and status of large mammals in the country. It is critical for protected area managers to have the most up-to-date information on mammal distribution, trends, and abundance around the country to help inform management strategies.

This project builds upon the work of the Tanzania Mammal Atlas Project (TMAP), which ran from 2005-2010 in collaboration with the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, the Zoological Society of London, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. The principle goal of the original project was to produce a national database compiling the distribution and status of all medium- to large-sized mammals in Tanzania (excluding rodents and bats). These data are stored on a dedicated database server and helped create the first distribution maps of all large mammal species and produce national conservation action plans.

The project also resulted in publishing the first-ever Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Tanzania, making the information usable and accessible to the public. By the end of 2010, the database had 46,600 entries of mammal records from around the country. While data are available from many of the larger protected areas in Tanzania (e.g. national parks), there are still large knowledge gaps of mammalian distribution in smaller game and forest reserves, wildlife management areas (WMAs), and other remote parts of the country. Lincoln Park Zoo will be working with the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute and the Zoological Society of London to update the database and to research areas where there is insufficient information.

The national database was originally populated with data gathered through interviews, submitted sightings, literature review, and motion-activated field camera surveys. These surveys proved particularly useful in areas where there was little or no mammal data and in capturing species that are nocturnal, shy, or cryptic and therefore difficult to see. They are also useful in detecting species that are becoming increasingly active at night in areas of high human interference (e.g. leopards). The survey team would set up 40-50 cameras throughout the survey area and leave them for four to six weeks.

These surveys produced several key findings: the first was a comprehensive species list for the survey area. These were the first comprehensive mammal lists ever produced for each national park, which also provided information on the status of the animal and the likelihood of a visitor seeing each species. Secondly, they provided baseline information on relative abundance and occupancy within the survey zone. Subsequent surveys can then determine how mammal density and distribution has changed over time and help inform conservation decisions.

In this new phase of the project, zoo researchers aim to collate information collected in the past decade to update the database, as well as improve the range of data incorporated in the database. Many of the same methods will be used for data collection, including several targeted motion-activated field camera surveys in areas deemed important to conservation. Species lists will also be developed for some of the more frequently visited game, forest, and nature reserves, as well as wildlife management areas.

The updated national database will be used to develop the most accurate and up-to-date range maps available for each large mammal species in Tanzania, showing both the actual known range and the possible range. The updated database, range maps, species lists, and populations trends will be available to help guide government policy on the conservation of Tanzania’s mammalian diversity.

Staff

Charles Foley, Ph.D.
Senior Conservation Scientist
Tanzania Conservation Research Program 
Lara Foley, M.S.
Research Coordinator
Tanzania Conservation Research Program