Finally, members of RECaP are in the Greater Ruaha Ecosystem of Tanzania. The famous area where carnivores reign supreme in the wilderness and where the locals live side by side with wild animals as part of their everyday lives. We have been planning for this moment for almost a full year and the best description that we had of Ruaha was a ‘remote, unexplored carnivore haven’. True to fact, Ruaha is remote. Msago (our very knowledgeable driver and longtime member of the Ruaha Carnivore Project [RCP]), Leandro, Bob, and I had a total of 14hrs drive from Dar es Salaam to Ruaha (We spent a night in Iringa town after a 12hrs drive from Dar es Salaam). However, one should not be discouraged by the duration of the drive. The sights along the way to Ruaha are amazing especially the baobab forests in Udzungwa Mountains National Park and the views in Mikumi National Park. Our timing was also perfect; we arrived after the rainy season and the Great Ruaha River was still flowing in some areas of the Udzungwa Mountains through Iringa, allowing magnificent views of the area.
Life at RCP’s basecamp is exceptional. Every day, we are awoken by starlings, finches and weaverbirds, colorful but noisy birds. The camp is set in the middle of village lands around Ruaha National Park and just a 45 minutes’ drive from the main park gate. The location of the camp is ideal for research related to human-carnivore conflict inside the park, around the village lands and in wildlife management areas. Since we arrived here, we have been introduced to the way of life of the various communities that live in the village lands including the Masai and Barabaig, who depend on their livestock and other tribes such as Hehe, and Swahili people who cultivate the land. This gives the villages a wonderful vibrancy, especially at the market place. At the base camp, we eat freshly grown food from the farms of the locals (lovingly prepared by our incredible camp cook Mama Bora). The community at the market is very lively, friendly, and humorous. For instance, Leandro wanted to buy a whole bunch of bananas and misunderstood a farmer when she said they would cost him 150 Tanzanian Shillings (TSH)! He was a happy boy after hearing this and gave the woman of 200 TSH, told her to keep the rest and was ready to run back to the car. Turns out that the price was 150 TSH per banana but it was definitely worth it and the farmer did not make much of a fuss of the incident. It was a special moment.
Eating well and staying healthy is very important for everyone here at the basecamp, especially for the Anatolian dogs that RCP gives to the pastoralists to ward off carnivores from their livestock. On our second day in Ruaha, we participated in RCP’s program of ‘dog checking’ where the Anatolians go through a routine check up to make sure they are in good health and that their guardians are taking proper care of them. More details on this amazing program will come in a later field note – stay tuned. The code name of the project that is affectionately used around the basecamp is the ‘War against Ribs’. The dogs must always be healthy and strong enough to fight off any potential carnivores that may attack livestock. It is obvious that the local people love these dogs and that the dogs love their work. Well, the most important lesson in the first few days is that we must fight off ribs and look healthy for future endeavours. Stay tuned to hear more about this noble cause and also the adventures of studying Giraffe Skin Disease in this incredible ecosystem.