European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 51, Issue 4, pp 213–222

The nature of hunting around the Western Corridor of Serengeti National Park, Tanzania


    • Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, (NINA)
  • Julius W. Nyahongo
    • Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI)
  • K. Margrethe Tingstad
    • Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, (NINA)
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10344-005-0109-9

Cite this article as:
Kaltenborn, B.P., Nyahongo, J.W. & Tingstad, K.M. Eur J Wildl Res (2005) 51: 213. doi:10.1007/s10344-005-0109-9


In many parts of Africa, illegal hunting is considered the most pressing issue in protected areas. Poaching has remained a persistent problem through the 50 year long history of Serengeti National Park. Around 2 million people live along the borders of the park. Poverty is widespread, and the population is increasing rapidly. In this paper we examine the local perceptions of importance and reasons for hunting, gender differences and opinions about mitigating measures among villagers around Serengeti’s Western Corridor. The data were collected through interviewing 590 persons in eight villages close to the borders of the park. Hunting is driven by the need to not only increase food supply and cash income, but also fulfil cultural and social needs. We also identified a proactive attitude in the rural communities towards reducing illegal hunting and more constructive relationships with the management authorities of the national park. The role of hunting in community life extends beyond the immediate poverty issue, and should be seen as an element in the larger development agenda of rural Tanzania and the quest for models for sustainable wildlife management.


Illegal huntingSerengeti National ParkResource conflictsCommunity development


In Eastern and Southern Africa, we find some of the largest and best preserved wildlife parks in the world. Some of them, like the highland savannah of Serengeti National Park enjoy international acclaim as World Heritage Sites and major tourist destinations. In countries like Tanzania and Kenya, wildlife tourism is vital to the national economy, and threats to wildlife are taken very seriously. In many parts of Africa, illegal hunting is identified as a serious conservation issue (Kiss 1990; Hackel 1999; Hofer et al. 2000; Hulme and Murphree 2001; Brashares et al. 2004).

Like many developing countries, Tanzania currently finds itself at an interface between preserving rich biodiversity and combating increasing poverty. Almost 30% of the land area is designated as some kind of wildlife protection area (MNRT 1998). Still it ranks second in sub-Saharan Africa for housing the largest number of threatened or endangered species. In the period between 1996 and 2002, Tanzania moved from the 20th to the 14th position on the global ranking of containing the highest number of endangered species (IUCN 2003). Biodiversity is under pressure, and this is primarily attributable to socio-economic forces like population growth, poverty and market forces.

During the last couple of decades, opposition to conservation policies and wildlife management strategies have increased and materialised through a large number of NGOs and political parties concerned with the unequal distribution of benefits from wildlife and conservation (Hough 1988; Neumann 1997, 1995; Agrawal and Gibson 1999). In addition to institutional responses, illegal hunting persists in many parts of Africa as a functional response to food shortage and poverty. At the same time there is no doubt that illegal hunting has been a major threat to many wildlife populations in this continent (Dublin et al. 1990; Arcese et al. 1995; Campbell and Hofer 1995; Gibson and Marks 1995; Skonhoft 1998; Hackel 1999; Newmark and Hough 2000; Damania et al. 2005).

The Tanzanian Government has formally acknowledged the value of wildlife since independence when former president Nyerere spoke of the need to preserve wildlife in the Arusha Declaration in 1961. In more recent years, institutional instruments like the National Environmental Policy of 1997 and the Wildlife Policy of 1998 (MNRT 1998), articulate the need for sound wildlife management. The Wildlife Policy addresses the human–wildlife conflict by calling for the establishment of wildlife management areas which can provide communities with hunting rights, thereby enabling them to benefit economically from the land. The assumption of the government is that wildlife conservation requires, at least to some extent, community involvement, the theory being that if wildlife gains sufficient local economic value it can compete with agriculture and pastoralism. However, the implementation of wildlife management areas has so far been slow and cumbersome. The policy does not effectively address the issue of competition for land use, it is vague about the actual process, administrative procedures are time consuming involving eight steps from village resolution to government approval, and so is cumbersome and expensive. The government’s view is that communities must be taught how to manage wildlife, and that they themselves are not capable of implementing the concept. Hunting still remains a controversial issue facing significant management challenges.

