Tag Archives: biodiversity

Ecology resources for students: Part 1

Good afternoon!

I’m back with another set of bookmarks for students and teachers. Because I’ve taught the IB Environmental systems and societies course for several years, this set of online resources is closest to my heart. Some of these links are here simply because I think they’re cool or fun. Many may also be applicable for studying biology and chemistry as well. Let’s get to it:

Happy learning!

Cheers,

Mr K

Wonderful Amani

tree frog

Hyperolius sp. in Amani Forest Reserve, East Usambara Mountains, Tanzania. (Photo credit: Brad Kremer)

I’m back in Dar after another incredible week at the Emau Hill camp in Amani Nature Reserve, where I got to spend several days hiking in tropical forests, chasing chameleons and tree frogs at night, and exploring the tea estates surrounding the forest reserve.

I owe a big thanks to Roy Hinde and his staff at Wild Things Safaris for their support, extensive knowledge of the local ecosystem, and fine cooking.

This ESP trip is one of my favorites because of its location. The Usambara Mountains are still my favorite part of Tanzania, even after 7 years in this country. I’ve traveled there six different times, and I look forward to going back again because there’s always more to explore and something new to do.

Amani is one of the best places for birding in East Africa. Over 400 species have been recorded within the reserve, owing to its habitat diversity: tropical montane forest, miombo woodland, river valleys, and agricultural fields. During this trip, I spotted 14 bird species new to me, bringing the total number of bird species I have encountered in Tanzania to over 150. Unfortunately, I don’t have a fancy camera with a telephoto lens, which means I don’t have any photos of these new species, but here are my latest observations:

chameleon 1

Three-horned chameleon, Amani Forest Reserve, East Usambara Mountains, Tanzania. (Photo credit: Brad Kremer)

  • Uluguru violet-backed sunbird, Anthreptes neglectus
  • Trumpeter hornbill, Bycanistes bucinator
  • White-tailed crested-flycatcher, Trochocercus albonotatus
  • Augur buzzard, Buteo augur
  • African palm swift, Cypsiurus parvus
  • Lanner falcon, Falco biarmicus
  • Waller’s startling, Onychognathus walleri
  • Yellow-bellied waxbill, Estrilda quartinia
  • Pin-tailed whydah, Vidua macroura
  • Striped kingfisher, Halcyon chelicuti
  • Yellow wagtail, Motacilla flava ‘superciliaris’
  • Mountain buzzard, Buteo oreophilus
  • Red-rumped swallow, Hirundo daurica
  • Martial eagle, Polemaetus bellicosus

All in all, despite averaging over 15 km a day of strenuous walking and hiking, I came back from the trip refreshed and energized because of the chance to get out of the city for a week.   If you have the chance to visit the East Usambara Mountains, please do – you won’t regret it.

 

Excited for ESP

We are rapidly approaching one of my favorite things about my job: the Extended Studies Program, or ESP. ESP is our school’s “week without walls,” when students and teachers leave the comforts of classrooms and campus and travel to different parts of Tanzania to learn about and experience the people and ecology in those locations.

Each year, students in grades 6 through 11 spend a week in one of an awesomely diverse locations around Tanzania:

  • 6th graders go to Zanzibar for an exploration of art and architecture, reef and mangrove ecology, and a history of the east African slave trade.
  • 7th graders spend a week in the Uluguru Mountains on a service learning trip with the Waluguru, the only matrilineal ethnic group in Tanzania.
  • 8th graders venture to Amani Nature Reserve, where they experience the differences between managed and natural forests, as well as night hikes searching for rare species of chameleons and frogs (my personal favorite).
  • 9th and 10th graders have several options for their ESP trips:
    • Mountain biking in the Usambara Mountains
    • Service trips in Arusha or in a Maasai boma
    • Hiking in Lushoto district
    • Trekking across the Ngorogoro Crater Highlands
    • Ecological monitoring at the Makatube Island Marine Reserve
    • Service work on the Chem-Chem school project
    • Morogoro photography
  • IB1 students in grade 11 engage in a field course for biology and geography

In my opinion, these kinds of trips provide the most engaging educational experiences our students will get during the school year. There are no worksheets, no essays, no problems to solve, no presentations to make. Students push themselves, and teachers push them, in ways that are generally not possible during lessons. The interconnectedness of different fields of study becomes evident while out of the classroom – the impact of climate on agriculture, which in turn influences economics, culture and family structure, which then have further knock-on effects on music, literature, and politics.

ESPs are wonderful because of their ‘big picture-ness’.

The Value of Experiential and Outdoor Education

Good afternoon.

