Responding to COVID-19

The Relationships department has taken on a new role with the arrival of COVID-19 – to help equip and prepare local communities for the possible spread.  Newly appointed Grumeti Fund Relationships Manager, David Mwakipisile, moved out of his house in the protected area and into the community so that he could continue to work with local leaders in the fight against the virus.

Grumeti Fund Relationships Manager, David Mwakipisile

Before the arrival of coronavirus, the team worked hard to prepare communities adjacent to the Grumeti concessions. The work kicked-off with informational sessions and over the last eight weeks the small team has personally met with and educated thousands of people across all villages in the area.  In addition, they distributed 5,000 posters with prevention information.  The importance of hand-washing and social distancing was shared to schools and villages in collaboration with local health authorities. As COVID-19 made its way into the country and group gatherings were shut down, the tactic for how to support and educate shifted.  At this point radio segments were aired and a traveling motorbike team with speakers has been driving from village to village to spread awareness about prevention. Further to the spread of information the Grumeti Fund Relationships department, in collaboration with our eco-tourism partners, distributed masks and hand sanitizer to local clinics.

Pic 1 & 3) Individuals from the local area who we hope benefit from information-sharing Pic 2) David collaborating with local health officials to distribute sanitizer, masks and information. 

The Grumeti Fund has also partnered with other local non-profits, such as Hope for Girls and Women, to help create groups within each community made up of village leaders and health officers.  The focus of these groups is to help citizens faced with fear or uncertainty about the virus and to ensure that each household has access to a facility where they can wash their hands.

David hosting a meeting with village leaders

Beyond becoming the face of the COVID-19 response team, the department is also responsible for carrying out normal operations. These include enabling conservation to continue and partnerships with local stakeholders to remain strong, for people to be protected from threats such as human-wildlife conflict and to prepare and strengthen systems associated with evidence gathering for illegal wildlife court cases.

The Relationships department uses traditional dance and sports to share information about conservation and spread positivity.  Gatherings like this have come to a halt, but we look forward to when they return.

As harvest season approaches so does the concern over human-wildlife conflict.  The teams are currently assessing how the mitigation unit can best operate and where potential hotspots are for elephants to move into the community. Reports from community members living in villages where the new boundary fence has been erected is that incursions from elephants are greatly reduced. Sabi, who lives 25 meters from the edge of the protected area has said that his family and their neighbors have experienced a transformation and their crops have been now been left to grow, free from harm done by elephants.   Evidence from elephant collaring data shows elephants are positively responding to the fence and are much less likely to break out.  News of this success has reached parliamentary levels and it was recently shared by the Serengeti MP that:

In my tenure as a Member of Parliament, I have spoken a lot about human-wildlife conflict.  We’ve tried every means to mitigate the situation.  So, I’d like to use this opportunity to thank the Grumeti Fund, the Ministry (of Natural Resources and Tourism), and you honorable Minister, for installing an electric fence along village boundaries in Serengeti.  Now, citizens living in Mbirikiri, Ramchanga, and Miseke village are able to farm with ease.

Pic 1) Aerial image of the boundary. Pic 2) Screen shot of elephant collar data indicating that when elephants reach the fence they turn around 

The goal is to help prepare and protect people in the local communities surrounding the Grumeti concessions – whether it be from an elephant raiding crops or from COVID-19.  The hope is that they are able to remain as safe as possible and that their livelihoods remain intact.  While the future is uncertain, the dedication among the teams is not.  Across the organization everyone is shifting to work within new parameters while simultaneously continuing with their day to day work and projects.  Support the work of these teams during these hard times, by donating to the Grumeti Fund, here.

Pic 1) Sabi and his children at their home on the boundary of the protected area.  Pic 2) A herd of elephants.