In this paper we examine the role of hunting in and around one of the most famous wildlife parks in the world, the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania (Fig. 1). We address the following questions: what are the perceptions in the communities of the existence and role of illegal hunting, what are the preferred reasons for hunting, are there gender differences in expressed reasons for hunting, and which suggestions do the villagers themselves have for reducing the amount of illegal hunting?
Fig. 1

The Serengeti National Park with adjacent protected areas and villages where interviews were conducted. 1 Nyichoka, 2 Mariwanda, 3 Manyamanyama, 4 Ihara, 5 Nattambisso, 6 Lamadi, 7 Kijereshi, 8 Chabutwa

Illegal hunting is both an ecological and a social issue where the handling of the broader interactions of communities and their surroundings is decisive for the outcome of conflict reduction (Kiss 1990; Gibson and Marks 1995; Campbell et al. 2001; Gillingham and Lee 2003; Naughton-Treves et al. 2003; Treves and Karanth 2003; Hampshire et al. 2004). Many programmes working with community based conservation and integrated conservation and development have recognised this (Alpert 1996; Songorwa 1999; Songorwa et al. 2000), but problems persist. For instance, the fundamental issue of what constitutes a community has largely been ignored. And even if this is resolved, is ‘community’ the appropriate instrument and level of management intervention, and are the communities actually interested in and capable of carrying out management? (Songorwa 1999; Songorwa et al. 2000; Adams and Hulme 2001; Hulme and Murphree 2001). Examples of success with community based models exist, for instance in Zimbabwe (Child 1996 a, b). However, the general experience and consensus is that protected areas management largely means conflict management (Hough 1988; IIED 1994; Gibson and Marks 1995; Neumann 1997; Kidegesho 2001), and even integrated conservation and development approaches achieve their goals only if they are assisted by strong law enforcement like anti-poaching patrols and severe repercussions when animals are taken illegally (IIED 1994; Hackel 1999). Also, they are costly and probably seldom economically sustainable (Holmern et al. 2000).

While there was a certain, global optimism around community based approaches 10 and 20 years ago, there is little evidence of success today. Indeed, there is growing empirical evidence that most community based approaches to natural resources management encounter a range of problems and conflicts and do not succeed in the goals of protecting biodiversity, reducing conflicts and furthering local economic development. There are many and complex reasons for failure, but experiences across different cultures and habitats suggest some common problems. The lack of a common framework for ecosystem and community viability complicates the design, monitoring and evaluation of integrated conservation and development projects. Communities usually see comanagement as a way to gain control over resources for utilitarian purposes, and are seldom concerned about long term ecological concerns. Environmentalists tend to be sceptical since comanagement on public lands means abduction of government authority, that the actions are not accountable to scientific review, tend to be undemocratic, often circumvent environmental legislation, and frequently lead to lowest denominator solutions where neither conservation nor development interests are secured (Terborgh et al. 2002; Conley and Moote 2003; du Toiet et al. 2003; Virtanen 2003; Bryan 2004; Lybbert and Barrett 2004; Walker and Hurley 2004).

In the discourse of community based conservation and development, it is sometimes assumed that hunters can be transformed into conservationists given the right incentives. While, perhaps, desirable from a conservationist perspective, community based programmes may underestimate the economic, social and political benefits of hunting (Gibson 1999). One effect can be that community based wildlife management may succeed in protecting a few larger mammals simply because of the intensified level of enforcement, and not because they distribute socio-economic benefits better. Subsequently local hunters may well continue to hunt animals at the same rate as they did before the implementation of community based programs, but they may shift their tactics and selection of species (Gibson and Marks 1995).

