Day 10 – The Circle of Life
This morning, we awoke to strange noises. They were coming from our guide Killerai. We sat down around the fire to a very nice breakfast of cereal, sausage, and French toast. Gideon is an excellent chef. It’s so nice to be camping again and our meals are so much better than they were in the lodges. Our departure from Seronera occurred late in the morning and we headed over to Tanzanian Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) to see if there were any more potential partners for our bushmeat crisis endeavors.
There, we were very fortunate to speak to Dr. Richard Hoare, veterinarian/pathologist, who talked to us for an extended amount of time. We learned about how animal samples are currently being collected and stored in Tanzania; Dr. Hoare has been collecting them for over 12 years and approximates 15,000 samples taken. For us it was a great experience to be able to speak to such an expert in the field. Richard was born and raised in Africa and has spent his life devoted to conservation. During our discussion we described our project and future plans at Mweka College and, with great anticipation, Richard gave us advice on how to advance. It was just amazing to be able to hear how to work here on such an ambitious project from someone who has been successfully running a sustainable lab in Africa. Richard also described the projects that he has worked on. One particular story that was of interest to us was the rise of ticks in Ngorongoro. According to Richard, in the ‘70s, when the Maasai were forced to move out of the crater basin, they stopped burning the fields as well. Because all of the animals in the area had adapted to the seasonal burning, when the burning stopped the tick populations grew exponentially and with that growth came diseases that hadn’t been seen for decades. When these diseases started appearing, grassland researchers were hired to figure out what the problem was. They quickly determined that it was the field burning and they told the Maasai to resume their burning, so the problem was fixed. It was really funny to hear this story from him because we had heard about the same problem from the Hyena researchers but they told us that they had figured out the problem when they realized that they Hyena population had declined as a result of the Maasai leaving.
Dr. Richard Hoare also showed us his sample collection, which he has preserved in many ways. He has freezers set at -20C° full of tissue samples, a container (doer) with samples in liquid nitrogen, and closets full of samples in formalin, hair samples, and samples preserved in wax. We also got to see his incredible necropsy table that can be used to dissect creatures as large as a Cape Buffalo. He has a small centrifuge too, which was surprising.
He was incredibly honest the entire time he spoke with us and he gave us many very important pieces of advice. One of those was to make sure that we keep everything simple, because then less can go wrong. For this he referenced the cars and planes that are used throughout Tanzania. He also pointed us to a molecular lab that is currently being set up in Arusha, so we will try to contact them and see if they will partner with us. It was inspiring to see the work that currently being done in Tanzania because it shows us that our project can be successful too.
We took off from TAWIRI and stopped by the Frankfurt Zoological Society Headquarters. After this brief stop to share our project we embarked on our journey across the Serengeti to the Western Corridor—to a region not far from Lake Victoria. Thousands of nyumbu (wildebeest) joined us on our expedition as they migrated across Tanzania. It was amazing to see so many of them running on both sides of us, even if they are not the brightest animals. By the side of the road, we stopped to examine one of the nyumbu that had been taken down before it could complete its migration. Hundreds of maggots filled its eyes, mouth, ears and throat and the smell was overwhelming. Although some might think it was disgusting, this was the circle of life in action. One wildebeest gave birth to thousands of flies. Watching the maggots wriggle around was absolutely spectacular. We were tempted to get out and collect a sample for our workshop, but we didn’t.
As we continued on our way, we witnessed the controlled fires of the Tanazanian National Parks (TANAPA). TANAPA burns out sections of the Serengeti to allow new grass to grow in so that the animals always have food. As we know from Ngorongoro, these fires are crucial to the sustainment of wildlife.
We finally arrived at camp at Handajenga, near Kijareshi, where we will stay for the next couple of nights, in the early evening. First thing on our agenda? Tasing Brittney. Killerai didn’t even flinch when he pulled out the taser to address her three bug bites. When that was all said and done, we sat down to another fine meal around the campfire. Happy birthday Dalai Lama.