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:
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.
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’.
Posted in biology, MYP Science, Random Thoughts
Tagged biodiversity, biology, conservation, cool stuff, ecology, Education, ESS, science, Science education, Tanzania
Welcome – or welcome back – to another exciting year of learning about science!
After recharging my internal batteries on an extended safari with my dad and brother, followed by a couple of weeks in Italy with my children and my mom, I’m energized for the upcoming school year. It’s time to get started on what should be an exciting, innovative, engaging year for myself and all the students in my classes.
We’ve overhauled the grade 8 science curriculum since last year, which means that this year we’ll be studying astronomy, chemistry, electricity and magnetism, and plant adaptations – a nice mix of sciences that will hopefully offer a little something for everyone.
Grade 10 science is broken into the three ‘classic’ sciences of chemistry, physics, and biology, with units on stoichiometry, sound and light waves, and genetics and evolution, respectively.
This year is particularly intriguing for me as I make the transition from teaching the Diploma Program’s Environmental Systems and Societies course for the past 7 years to my first year teaching IB Biology. It will be fun to apply some of my “teaching bag o’ tricks” to a new subject.
Let’s get started!
Posted in MYP Science, Random Thoughts
Tagged astronomy, biology, chemistry, Education, ESS, evolution, physics, science, Science education, Tanzania
Normally, I love living in Tanzania, surrounded by friendly people, amazing coasts, and almost unrivaled biodiversity. But a story recently published by The Guardian really saddens me.
The short and dirty version (and it’s a pretty dirty story, in my opinion) is that the Tanzanian government wants to sell a massive chunk of land near Serengeti National Park to the royal family of Dubai for their use as a personal hunting ground. The government claims the land will be a ‘wildlife corridor’, but President Kikwete’s representatives have told the Maasai – who have lived and died in the designated part of Tanzania for hundreds of years – that they must leave their land by the end of the year.
Tanzania is offering the Maasai $578,000 in total for the 370,000 acres (150,000 hectares) as compensation. That’s about one Pound Sterling per acre, split among the 40,000 people living there. And the government proposes to funnel the payment through ‘development projects’ instead of direct reimbursement! More bluntly: about US$14 per person for getting kicked off their land.
This same scheme was theoretically halted after large protests and a lot of international media attention last year, but the governing party seems intent on seeing it through. Considering the recent news of government officials’ knowing participation in, and even encouragement of, illegal poaching, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this plot become a staging ground for ivory exports on a massive scale.
If you haven’t heard about this issue before now, I’m hopeful that maybe the renewed public interest will put a halt to this process. But I doubt it.
You can add this to one of the reasons why Tanzania is such a special place.
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. 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.
Posted in Environmental Systems
Tagged biodiversity, conservation, Eastern Arc, ecosystems, endemic species, ESS, forest, habitat, Tanzania, Udzungwa, Uluguru, Usambara, water
Good morning. I’m back at school today after a fantastic break from classes, planning, and grading student work. It’s a bit tough to be here after the week I’ve had, which exemplifies exactly what’s kept me in Tanzania for six and a half years and counting.
My secret beach!
The first 5 days of the break I spent with my family at what is unquestionably my favorite beach in the world, and in order to maintain its status, its location shall remain secret. Suffice it to say that it’s an amazing and deserted beach with good surf and spectacularly dark skies for observing the stars. I followed up the beach trip with 3 days of camping in Mikumi National Park, where my daughter and I were able to observe over a dozen species of large mammals, including a pride of lions stalking and ultimately killing a cape buffalo, as well as a lengthy list of birds. Check out all the cool birds we saw:
- palm-nut vulture (Gypohierax angolensis)
- black-headed heron (Ardea melanocephala)
- hadeda ibis (Bostrychia hagedash)
- blacksmith lapwing or blacksmith plover (Vanellus armatus)
- Egyptian goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca)
- red-cheeked cordon bleu (Uraeginthus bengalus)
- southern ground hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri)
- pied crow (Corvus albus)
- white-backed vulture (Gyps africanus)
- yellow-billed stork (Mycteria ibis)
- African openbill stork (Anastomus lamelligerus)
- Jackson’s hornbill (Tockus jacksoni)
- helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris)
- wood sandpiper (Tringa glareola)
- red-necked spurfowl or red-necked francolin (Pternistis afer)
- lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudatus)
- greater blue-eared glossy-starling (Lamprotornis chalybaeus)
- squacco heron (Ardeola ralloides)
- African fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)
- malachite kingfisher (Alcedo cristata)
- pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)
If you’ve never visited, I highly recommend coming to Tanzania. The people here are warm, friendly, helpful, and welcoming. The landscapes are quintessentially African, the beaches and diving are world-class, and in my opinion, birding and safari opportunities are unrivaled on the continent.
