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Mahale Ecosystem research project launched

afrol News, 5 June - A unique bio-diversity research centre opens at the Mahale National Park, in Tanzania, and is expected to play host to both national and international researchers.

The research centre will act as a hub for researchers who wish to study the outstanding biodiversity of the Greater Mahale Ecosystem, the European Commission, the main funders of the project said today.

The Mahale Ecosystem Management Project is an integrated conservation and development project, funded over the last 6 years by three institutions, namely the European Commission, providing a total budget of € 1,758,723.00, which covers 77.4 percent of the total budget.

Other funders are TANAPA and the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS).

The overall objective of the project is the conservation of the Mahale ecosystem's tropical forest biodiversity and the improvement in the livelihood of the communities living around the park.

FZS, in partnership with TANAPA, have adopted an ecosystem management approach to engage local communities in active conservation in the greater Mahale Ecosystem as well as the National Park, which contains several areas of important forest habitat and chimpanzee populations.

The EC said in a statement today that the remoteness of this area has protected Mahale from substantial human pressure up to now, but this was now changing, with improved road connections, immigration from more degraded areas and human population growth.

"I am proud that the European Commission has been so closely associated with the project. The Mahale ecosystem is a unique bio-diversity resource of international importance. It is vital that the excellent work done by TANAPA, the local authorities and Frankfurt Zoological Society, be further developed to ensure the long term integrity and protection of this ecosystem in its entirety for generations to come", said the European Commission Head of Delegation, Ambassador Tim Clarke.

Ambassador Clarke also noted that during the period of six year implementation by FZS in collaboration with TANAPA major achievements have been made by the project in the eight targeted villages in Kigoma region.

Those include the development of land use management plans, community natural resources protection development, sustainable enterprise and micro-savings and credit scheme establishment, as well as the participatory development of a Conservation Action Plan for the Mahale Mountains National Park.

The Greater Mahale Ecosystem is located at the shores of Lake Tanganyika in north-western Tanzania and is a fascinating area with a diverse flora and fauna and the largest chimpanzee population on earth.

The 19,500 km Greater Mahale Ecosystem (GME) with the Mahale Mountains National Park at its core, is part of a globally recognised biodiversity hotspot, with low human population density and limited infrastructure.

Seventy-five percent of the ecosystem is currently woodland and forest, important for plant species diversity, globally important chimpanzee populations and elephant movement routes. The GME also provides key ecosystem services in terms of carbon storage in the woody biomass, hydrological services and watershed management.

For many years Mahale has been protected by its extremely remote location in western Tanzania, and even today, there is still no road access to the area. The area was first brought to international attention when researchers from Kyoto University of Japan started a long-term project on the chimpanzees in 1965, with their efforts leading to the gazetting of the National Park in 1985.

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