Last week, SFS Tanzania embarked on the first expedition. This included trading in our Rhotia home base for a camp site just outside Tarangire National Park, the classroom for the savanna, and learning theoretical skills for practical skills. On field trips to Tarangire, we studied elephants and conducted an animal count exercise. In neighboring Manyara Ranch, we learned how to identify mammals from their signs (dung and tracks) and adjacent to Manyara Ranch, we interviewed residents about their perceptions and attitudes towards wildlife. At the moment, recent rains have turned the savanna green and grass is growing in areas that are usually bare ground during the dry months of July-November. Many wildlife species disperse from the national parks during this time of the year and roam around areas where people live, farm, and keep their livestock.
Often, people perceive this coexistence as costly: elephants may raid their crops, spotted hyenas may feed on their livestock at night, livestock may acquire bovine malignant catarrhal fever (BMCF: herpes virus carried by wildebeest, excreted during wildebeest birthing and often fatal in cattle), and zebras may compete for the same grasses with their livestock. In Burunge Wildlife Management Area, local communities directly benefit from the presence of wildlife and make a substantial income from photographic tourism. While this model is associated with challenges, it is an interesting example of balancing the needs of people with those of wildlife conservation.
Learning in and from this complex system is never dull and provides an excellent setting for learning the theoretical, practical and comprehensive skill set required for directed research in this environment.