I have to emphasize it again: the Greater Ruaha Ecosystem is a beautiful place. The stunning variety of landscapes between the village land, wildlife management areas (WMAs), and Ruaha National Park is just spectacular. There is also a high concentration of wildlife in some areas of the park and WMAs allowing fantastic game viewing. In fact, two bird species were first described in Ruaha National Park within the last 15 years and one of them, the Tanzanian red-billed hornbill (Tockus ruahae), is now among the most common birds that one can easily observe in the park. The bird is everywhere! Also, according to our research assistants, as the dry season (starting from September to December) nears, the majority of the animals head closer to the banks of the Great Ruaha River, making it more predictable to observe large mammals, especially carnivores and elephants. But since we arrived just after the rainy season, Leandro and I have been navigating some challenges in our fieldwork. For my research, I need high resolution photos of giraffes. At this time of the year, the grass is still long, the bushes are still green and the giraffes are taking advantage of the cover. Sometimes it can get frustrating but Baraka and Justin (the two research assistants I have worked with so far), have been really helpful in maneuvering the car so that I can get good shots. Other times the giraffes just win the game of hide and seek.
Leandro also has to deal with the unpredictability of the landscape, more importantly for the location of his camera-trap grids. He randomly chose the locations when doing his experimental design and now we have to set them up physically at the exact GPS coordinates. Sometimes the location is easily accessible by car, other times the location is a 1.5km walk through bushes, down a valley or it can also be just stone’s throw away from someone’s boma (livestock enclosure). Whenever we see a boma near the camera trap location, we explain to the head of the boma what we are doing, the benefit of Leandro’s research and the need to use a part of their property. The local people’s major concern is interference with the pasture for their livestock or their cattle grazing but we have assured them that there is nothing to be worried about. The locals have been really receptive to Leandro’s research (seeing the potential benefits of reducing human-carnivore conflict) and often will openly discuss the carnivores they have observed when Leandro is explaining his work. Ruaha is really incredible that wild animals regularly roam through the village lands and WMAs.
Speaking of wild animals roaming everywhere, I can now say that I fully understand why Bruce Wayne thought using the name ‘Batman’ was a brilliant idea. Every now and then, there’s a bat that visits the toilet/bathroom assigned to Leandro and I in the basecamp. As an ecologist, I normally like all animals but I am not a huge admirer of small animals that scurry around so fast scaring the living daylights out of me and this specific bat falls within that category. Funny enough, it chooses to fly around just when nature calls or when I am taking an evening bath. Unlike Leandro with the local people, I cannot explain to it that I need to use the property and that it has nothing to be concerned about. Anyway, that is a challenge that will be surmounted. This week I had the chance to visit the Ruaha Hilltop Lodge, which is in the Mbomipa WMA just South-east of the national park. As the name indicates, the lodge is located on a hill and has incredible views of the WMAs and Ruaha National Park. It is really a stunning place to relax after a hard day’s work.