I can’t remember the last time Tanzania made the science news. Maybe during the Leakeys’ days working at Olduvai Gorge, unearthing the history of early hominids? In any case, it’s a rare event, but some archaeological work in southwestern Tanzania just made the science news in one of America’s biggest papers: the Los Angeles Times.
It turns out that gigantic herbivorous terrestrial dinosaurs roamed this part of Africa about 100 million years ago, when Africa and South America were part of a large supercontinent called Gondwana. The article also nicely summarizes how the fossil record continues to boost our understanding of the process of evolution by natural selection. Give it a read.
There’s a serious problem with elephant poaching in Tanzania, and it seems to be getting worse by the day. The series of articles below outline some of what’s happening in this beautiful country and just how devastating the Asian demand for ivory is to Tanzania’s natural resources.
We can consider elephants as natural capital, a resource base which may be replenished given enough time for growth. However, it would appear that current rates of destruction from ivory poaching far outstrip elephants’ natural replacement rate, meaning that overall populations in Tanzania will continue to decline.
Have a read through the following articles, all of which were sent to me by my fellow science teacher, Matt Erdosy, while we wee in classes today. The first one describes the armed robbery of a tourist bus in the Ngorogoro Conservation Area (NCA) in northern Tanzania – a bold move on the poachers’ part, showing that they’re not too concerned about police enforcement here.
The second article details the other end of the ivory trade – the retailers in New York and other large cities who pass along ivory to the final consumers. This article in particular discusses the regulatory shortcomings of laws in the consumer countries.
The final few articles delve into some of the internal politics influencing the failure to effectively police ivory and rhino poaching in Tanzania, including a petition to return a government minister to his role combatting poaching.
At the current rate of killing, there may be no more elephants in Tanzania within a decade. That means no elephants on safari anywhere – not in Serengeti, not in Mikumi, or Selous, Ruaha, Katavi, or Tarangire. Nowhere!
January 21, 2014 in Environmental Systems, Grade 9 Science
Tagged biodiversity, conservation, ecology, elephants, ivory, natural capital, natural income, poaching, rhino, rhinoceros, Tanzania
Thanks to Matt Erdosy for passing this along to me, and to Neil and Liz Baker of the Tanzania Bird Atlas for their contribution. Below please find a short version of a recent report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which details the extent of ivory poaching in Tanzania and other east African nations. The numbers are just staggering:
- Over the last 10 years a third of Tanzania’s elephants have been slaughtered.
- 20 elephants were killed in the 2nd quarter of 2013 in Tanzania’s protected Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
- One prominent Tanzanian Game Reserve and a National Park have lost 42% of their respective elephant populations over the last 10 years, amounting to a staggering count of 31,348 carcasses.
- 10,000 elephants are killed annually (that’s 27 elephants a day, or just over one every hour!).
The rest of the report is pretty fascinating as well. It details migrant smuggling in the Horn of Africa region, heroin trafficking from Asia into Africa, and piracy from Somalia. Click on this link to read the full document, Transnational Organized Crime in East Africa: A Threat Assessment.
Posted in Environmental Systems
Tagged biodiversity, conservation, drugs, east Africa, ecology, elephants, ESS, ivory, poaching, Tanzania, topic 4, United Nations