In this study we assume that people attach a range of attitudes and values to wildlife, and that these mental constructs influence identities, environmental awareness and actual behaviour such as hunting (Fulton et al. 1996; Kaltenborn et al. 1999). In studies of human–wildlife interactions we often find gender differences, especially when it comes to species that may be harmful to livestock and humans such as carnivores (Kirkpatrick 1984; Saberwal 1994; Hill 1998; Balciauskiene and Balsciauskas 2001; Røskaft et al. 2003). Thus, the issue of gender is also of interest when we consider poaching.

Effective management strategies require knowledge about acceptable and appropriate mechanisms for co-sharing management responsibility, levels of acceptance for impacts caused by wildlife to agriculture, the potential of various mitigating management actions, social, cultural and economic needs associated with wildlife, and economic opportunities gained or lost through more efficient ways of managing hunting (Carskadden and Lober 1998; Carpenter et al. 2000; Schusler et al. 2000; Zinn et al. 2000; Mordecai et al. 2003). Hence, the management relevance of improved understanding of poaching is also high.

Hunting in Serengeti

In western Serengeti poaching has increasingly become a coping strategy for a major part of the population as legal access to resources has been restricted (Campbell et al. 2001). Loibooki et al. (2002) documented that people of the Western Serengeti participate in illegal hunting primarily in order to offset food shortage and generate cash income. Participation in poaching decreased with increasing numbers of livestock owned, and people with access to alternative means of income were also less likely to engage in illegal hunting. Furthermore, involvement in poaching was not reduced by participation in community-based conservation programmes.

In Serengeti, anti-poaching patrols have been an important task for park staff since its inception as a national park (Arcese et al. 1995; Loibooki et al. 2002). Arcese et al. (1995) report a possible sixfold increase in arrests from 1957 to 1991: however, they also point out that the ranger force has doubled since 1963, and in order to understand the changes one must know how many people actually enter the park to hunt. Given the contentious nature of the issue, it may be impossible to arrive at an accurate estimate of this figure, at least if it is based on observation and self-reports.

The illegal hunting activity has been spatially modelled. Campbell and Hofer (1995) estimated that in and around Serengeti 210,000 herbivores are hunted illegally each year. Of this, wildebeest comprises 57% (118,922 animals). Mduma et al. (1998) estimated a much lower number of 40,000 animals wildebeest poached each year, and predicted that a harvest of 80,000 animals per year is unsustainable and could cause a total collapse of the wildebeest population by 2018. Given the fact that the current wildebeest population is reasonably stable at approximately 1.3 million animals could indicate that the Campbell and Hofer (1995) estimates may be too high.

Dublin et al. (1990) stated that illegal hunting is a considerable threat to the Serengeti ecosystem, and that this activity has reduced, for instance, the buffalo population by 50–90% in parts of their range. It is further estimated that around 70% of the annual harvest of wildlife from the national park is migratory herbivore species like wildebeest, zebra, and antelopes, but considerable numbers of resident herbivores are also hunted (Campbell and Hofer 1995; Hofer et al. 1996).

Around the mid-1990s hunting was driven by a demand for various wildlife products by a population in the excess of 1 million people living adjacent to the park. Since this population is growing at a rate of around 3% annually, we can only assume that the pressure on the wildlife populations is increasing.

Hunting is conducted in a number of ways. Few people own firearms so most illegal hunting is accomplished by setting snares and traps. Snares trap animals unselectively and can injure or kill a wide range of animals from large carnivores to small and large herbivores. They are often inefficient in killing and animals may suffer for a long time before they are dealt with by hunters. Sometimes hunting involves well-organised parties on several week long expeditions into the bush where the hunters set up a secluded camp, butcher, sundry and smoke the meat before they depart. Much of the meat is then preserved in a form (swhahili: ‘kimoro’) that permits storage and selling or trading in markets locally or far way. Alternatively, smaller groups and individuals take what they can find in their immediate surroundings, and mostly for subsistence use. During the large wildebeest migrations, huge herds of animals roam through villages and agricultural lands and great numbers of animals are slaughtered literally at the doorstep. A few authors have attempted to quantify the economy linked to wildlife harvesting (Campbell et al. 2001; Borge 2003), but there is as yet no comprehensive picture or consensus either on the magnitude of the harvest or on the contribution to rural household economies.

