From Poop to Grasses

Posted: October 6, 2015

The savannahs of Africa are known to have vast grass plains that harbor myriad of wildlife species. This offers a heaven for ecologists keen to understand how these grasslands influence the diverse wildlife. For two days students were immersed into learning the grasses and wildlife poop… called dung by scientists. There are 10,000 grass species found in the world and Tanzania is home to about 1000 of these species. We combed the dispersal area for Lake Manyara National Park, trying to identify the different grass species. These plains are within the Great Rift Valley; a geologic wonder of the world that runs from Lebanon to Mozambique.

We found that only a few grasses such as Odyssea jaegeri and Sporobolus spicatus tolerate the constant influx of salts that accumulate within the closed basin and make the soils alkaline. We took time to sample the wildlife dung so as to understand the animals using the plains. The area is also heavily used by Maasai people for cattle grazing. We intermingled with the Maasai herders, who were happy to accompany us. They kept laughing at the crazy mzungu (the Swahili word for foreigner) who were ‘playing” with animal poop. We found dung from hyena, buffalo, wildebeest, donkeys, hippopotamus, cattle, and even saw Ostrich tracks. Using this learning, students were able understand how wildlife and people coexist in this ecosystem.


Students doing grass and dung surveys.