Sorry for the delayed post everyone! WiFi here has been down for a few days now.
On Friday we left for our first expedition. This expedition was located in the area in and around Tarangire National Park, and took place over a period of five days. It was a whirlwind of fieldwork, but it was absolutely amazing at the same time.
Day 1: We crammed our faces with breakfast at 7am, and packed the vehicles with the bare necessities we would need for the next five days, before heading out the gates just after 7:30am. From here, we drove an hour and a half to Tarangire, and prepped ourselves for our first day of fieldwork. Our first day was spent looking at various groups of elephants. We would record each elephants age, sex, health class (as a measure for whether or not it was getting enough food), as well as whether or not they had temporal gland secretions. Temporal glands in elephants are located on the sides of their face near their eyes, and secrete liquid when they are stressed. This data was collected to see whether or not the current prolonged drought in Tanzania has impacted the health and/or stress of the elephants, and whether there was any sort of difference in impact when looking at the elephants age and sex. After a full day of staring at elephants, we headed to the campground to rest before our next big day.
Day 2: This day was the first of two days of distance population counts. This first day, we completed population counts in Tarangire National Park. The intent of this fieldwork was to collect data on all mammals (and ostriches) located throughout whats called a transect – or a preselected section of land. We would drive along the road for 2km, looking for and mammals or ostriches. Once a group of animals was spotted, we would stop the car and count how many in total their were, how many were juveniles, how many were males, and how many were females. We would also record the GPS coordinates for the location, and would use a rangefinder to determine how far away from the car the group was at a perpendicular distance. We did this for approximately 8 times, completing 2km transects each time. All of this data would be compiled with those from previous years in order to get the trends of various species populations in the area for wildlife management determinants. Once we completed our fieldwork for the day, we spent the rest of our day on a hunt for leopards. We were not successful.
Day 3: This day was also spent completing population counts. This day we working in Manyara Ranch. Although we saw many of the same animals we did in the park, Manyara Ranch was different because it is a protected area, but does allow grazing of cattle. It was so strange to see giraffes and elephants just a couple hundred meters from people grazing their cattle, but it was no less beautiful than the national park itself. We were also able to talk to the manager of the ranch in order to learn about its history and different aspects of the ranch. Even the protected ranch seemed to be severely impacted by the drought, and he talked to us about how the ranch has always been so green and grass-filled, but this dry season has hit them hard. Seeing how much climate change and changing weather patterns has impacted the wildlife as well as the local people and local land was such an eye-opener for all of us. It helped to give us a new strength to fight back against what people are doing to this planet. Even protected areas halfway around the world have been impacted by the pollution created by first-world countries. It was a day full of hard realities, on top of hard work.
Day 4: Although this day was not spent working with wildlife, it was by far my favorite. We went to a village near the national park and spoke to members of the Maasai tribe on their resources uses. Partway through interviewing a women outside of a medical health center, she suddenly left, and we were informed that she had to leave to deliver a baby. About ten minutes later, we suddenly heard a baby crying from inside the medical center. It was quite a surprise to us all! We also met some wonderful gentlemen that spent quite a while discussing with us the differences between our culture. It was so interesting to hear how different things were done in the Maasai culture, and to also talk to them about how that compared to the United States. We even talked to them about the concept of recycling, and reusing plastic, rather than burning it (Tanzania doesn’t have a trash or recycling program. Instead it is all just burned in piles, which can release dangerous toxins into the air, but most Tanzanians don’t consider any alternatives). It was a really interesting talk, and it made me even more excited to visit the local Maasai bomas soon.
Day 5: This day was mostly spent completing travel lectures. We traveled to the Burunge Wildlife Management Area and learned about Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in Tanzania. These are another style of protected area that were developed in Tanzania in 2006. We were able to talk to the local secretary and see how the local WMA created jobs and stimulated wildlife growth in the local area. From here, we headed back up the valley wall to our home-away-from-home in Rhotia.
It was a whirlwind of an expedition. It was long, tiring, and by the end of it even my sunburns had sunburns, but it was well worth it. Only three weeks until my next one.