Methods and data collection

Study area

The study was carried out in the Serengeti, Bunda, and Magu districts around the Western Corridor of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, as part of a larger study on human–wildlife interactions (Kaltenborn et al. 2003). The Serengeti National Park is the central part of the greater Serengeti Ecosystem in the northern Tanzanian highlands. Serengeti was declared a national park in 1951, and a World Heritage Site in 1981, when the bordering Ngorongoro Conservation Area became a Biosphere Reserve. The Serengeti National Park covers 14,763 km2. This is approximately one-half of the entire ecosystem which includes the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Maswa Game Reserve, Ikorongo Game Reserve, Grumeti Game Reserve, Loliondo Game Controlled Area, and Masai Mara Game Reserve (the latter in Kenya, Fig. 1).

The Serengeti ecosystem is a highland savannah region with thorn free woodlands and plains from approximately 900–1500 m above sea level. Annual precipitation ranges from about 800 mm in the east to 1000 mm in the northwest. Here we find some of the largest herbivore and carnivore populations in the World and the majority of the species of the East African savannah. Serengeti is famous for large-scale herbivore migrations (wildebeest, Thomson’s gazelle, zebra, and eland) as well as for the large populations of resident herbivores (African buffalo, giraffe, Grant’s gazelle, impala, kongoni, topi, warthog, and waterbuck). Sizeable populations of large carnivores like lion, leopard, cheetah, and hyenas also roam these areas (Sinclair and Arcese 1995).

The people of this region are either agro-pastoralists or pastoralists. The areas north and west of Serengeti national park are populated by a diversity of tribes and ethnic groups. The main tribes are Ikizu, Sukuma, Tatuturu, Ikoma, Kuryia, Natta, and Issenye. In earlier years, the cultural and ethnic differences were much more distinct than they are today. Most of the communities along Serengeti’s Western Corridor are currently multiethnic, owing largely to be the rapid population growth and significant transmigration. Traditional ethnic structures are certainly evident, but in all of the communities covered in this study, we find a conglomerate of ethnic backgrounds. The communities are organised just as much around available space and agricultural land and the search for economic opportunities, as traditional culture.

These people practice a combination of subsistence and cash crop farming and livestock production. Farming is mostly based on crops like cassava, sorghum, millet, maize, and cotton as a cash crop. Livestock includes cattle, goats, sheep, and poultry. Hunting varies in importance among these tribes. The wildebeest migrations are a central part of the annual life cycle for tribes like Ikoma and Kurya where hunting has traditionally been a part of culture and life patterns. The population to the east of the park is dominated by pastoralists (Masaii, who do not hunt), and there is very little farming here.

Although we lack exact data, it seems that the population living around the border regions might now be on the order of 2 million people (rough extrapolations from the 1988 census data based on an estimate of mean annual population growth of 3%) with the highest densities in the northern and western areas. Campbell and Hofer (1995) estimated the number of poachers within 45 km of the Serengeti National Park and adjacent protected areas to be 23,294 and 31,655, respectively. A more recent estimate (Campbell et al. 2001) puts the number of poachers at approximately 60,000, i.e. an increase of 90% in from 1988 to 1998. This is a poor, rural population faced with increasing competition over resources. Overall, Tanzania is a poor country with a per capita income of US $280 (2002 statistics, World Bank 2003). The annual income of people in the western Serengeti is probably on the average even lower. Borge (2003) reports an annual income of 150,000–200,000 Tanzanian Shillings (USD 150–200) in a sample of 297 households in Serengeti and Bunda districts. By most conventional standards, the villagers residing around the Serengeti National Park are impoverished, and a great number of them qualify as poor by the international UN standard.

