From Baboon Behavior to Bird and Grass Studies in Tanzania

Posted: September 27, 2018

At SFS’ Moyo Hill Camp in Tanzania, students have become immersed in field learning. Whether at the base camp site, walking around the villages or in the parks, there is always something to be excited about. It is such a rich environment offering boundless opportunities for field learning.

Professor John Kioko, the resident ecology faculty member, has been engaging students in various activities to hone their stills in diverse areas of ecology. Our first field outing was in Lake Manyara National Park. The park is home to several thousand Olive baboons. In many ways, baboons are just like us, with 94% DNA similarity between baboons and humans. Recent studies show that their grunts, barks, ‘wahoos’, and ‘yaks’ could be among the origins of language in humans. Students spent a day watching baboons to discern their “life secrets” by observing their patterns of behavior. These were highly inspiring moments to students – the kind of moments that can sometimes show the makings of a future primatologist.

Back at camp we embarked on a “know our birds” exercise. We have over 100 bird species that are residents or frequently visit the Moyo Hill Camp area. With this exercise, the race is now on for students to try and identify all these birds. Who will rise to the challenge? It seems like many of them will be up for it.

 

Students bird-watching in Rhotia, Tanzania. Photo courtesy of John Kioko

 
This week we have been looking at grasses. Why do grasses matter? Grasses are the lifeline of the savannas, and are often overlooked. We have been identifying the different grass species, just outside Lake Manyara National Park – an area shared by both wildlife and livestock. We wanted to know how environmental and human factors affect the grasslands. During the exercise, students intermingled with Maasai cattle, with Thomson gazelle and wildebeest watching us from a near distance. Such experiences make field learning feel ‘real.’ Everyone is happy and excited about the semester and always looking forward to the next day. At the end of this week we head south to Tarangire National Park – the renowned “home” of many elephants.

 

Students conduct a grass survey with wildebeest in the background. Photo courtesy of John Kioko

 
→ Wildlife Management Studies in Tanzania