I just returned to Dar es Salaam from our school’s Extended Studies Program (ESP) – a “week without walls” – in Amani Nature Reserve of the East Usambara Mountains of Tanzania. The 8th-grade students who accompanied me got to experience one of my favorite parts of this country, a location rich with endemic plant and reptile species, as well as a climate and geography radically different from the hot, steamy coastal zone where we live.

During our time in Amani, we encountered quite a few unique creatures and plants, including forest cobras, Fischer’s chameleon, the Usambara 3-horned chameleon, pygmy chameleons, black-and-white colobus monkeys, 20 species of African violets, army ants, the pregnancy-test frog (really!), tree frogs, colossus crickets, swallowtail butterflies, forest moths, damselflies and dragonflies, trumpeting hornbills, the African fever-tree, and a lot more tree species than I can possibly remember. We also studied craters on the moon and watched Jupiter and its 4 Galilean moons climb across the night sky while we were in camp.

Apart from my personal interest in biodiversity, mountains, astronomy, and forests, there is real value in taking students ‘out there’ to see and experience a part of the world they might not otherwise visit. These kids live fairly posh lifestyles here in Dar, and putting them in tents for a week really stretches some of them. They develop a greater appreciation for the ease and comfort of home, and they confront – briefly – firsthand the challenges of living off the land in tropical Africa.

They also get to do things we can’t do in a classroom: feel the way a chameleon grips your skin as it climbs up your arm, observe the dark bands in Jupiter’s atmosphere, try to decipher the code of flashing firefly lights in pitch darkness, listen to owls call across a primary forest, chase frogs as they try to escape into chilly ponds and streams, and feel the microclimate changes in light, temperature, and humidity between tropical forest and farmland. Adding these first-hand sensory inputs reinforces classroom lessons and clarifies what may be highly abstract concepts for a lot of students who spend most of their days indoors. Plus, they’re just plain fun most of the time (apart from the army ants).

27 New Animal Species Discovered in Tanzania

You can add this to one of the reasons why Tanzania is such a special place.

Sanje Falls

Sanje Falls, Udzungwa National Park, in the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania. Photo credit: author.

This article from Tanzania’s Daily News online paper outlines the discovery of 27 new species, most of which are reptiles and amphibians. The collaborative effort between the Tropical Biodiversity Section of the MUSE-Science Museum in Italy and the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group shows just how unique the Eastern Arc Mountains are – the Ulugurus, the Udzungwas, and the Usambaras. (They also have fantastic names!)

Not only do these tropical forests harbor a large number of endemic species, they are critically important in maintaining freshwater resources that people depend on for agriculture and domestic uses such as cooking, bathing, and drinking. This link exemplifies why the protection of habitats – and not just a focus on individual species – is so important. If we take a holistic, big-picture approach to resource conservation, many of the associated issues in development become more manageable: more people have more access to cleaner water, meaning that improved personal hygiene and sanitation lead to lower medical costs. Simultaneously, when coupled with sustainable management of soils, food security improves, leading to the economic growth of farmers’ livelihoods. Higher levels of biodiversity in protected areas often also mean an uptick in tourism and the revenue that generates for both local communities and national governments.

Udzungwa Forest

Udzungwa forest. Look closely, and you can see my son on the footbridge at the bottom of the photo.

The conservation of biodiversity in the context of a developing country like Tanzania is a tricky, complex process involving myriad factors, all of which are changing rapidly. If the answer were simple, the problems mentioned above would have been solved decades ago. I just hope that the people making those decisions can find a way to sort it out before we’ve lost it all forever – the forests, the species, and the livelihoods.

Video

Grow a Tiny Forest Anywhere!

This video recently came through in my daily feed from TED. I love trees. If I have a logo, it’s a tree. Specifically, my logo would be a baobab (Adansonia digitata), which is probably the coolest tree I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. I camp under an amazing one in Mikumi National Park, about 5 hours from Dar es Salaam, every May. Same tree, year after year.

But I digress. In the video below, Shubhendu Sharma describes how his firm has applied industrial manufacturing processes learned from Toyota to the planting of biodiverse forests. It’s pretty cool what they’re able to accomplish in a short period of time in tiny little spaces.

Link

Climate Change Plan Considers Trees, Elephants, People

I came across this article on my Twitter feed this morning. It relates to several topics within our ESS syllabus, such as Topic 4 – Conservation and Biodiversity, Topic 6 – Global Warming, and Topic 3 – Resources as Natural Capital.

It outlines the potential links between trading carbon credits on an international exchange, economic development in rural Africa, wildlife conservation, and the battle to combat ivory poaching.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/07/140705-kenya-elephant-poaching-carbon-credits-world-science/