Sample and data collection

In this study we used a cross-sectional case-study design (Graziano and Raulin 1989). The sample of informants was determined by first selecting the rural districts located adjacent to the national park which also have large human populations and a high population growth. We included eight villages in the districts of Magu, Bunda, and Serengeti (Fig. 1). Prior to selecting the final villages, we conducted several site visits and held informal meetings with villagers in order to gain a feeling for the wildlife conflicts in the area. Within each village, the sub-sample was obtained through a random-systematic selection of informants (Schaeffer et al. 1990) from village registers. Each sub-sample was evenly stratified across gender and age groups to obtain approximately 80 persons in each village. The final sample contained 590 persons and is believed to contain sufficient diversity in terms of geographical/environmental variation, tribes and ethnic groups, and socio-demographic structure.

Data were collected by means of personal interviews in Kiswahili where the interviewer (native Tanzanians) used a structured questionnaire. Most of the questions were close-ended questions where the informant was presented with response alternatives for each question. In addition, a few open-ended questions were also asked where the purpose was to elicit the views of villagers in a form that was not a priori defined.

The questionnaire was pre-tested on a pilot sample of 50 cases in three different villages before final adjustments were made. In all the survey locations, the interview team also had more informal conversations with village leaders and community members about the contents of the questionnaire to gain additional qualitative information that could support the questionnaire data.

In each village the interviewers approached the village chairman to give an orientation about the study, request permission to conduct the work, and have the village chairman or village secretary help identify the appropriate households according to our sample design. In most cases the interviews were conducted in the informant’s home, and took on average 50 min to complete. In terms of motives, the interviewer asked directly about the importance of a range of reasons for hunting. The interviewer also asked whether hunting is an important activity for people in the village, whether any person in the household is a hunter, and if so, where does that person(s) hunt, and whether the informant knows about any hunters in the village. Furthermore, the informants were asked whether they think that the current level of hunting has any effect of herbivores and carnivores, what time of year is hunting (to their knowledge) most common, and whether they have used any wildlife products during the last year. All of this was asked directly as structured questions. The interviewer then went on to ask (open-ended question) the informant what would be the best ways to reduce the amount of illegal hunting.

The data were analysed in different ways. All questionnaire data that could be quantified were entered into a database and analysed using SPSS. The outputs of the questions on the role of hunting, use of wildlife products, and reasons for and perception of hunting are presented as frequencies. Gender differences are tested with one-way analysis of variance. The answers from the open ended questions were analysed using qualitative techniques. Here we used an open coding procedure putting labels on each statement and gradually forming discrete categories and refining the labels of the categories through a step-wise process (Straus and Corbin 1990; Quinn Patton 1990).


Magnitude and role of hunting

Socio-demographically, the villagers in this study comprise a diverse sample with 58.6% men and 41.4% women. Approximately one-half of the sample are in the 25–45 age group and only 17.1% are older than 55 years of age. Household sizes vary, with the majority being small to medium sized. Three quarters of the people in the study live in households of 1–5 or 6–10 persons. Most of the informants have lived in this area for a longer time, 88.8% have lived in the present location for more than 5 years, and 49.9% have lived there for more than 20 years. Ethnically, this sample is dominated by people from the Sukuma tribe (50.3%). The other half comprises a mixture of tribes such as Ikoma (5.9%), Ikizu (9.3%), Nata (8.5%), Zanaki (3.6%) Taturu (3.7%), Kurya (3.7%), Jita (3.5%), and others (11.4% with 1–3 persons per tribe).

