Just five days into the spring semester in Tanzania, our students had the amazing opportunity to contribute to our ongoing baboon behavior research in Lake Manyara National Park. We cleared the park gate early in the morning and began searching for baboon troops to observe. As we rounded a corner one of the students in my car enthusiastically told me to stop. She had spotted a distant zebra poking its head out from behind a bush. I chuckled to myself as students ferociously snapped less than ideal pictures of an animal that they will soon recognize with the same enthusiasm a squirrel elicits back in the US.
Over the next half hour, our search for baboons was further interrupted by sighting several other mammal species and a large family of elephants which brushed right by our vehicle. After the better part of an hour, we finally found our first baboon troop, and I switched off the engine. We spent the next hour recording the behavior of the troop, and laughing as some of the younger baboons clumsily tried to show off their tree climbing skills.
We spent the rest of the day moving from one baboon trip to the next, with the inevitable pit stops for other animals (and flat tires) along the way. Overall, our students learned essential methods for studying animal behavior, while collecting valuable data that our center can use to help inform baboon conservation efforts. Finally, the trip gave the students a taste of what the Tanzanian Parks hold, and contributed to the mounting excitement for the Tarangire expedition that would soon follow.