The past five days of my life have been incredible. I have been camping in Tarangire National Park, and been having the time of my life. I know I have said this before, but I still feel like every day is the new best day of my life. I am constantly learning, growing, experiencing, and seeing new things. I am so glad I chose this program to study abroad. I have learned quite quickly that I can’t see myself doing wildlife studies for the rest of my life. Which is great, I have been able to see that my passion for marine biology isn’t just because I was studying abroad and in bliss every day. I am so happy to be in Africa, but it is clear that managing wildlife is not the career for me. So, when else would I get a chance to live in such a unique part of the world for an entire semester?
On the first day of our expedition, we drove in our “game vehicles” from our campus on Moyo Hill, to the Tarangire National Park, it took about an hour and a half. When we got to the park, we popped the roofs off the vehicles so we could stand on our seats and get a better view of the wildlife. The exercise on the first day had to do with elephants. We recorded the type of groups we observed the elephants in (matriarchal, bachelor, family ect.) and their behavior, and sex. Well, turns out Tarangire is home to a TON of elephants, we saw at least 300 on our first day. It was truly magical. I loved this assignment, I mean who wouldn’t want to watch elephants all day for “school work”. After a few hours, we headed to a picnic site for lunch. This is where vervet monkeys ran around sneakily and stole people’s food. The rest of the day was dedicated to a “fun” game drive. So we were able to explore the park, taking photos, and just doing our own thing. We saw so many species it was insane. Some of these include more elephants, giraffe, zebra, dikdiks, impala, bushbuck, waterbuck, reedbuck, cape buffalo, baboon, monkeys, mongoose, rock hyrax, hartebeest, warthogs, jackels, lions and even a cheetah! After an exhausting day in the sun, we went to the campsite and got settled in our tents, ate dinner, and I fell asleep super early.
Day two was another crazy adventure. Oh my lord there was a lot of excitement. The assignment in the morning was to do transects along the road, collecting GPS coordinates, behavior, sex, and response to vehicles to every single mammal we saw. My group was amazing and able to work together well. All ran smoothly until Sara sat down, face red, telling us she couldn’t do it anymore. WE questioned her about what was wrong, and she admitted that her stomach was upset and REALLY needed to find a restroom. We finished the transect early, and explained to the driver (who isn’t a strong English speaker), that we needed to find a bathroom ASAP. He told us he had no idea where the closest one was, so we said lets just go as fast as we can. So, turns out, there are very limited restrooms in the middle of the savanna. It took us like 30 minutes of top speed, sharp turns, and lots of moaning from Sara until we finally found one. None of us thought she was going to make it, poor girl. I swear our driver turned into a nascar professional when we told him she was sick, what a champ. Eventually, we made it to the Taragnire lodge for lunch and some relaxation. I enjoyed cold water, and even some coffee! Some people swam, but I chose to sit down and enjoy the amazing view. It was a sight to behold. The rest of the afternoon was a mission to find Emily some African wild dogs. These beauties are super rare, and never seen in the history of SFS in Tanzania. But, there was a rumor going around that they had been spotted earlier that morning. Now Emily loves these animals, I think it is similar to my love for whale sharks. Anyways, she was so determined to find them, and as super excited to tell us facts and info about them. They are super cool animals, and are also beautiful to look at. Anyways, during our mission we found a pride of like 20 female lions. Some were walking around and some were sitting in the shade. I was stoked to see these large carnivores. They are such amazing animals, it makes me sad the locals here poach them. The villagers living near the national park are known to kill wildlife because the wildlife goes into their property and kills their livestock and eats their crops. I would be pissed too. Anyways, we saw a bunch of other sweet animals, like long eared foxes, and a monitor lizard. We also watched a tiny little elephant rolling around in the sand. He looked like a tiny drunk human, it melted my heart. As the day came to an end, abour 40 minutes before our lecture, we encountered another SFS vehicle that told us they saw African wild dogs, but we didn’t have time to find them. We were all a little discouraged, but our kind driver argued and we were able to get the GPS coordinates of the pack and drive there. I have never experienced a drive like that in my life. We were going through top speed, through packs of zebra, elephants, and even zebra. It was so funny, and wild, and I have a lot of bruises to prove it. WE were all standing up in the car, trying to find the dogs. Eventually, we reached our destination. Emily was stoked, I thought it was super cool too! There were only two packs in the entire Tarangire National Park, which is huge! We ended the day with a lecture about the ecosystem in Tarangire, then headed home to the campsite. Day three was spend doing another assignment the same as the day before, except this time it was conducted in Manyara Ranch. This is a multi-land use area, and not a national park. Therefore we saw some Masaii and their livestock grazing on the grass. It was an insane day. Kioko, my wildlife ecology prof, was driving the vehicle that day. He was having so much fun going fast and on bumps. Then, when we saw exciting animals we woud drive right up to them (because it is not a national park, there was no rules about that). It was a super fun day! Later that afternoon I napped, had a guest speaker, then walked into town for a little shopping.
Day four was a lot of walking. We did a 3 hour hike through a wildlife corridor just to experience it. We didn’t see much wildlife, but it was nice to get to walk around and enjoy some fresh air. We had to go super early in the morning to avoid the hot sun. At a lower elevation there was a noticeable heat change, and it was unbearable at noon time. After we got back we did an assignment for policy, where we interviewed the Maasai and asked about their use of forest projects. There is a deforestation problem because they cut down a lot of trees for firewood for cooking, as well as the structure of building their mud homes. My translator hit on me a lot, and even offered me a dog if I married him. I explained that I was too young and he was just persistent. One man we interviewed had six wives, and like 56 kids. He pointed at me after the interview and said he wanted to marry me. So uncomfortable, I just laughed and ran away. I am too awkward for life.
Day five was our last day. We had a lecture in the morning about Burunge Wildlife Area (where people hunt and do photographic tourism). We also got to climb on top of a mountain to get a panoramic view of the area, it was breathtaking. Afterward, we went to the lake where we enjoyed more spectacular views. It really made me miss the ocean. I just wanted to run to the waters edge and jump in to cool off. Unfortunately this lake was a little sketchy and I probably would have gotten really sick if I had taken a dip. Next, we saw some women weave baskets, bought some souveniers, than headed to Moyo Hill, as it was the end of our expedition.
I made so many unforgettable memories this week. I am so lucky to be here, and I can’t wait to travel more unexplored corners of the world. I am so passionate about traveling. I love everything about going outside of my comfort zone and trying new things. I love my life so much, and I never want to stop being adventurous. Thank you, Africa!