Generally hunting is reported to be of limited importance for the villages. Two-thirds of the sample (68%) claims that this is not an important activity for their village. A few (2%) agreed that this was important earlier, while some were unsure (7%), and the remainder (22%) agreed to the importance of hunting for their village. The more challenging question: ‘Is anyone in the household a hunter?’ received even less support. Only 8% confirmed this while most denied (86%). Again some (6%) would agree that this was the case earlier. In contrast, the majority (67%) personally knew of hunters in the village, and when asked during what season hunting is most common, only 3% did not have an opinion. The great majority (83%) identified the dry seasons as the prime time for hunting. Men acknowledged the importance and existence of hunting to a greater degree than women (Table 1), but the differences are only statistically significant for knowing about hunters in the village (F=33.19, P<0.001).
Table 1

The role of hunting in the village (N=587)


Is hunting an important activity in your village

Is any person in the household a hunter

Know of hunters in the village





















Don’t know







Not now, but earlier












Sign. level




Almost everyone (81%) have used some kind of wildlife products during the past year, and men more than women (F=10.11, P<0.05). Game meat is used dominantly for personal consumption/subsistence (75%), while game products also are important for ritual and traditional purposes (Table 2). Gender differences are also apparent here. Men report to have used wildlife products during the past more than women have. Women use wildlife slightly more for household consumption than do men. For both men and women selling meat for cash is of negligible importance, but women use skins to some extent (17%), while very few men use skins. On the other hand, while women hardly use wildlife products for ritual or traditional purposes, this is of some importance for men (22%), (Table 2). This varies with tribes but includes traditional medicine, clothing and decorations, and ceremonies for celebrating marriage and the passage of young men into adulthood.
Table 2

Personal use of wildlife products (in percent, N=582)

Used wildlife products during the past year

Purpose of use of wildlife products










Own consumption/food






Sell for cash



Use of skins



For traditional/ritual purposes



Social status symbol


Hunting can be an important factor in providing subsistence benefits and economic income. To most people, game meat can be salient for providing food for consumption at the household level and possess as a product to sell in order to generate cash income (>90%, Table 3). Cash generation comes in different forms such as selling meat for consumption and getting trophies for selling, although the latter is far less important than the first. A significant part of the economy is through trading. (Table 3). Hunting is also seen as a moderately important means of controlling problematic animals. One-third (32%) of the villagers see this is an important way of removing animals that cause damage, and almost 50% say this is little or very important. These more functional reasons for acquiring game meat far outweigh other reasons for hunting if we look at various motivations for hunting as independent factors. Men and women have some convergent and some divergent views on this. Four of the items/reasons for hunting give statistically significant differences between the sexes. Women attach more importance than men to ‘getting trophies for sale’ (F=26.25, P<0.001), ‘the idea that people feel good if they are clever enough to catch an animal’ (F=14.66, P<0.001), ‘that good hunters are respected by others in the village’ (F=5.32, P<0,05), and that ‘it is important for young men to bring meat back to the village’ (F=12.62, P<0.001).
Table 3

Potential reasons for hunting (in percent)


Not important at all

A little important

Very important

Don’t know


Meat for subsistence/household






Meat to sell






Remove animals that cause damage






To get cash for basic needs






Get trophies for sale






Trade meat for other goods






Pay for taxes






People feel good if they are clever enough to catch an animal






Good hunters are respected by others in the village






Hunting is part of heritage/culture






Hunting brings people in contact with the spirits of animals






Its important for young men to prove that they can bring meat back to the village






While consumptive motives dominate, socio-cultural reasons also exist. Motives like ‘hunters gaining respect from the community from a successful hunt’, ‘coming in contact with the spirits of animals’, ‘seeing hunting as a way for young men to express themselves’, or ‘perceiving hunting as a part of the traditional culture of the communities’ are all somewhat important, but there is more diversity in the responses. For aspects of hunting like ‘gaining respects from fellow community members’ or ‘coming in contact with the spirits of animals’, a little more than one-half of those interviewed claim that these reasons are not at all important. However, the remainder of the population attach some or strong importance to these aspects of hunting. More than one-half of the informants agree on some level that hunting is part of their culture (Table 3). For most of the items, the portion of the villagers interviewed who do not know or do not have an opinion is relatively small. The exception is for getting trophies for sale, where 28% are undecided (Table 3).

