• The Ruaha-Katavi Ecosystem


    The Ruaha-Katavi Ecosystem

    comprises miombo plains, forested highlands, significant rivers, lakes and wetlands. It is the most important area in terms of elephant numbers in East Africa and key habitat for endangered and vulnerable species including lion, wild dog, giraffe, hippo, vultures, sable and roan.

  • The Ruaha-Katavi Ecosystem


    The Ruaha-Katavi Ecosystem

    Ruaha elephants

  • Southern/ Highlands
  • Ruaha/ Katavi
  • Tarangire/ Ecosystem
  • Zanzibar/ Forests
  • Marine Program

The Ruaha-Katavi Landscape Program works to conserve some of Eastern Africa’s most critical habitats for wildlife conservation as well as human livelihoods reliant on agriculture, irrigation and tourism. Its focus includes the protection of elephants, vultures, carnivores and wildlife corridors, and broader activities aimed at landscape valuation and improved ecosystem management.


The Ruaha-Katavi landscape features miombo plains, the Isunkaviola Highlands to the southeast, the Ihefu wetlands in the southern Usangu Plateau and the tail end of the Eastern Rift Valley. Together with the influence of the Commiphora, Acacia and Brachystegia vegetation communities, these attributes provide a complex and diverse array of flora and fauna including more than 600 species of birds. This area is especially known for its elephants and large carnivores such as lion and African wild dog, and their prey including greater kudu, sable and roan antelope. The elephant population totals approximately 20,145 individuals, the largest population in East Africa. Tanzania is estimated to harbour roughly 40% of Africa's remaining lions and the landscape is also one of the most critical for lions in Tanzania. Likewise, the Ruaha-Rungwa area is one of only three known areas providing refuge to more than 500 wild dogs in Africa.

The Ruaha-Katavi landscape is immense - nearly three times the size of Switzerland - and remains one of the largest ecologically intact savannah ecosystems in Africa -  a true African stronghold, making it imperative for conservation. The landscape incorporates 2 national parks, 3 main game reserve complexes, open land and a number of key wildlife corridors, all of which contribute to the area's conservation integrity.  

The eastern portion of the landscape is dominated by the Great Ruaha River which is the most economically important water course in Tanzania. Rising in the Southern Highlands, it winds north and east before merging with the Rufiji and on to the Indian Ocean having passed through the Ruaha landscape. The Great Ruaha provides vital ecosystem services, most particularly in the Iringa and Mbeya Regions. Its hydro-electric dam at Mtera serves up to 42% of the country, and the river supplies tens of millions of people with water for domestic, livestock and irrigation use across the south and southwest. The landscape contains 2 national parks (Ruaha and Katavi), 3 game reserve complexes (Rukwa-Lwafi, Lukwati-Piti and Rungwa-Kizigo-Muhezi-Rukwa), 4 WMAs (MBOMIPA, Waga, UMEMARUWA, Mpimbwe) and 7 forest reserves (including Mlele and Itulu Hills, Rukwa, Mulipa, Lukwati and Luasi River).


The commercial wildlife trade continues to pose an issue for many species across Africa. In recent years, elephants in particular have been targeted for their ivory, but we remain vigilant for other examples of species collected for their trophies/products/or for the diverse global pet trade. Other challenges include unmanaged fires, wildlife disease and unmanaged grazing. Meanwhile, woodlands are cleared for charcoal and agricultural encroachment, associated with poor land-use planning and management, fuelled by immigration and population growth. Human-wildlife conflict is an issue of critical conservation importance, especially for carnivores. More than 85% of local communities depend on the region’s natural resource base, and agriculture accounts for about 80 percent of their livelihoods. Misuse of water for irrigation, and other uses have led the increasing drying up of the Great Ruaha River each dry season since 1993.


The genesis for much of our present work dates back to 2014 when WCS signed a 5-year cooperative agreement with USAID (The Southern Highlands and Ruaha-Katavi Protection Program - SHARPP). This agreement focuses on safeguarding wildlife corridors and buffer zones between Ruaha and Katavi National Parks, improving natural resource management (especially in wildlife corridors, forest catchments and areas of biological significance,) improving the engagement of local communities in natural resource management and ensuring the effective protection of elephant populations in the Greater Ruaha ecosystem. 

Building on the above, and with the support of private donors (including most significantly the Wyss Foundation), as well as other U.S. Government partners including the U.S. State Department, over the course of the last 5 years, the program has gradually established and expanded a synergetic program of assistance across all key protected areas for the primary purpose of safeguarding the landscapes significant elephant population.

Key ares of partnership with both the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) and the Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority (TAWA) have included:

Support to essential protection infrastructure: WCS has built / renovated five strategically important ranger posts across multiple game reserves and also built an administrative headquarters for Lukwati-Piti Game Reserve. The provision of boreholes and extensive solar power systems has often accompanied these projects.

Support to improved protected area communications: WCS installed a HF radio system in the Rungwa GR complex, a HF-VHF radio system in Lukwati-Piti Game Reserve and has upgraded the existing digital VHF radio system in Katavi National Park. We have also constructed a pulley-system for improved wet season mobility across the Mzombe River between Ruaha National Park and the Rungwe GR complex.

Support to improved protected area mobility: WCS has handed over three quick reaction unit vehicles, one intelligence gathering vehicle, one elephant monitoring vehicle (with two more being delivered), three tractor and trailer units and two patrol boats for the improved protection of Lake Rukwa. We have also established a dedicated mobile workshop to help our partners maintain these essential vehicles and also operate a grader to help improve road access in key protected areas.

Support to key protected area capacities: WCS have provided training to more than 350 rangers in various capacities including law enforcement monitoring (through the application of SMART software), general and elite ranger training, crime scene management and case development, intelligence gathering, boat operator training, rear and front seat observer training, driver training and community ranger training, all coupled with a considerable number of refresher training courses and ongoing mentoring.

Wildlife monitoring: WCS manages a Cessna 206 plane, providing essential support to wildlife authorities and the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) for wildlife monitoring across the landscape. Daily aerial monitoring is undertaken with rangers, ecologists and others from various protected areas. WCS has also supported formal estimates of large mammal numbers with the guidance of TAWIRI. Additional monitoring programs include working closely with North Carolina Zoo for the monitoring of vulture and training community rangers to monitor wildlife on community land. This work will shortly be expanded to include various carnivore species.

Support to strategic site-level planning: Key to success is working with government wildlife partners to make best-use of existing resources through a strengthened planning approach. WCS has helped establish operations rooms in two game reserve complexes, supported exchange trips for protection managers to model sites outside Tanzania and is working with TAWA HQ to pilot the strengthened integration of law enforcement monitoring.

Community engagement: The identification of wildlife corridors linking protected areas across the landscape is critical to the holistic management of this diverse landscape, and to safeguarding the future for a variety of true landscape species. WCS presently works with nine communities, with the guidance of various government authorities, for the improved management of corridor areas through a community-driven approach, providing awareness-building opportunities and other mechanisms allowing for local people to benefit from their collective commitment to securing these areas.