• The Ruaha-Katavi Ecosystem


    The Ruaha-Katavi Ecosystem

    This diverse landscape is made up of miombo plains, forested highlands and grassy wetlands. It is one of the most important areas for elephant in Africa and key habitat for endangered species including lion, leopard, wild dog, greater kudu, sable and roan antelope.


  • 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 development of Wildlife Management Areas, 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 large carnivores such as lion and African wild dog, and their prey including greater kudu, sable and roan antelope. 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, making it imperative for conservation. The landscape incorporates 2 national parks, 6 game reserves, open land and many 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 75% of the country, and the river supplies 20 million people with water for domestic, livestock and irrigation use across the south and southwest. The landscape contains 2 national parks (Ruaha and Katavi), 7 game reserves (Lwafi, Lukwati, Rukwa, Rungwa, Kizigo, Muhezi, Piti), 4 WMAs (MBOMIPA, Waga, UMEMARUWA, Mpimbwe) and 7 forest reserves (including Mulele Hills, Rukwa, Mulipa, Lukwati and Luasi River).


The Ruaha-Katavi Landscape is one of the most critical landscapes for the conservation of elephants, lions and wild dogs in Africa. Poaching of elephants and poisoning of carnivores remain significant. Other challenges include unmanaged fires, wildlife disease and unmanaged grazing. Meanwhile, woodlands are cleared for charcoal and agricultural encroachment, associated with immigration and population growth, continues unabated.   Human-wildlife conflict is an issue of critical conservation importance. More than 85% of local communities depend on the region’s natural resource base, and agriculture accounts for about 80 percent of their livelihood. Misuse of water for irrigation, and other uses have lead the Great Ruaha River to dry up each year since 1993.


In September 2014, WCS signed a 5-year cooperative agreement with USAID (The Southern Highlands and Ruaha-Katavi Protection Program- SHARPP) which forms the basis for much current work. 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 and diversifying community income and ensuring the effective protection of elephant populations in the Greater Ruaha ecosystem. 

Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) are a relatively new type of protected area managed by local village associations. WCS has helped set up 4 WMAs in villages situated in wildlife buffer zones and corridors (Pawaga-Idodi, WAGA, UMEMARUWA and Mpimbwe). The aim is to improve community livelihoods hand in hand with safeguarding wildlife around Ruaha and Katavi national parks through improved natural resource governance and transparency. Community involvement in natural resource management is essential for conservation to be sustainable. WCS is promoting the development of livelihoods that link to conservation - particularly tourism - and focusing on realizing equitable economic growth. Within this work we emphasize the involvement of women and children to try and maximize community benefits.

Baseline data on the population size and distribution of wildlife as well as mapping and quantifying threats to them is essential for conservation, so WCS is carrying out research to this effect. Teams are mapping wildlife corridors, learning more about the status and distribution of various species and looking to ways of improving both species and habitat management. WCS supports research related to the African wild dog and have also established a long-term vulture monitoring program focused on Ruaha and Katavi National Parks in partnership with North Carolina Zoo, involving satellite telemetry studies. Such programs are aimed at filling the knowledge gaps that exist in Southern Tanzania. Preliminary results confirm that the area is a stronghold for four species - white-backed, hooded, white-headed and lappet-faced vultures. It also clearly shows the threats to vultures posed by poisoning - both accidental as a result of retributory carnivore poisoning and intentional to hide the activities of poachers.

SMART - a law enforcement monitoring system which provides information to Park Wardens and managers has been established in Ruaha National Park, Katavi NP and the Waga Wildlife Management Area. This system allows authorities to focus protection activities as needed. WCS is also assisting its expansion to selected game reserves across the country.

Effective protection of elephants in the Greater Ruaha ecosystem is crucial given the high levels of poaching, and challenging given the remote landscape, limited infrastructure and governance challenges. The illegal trade in ivory is complex and well-funded. Improving protection and prosecution capacity ensures the safety of elephants in core protected areas, wildlife corridors and dispersal areas. WCS is therefore assisting the government with their protection and law enforcement efforts in accordance with Tanzania’s National Elephant Management Plan (2010-2015), which was prepared with WCS technical assistance. WCS has established a detection dog unit in Ruaha National Park that is improving the capability of park and reserve rangers to intercept and detect illegal consignments of ivory, arms, ammunition and lion parts. WCS is also providing technical support to Regional Police and Zonal Anti-Poaching law enforcement efforts.

Monitoring elephant populations across this expansive and largely inaccessible landscape is challenging so WCS is managing a Cessna 206 plane to assist with tracking elephant movements and poaching incidents across the area. Information gathering and awareness raising is crucial, so in addition to working with the Government of Tanzania, WCS is also harnessing the support of its programs around the world - including in China, where much of Tanzania’s ivory is headed - to try and ensure that information is available and influences global policy efforts to save elephants.