One-half of the sample see hunting as a serious threat to the wild game populations. This question separated herbivores from carnivores, but the pattern is the same. Slightly more than one-third think that hunting has no effect on wildlife (36.1% on herbivores and 31.2% on carnivores). However, almost one-half of the population thinks that hunting can destroy both carnivore and herbivore populations completely (47.9% for herbivores and 46.1% for carnivores). Collectively, close to two-thirds of the villagers think that hunting has a small or a large negative effect on wildlife populations (Table 4).
Table 4

Perception of hunting as a potential threat to wildlife


Has no effect

Reduces wildlife populations a little bit

Can destroy the future wildlife populations totally

























How to reduce illegal hunting

The open-ended question on ideas for mitigating poaching problems yielded 834 statements distributed across four categories. A large portion of the villagers (N=205) believe that strict law enforcement should be the most important way to combat the problem. This includes increasing the number of game scouts and strengthening their position, increasing penalties, even enforcing maximum sentences for violations. Numerous ways of dealing with this were offered by the respondents. Another area that often attracts attention is the desire to improve the supply of game meat legally. Many (N=142) express the local demand for meat, and emphasise the role an improved supply system will have in compensating poaching. Provision of more game meat of higher quality will at least partly undermine the market for illegal meat. If local butcheries for game meat are established and communities are admitted larger quotas for hunting, this will also help. There is awareness around market mechanisms and how a legal supply of game meat can mitigate illegal hunting.

Another theme is the need for employment opportunities and income generating programs . This is an umbrella issue penetrating into most other discussions about the people–park relationships and community problems. Many (N=298) also relate the lack of work opportunities and income to the prevalence of illegal hunting. These statements express requested measures to improve village development and income potential on the individual level. These are measures like employment for young men who could be inclined to fall into poaching if idle, introduction of credit schemes, agricultural inputs and extension, and different forms of improvement of the village infrastructure. In fact, many of the informants clearly state that since employment opportunities are inadequate, many people (especially young men) remain idle, and revert easily to illegal hunting.

Several (N=189) voiced thoughts on information to and involvement from the local communities, including multiple expressions of the need for education of the local community in wildlife management, and wildlife as a resource to the community. There are also thoughts on the need to create awareness about wildlife and conservation issues. Some also suggest that wildlife should be a broad scale media issue, i.e. that it is a theme that is part of the public discussion in media on a regular basis, and where local communities have a stronger voice. Some advocate that the local communities should be directly involved in wildlife management issues.


Hunting is important to the rural communities surrounding Serengeti National Park, and it is embedded in community life. Legal hunting is accessible to villagers only to a very limited extent in a few areas outside the national park. For most people the cost is prohibitive, and hardly anyone own firearms which is a prerequisite for legal harvesting of wild game. It is reasonable to infer that most of the wildlife products are supplied through poaching.

Most people discount hunting as important to their village, but almost everyone have used some kind of wildlife products during the past year. Although some game meat is supplied legally through state controlled game cropping and some local hunting is permitted outside the national park, it seems unlikely that this limited and unevenly distributed supply can account for this high level of consumption.

Likewise, hardly anyone reports having hunters in their own household or immediate neighbourhood, but most of the informants know about hunters in their own village. Furthermore, a great majority agree to the importance of acquiring meat either for subsistence use, bartering with other goods or exchange for cash. Hence, there is a discrepancy between the acknowledged importance of harvesting game meat, and the admitted existence of hunting. If we add to this the widespread concern over the effect of illegal hunting on carnivore and herbivore populations, we should suspect that hunting may well exceed the levels reported. This contradiction in statements can probably be attributed to the contentious nature of the issue and the fear of repercussions. There are known cases of people being killed on both sides in confrontations between hunters and anti-poaching patrols (personal communications with park wardens).

Others have documented that hunting is a highly important activity to the people around Serengeti’s Western Corrdior (Hofer et al. 2000; Loibooki et al. 2002) showing that bushmeat is a significant contributor to local diets and economies. Loibooki et al. (2002) estimated that between 52,000 and 60,000 persons participated in poaching in the protected areas. This estimate is based on a combination of records of arrested poachers, surveys and group meetings. They did not ask people directly whether they were poachers, but report that many voluntarily claimed to be engaged in illegal hunting. While, there seems to be a contrast between this study and the present one in admittance to hunting, this is difficult to assess and compare. Loibooki et al. (2002) did not ask directly, and only report that 32% somehow were engaged in bushmeat hunting, which may be different from actually being a hunter yourself. Nor do they describe how questionnaires were administered, only that villagers provided answers to a standard questionnaire, and that names of respondents were not recorded. In our study, a native interviewer sat down face to face with the informant for up to 1 h and probed the issue.

In this study we face a dilemma. Many people feel a desire to explain that hunting is important to individuals, to the community, and in terms of tradition. This is both a positive expression of identity and a facet of livelihoods that engage people. On the other hand, acknowledging associations with poaching means admitting to crime. Obviously this is frightening to most people. Getting caught could result in economic fines and often imprisonment. Researchers like other outsiders are viewed with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension. They are often evaluated more in terms of perceived motives than in terms of the questions they openly ask. Behind any interview situation, there is always the question: will my participation in the study jeopardise my own situation. Like in any social science study, there is the potential of informants behaving in ways perceived as socially desirable by the researcher, i.e. am I performing adequately? In this particular case information provided by one person could also harm others. Direct as well as indirect approaches to examining poaching contain several confounding variables, and care should be taken in drawing firm conclusions. In this study we are more concerned with the nature of the phenomenon and its place in community life than the exact magnitude of the activity.

Most studies on illegal hunting in developing countries more or less take the view that poaching is poverty driven. The assumption then is that alternative economic income opportunities will have a positive effect on reducing the illegal activities. The results from this study also support this. However, hunting is performed for several reasons, including economic, social, and cultural, and hunting is also “a way of life” for many people. Although the cultural and social reasons for hunting appear far less significant than consumptive and economic motives in our data, they do play a part. Due to the sensitive nature of the issue we suspect that this is somewhat underreported. From more informal conversations and general observations in the villages, our impression is that hunting is deeply rooted in community life, especially in some of the tribes like Ikoma and Kuria. Several people frankly stated that even if social services in the communities were greatly improved and individuals had improved access to food and cash income, there would still be hunting, albeit at a lower level than today. The views on this vary. Some claim that eradication of poverty will also eliminate hunting, while others think that poaching co-varies with the level and type of poverty, but that illegal hunting will never completely disappear.

It may be too simple to assume that hunters can be turned into conservationists if they are merely given improved economic incentives. The local perception is that historically, the government controlling large areas of land as game reserves and parks has displaced local populations and derived them of huge benefits. It is worth noting that the people in this study express a pro-active attitude towards working with the poaching problem and improving their relations to the protected area. Even with all the problems of dysfunctional community based management approaches and the inertia surrounding new wildlife management areas, we interpret this as an under-utilised potential for community development. However, the poverty in this region is so extensive that granting villagers increased legal wildlife utilisation for subsistence and generation of cash one way or another is probably required in order to gain any support for management strategies at the local level. The future of hunting and resultant impacts on biodiversity conservation cannot be separated from the challenge of greatly improved distribution of benefits from the national park and the economic and social development of the areas around Serengeti National Park. Until then, illegal hunting will remain a highly contested issue and a driving factor in the informal economy of the communities.


This study is part of the project “Biodiversity and the Human–Wildlife Interface in the Serengeti”. The work is funded by the Norwegian Research Council and NORAD. We are grateful to all the TAWIRI staff who helped with logistics and services, and all the people in the villages around Serengeti who gave generously of their time and thoughts to enable this study.

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© Springer-Verlag 2005