The recorded ramblings of an unschooled writer, aspiring biologist, amateur equestrian, ardent bookworm, avid music appreciator, increasingly addicted runner and college student spending the summer in Ely, MN.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ngorogoro adventures!

October 28, 2009

Catching up on the evening of the 29th – I didn’t have an opportunity to charge my laptop yesterday, so I jotted down some quick notes about things I wanted to be sure to mention, so here goes:

I woke up at 4:45 am in order to ensure that I would have time to shower. I did – it was well worth the early wake up time because the water was HOT!

We divided into smaller groups for more van/jeep like vehicles, as big trucks like the ones we have been riding in are not allowed in the crater. I rode in bio van #1 with Mwalimu Ken, Peggy, Heather, Lydia, Zach and Anton. Our guide Erneste Mosi was kind of the usual touristy Tanzanian guide – filled with many helpful facts that aren’t ever exactly true, but extremely fantastic.

When we first pulled up to the gate for the Ngorogoro Crater Conservation Area, we were greeted by an extremely touristy site – a line of singing and dancing, smiling Tanzanians performing a song about all of the many animals in the Crater while wearing zebra print vests. Ngorogoro is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Tanzania and as a result, there was even a small gift shop that all of us wanifunzi wandered into. I did make one small purchase – a bumper sticker for my car that reads “Hakuna Matata!” (No worries/problems!)

We loaded back up into the vans and headed into the Crater, a bit worried because it was very foggy and pouring rain, so even though we were excited to see rain because of the drought here, selfishly, we were a bit worried that we wouldn’t see as many animals. Luckily, once we descended into the crater, it was quite sunny, though still very windy and the lighting was excellent for photography and seeing all of the amazing creatures.

Ngorogoro was amazing in some respects, but disappointing in others. Because it is such a heavily traversed area, the animals are very used to humans in vehicles and as a result will come quite close. This is cool to see them so near, but also, I think a bit sad, because it feels more like an open air zoo than actually seeing animals in their natural habitat. I wonder how much of what you observe in a place like Ngorogoro is actually the animals’ natural behavior. Nevertheless, we saw some truly amazing things:
1. A family group of jackals (4 of them) hunting an eland calf. The mama kept turning and chasing them away and eventually even the baby kicked the leader in the head!
2. A pride of lions (about 20 females, young males and cubs) on the prowl for lunch. We saw several frightened zebra run away, watched them chase a sounder of warthogs, stalk a cape buffalo and continue on in search of more prey, though we didn’t witness any kills. The lions came so close to the vehicles, but I felt bad for them because the drivers kept moving the vans to get closer and closer and while it was cool to be near them, it its really sad that it happens every day.
3. A pair of ostriches mating.
4. Another lioness and her cub crouched by the side of the road by a Cape Buffalo carcass.
5. 50 or 60 hippos hanging out, rolling over, yawing, splashing themselves and generally having a lazy day in the “Hippo Pool”.
6. Kori Bustards (or as Douglas the safari guide calls them, “Kori Bastards”), the largest flying bird in the world
7. Yellow bill kites around the picnic area who were so bold that at one point one dove down and snatched food right out of Michael’s hand!
8. Elephants with HUGE tusks way off in the distance.
9. Vultures and hyenas on a carcass.
10. Hyenas lounging by the side of the road for an afternoon nap and another hyena trotting off in the distance carrying a spinal column of some sort in its mouth.
11. Many, many Grant’s and Thompson’s Gazelles. I can now definitely accurately tell the difference between Grant’s and Tommies! Yay!
12. Zebras running, socializing and grazing.

We camped last night at a campsite right outside of the crater, which was really cool. Even there, the animals were really habituated to humans. For example:
1. An elephant was drinking out of the main water source for the campground.
2. A pair of zebras galloped madly across the lawn between our tents and the choo (bathroom) while I was washing my hands, barking as they went.
3. A bush pig rooted around in the backpack Heather had left outside of her tent until Kai frightened it away.
4. I was getting ready to go to sleep when I heard Lisa say “Kai! Will you walk me to the bathroom? There’s a herd of zebras between us and the choo!” This of course, was really exciting to me, so I unzipped Rachel + I’s tent just enough for me to stick my head out and I spent much of the night watching the zebras graze, scratch each other’s withers, nip and cow kick at each other playfully – much like the horses I know at home do. It was so relaxing and just what I needed. At many points during the night they were mostly less than twenty feet away. The sound of zebras grazing reminded me so much of the peaceful sound of all the horses munching their evening hay after I feed them when I am barn sitting and it made me feel much, much less homesick. I only moved all the way back into my tent after I dozed off and woke up with my head resting on the grass mere inches away from a rather large pile of zebra droppings – I’m glad my tent wasn’t a few more inches to the left!

Overall, I think that its important to have places like Ngorogoro because there need to be places where people can go and know that they can see lions, warthogs, jackals, zebras, elephants, etc. so that they can get excited about them and want to do their part and donate time, money and just generally make an effort to be more environmentally friendly in their lifestyles so that as the human race in general we can gauruntee that these incredible creatures will be around for generations to come. But at the same time, I don’t think that its really truly the best way to conserve wildlife in general. I think its just as important to maintain areas like the Yaida Valley, where the twiga still run from humans because they are just as likely to be eaten as looked at and oohed and aahed over.

As amazing as Ngorogoro was, for me the Hadza experience was much more real because I was experiencing the true behavior of wild animals like twig and baboons – they run from humans, as they well should!

The places that I’ve enjoyed the most so far on the trip have been the places that are still the most “wild”, inhabited only by the Hadza and traditional pastoralists. I’m really worried that as the human population keeps growing that these wild places will cease to exist. There are already too many humans in the world and our population only continues to increase at a ridiculous rate. People may make the argument that there is still plenty of space in the world for more humans, especially in areas like East Africa, but the truth of the matter is, having been here for almost two months now, I can see that unlike the lush, green area in Oregon that I call home which has many highly productive agricultural areas, much of the climate here is so harsh that almost all agriculture outside of very select regions fails.

I guess I’m just a little bit disgusted by own species sometimes. I mean, we’ve done some pretty amazing things – traveled to the moon, set up communications systems effective almost worldwide, made huge advances in medicine, etc. but we’ve also done a lot of terrible things. Every year, we come up with more effective ways to kill each other, are responsible for the extinction of many species of plants and animals, continue to destroy the environment and pretend like everything is just fine.

I feel really guilty to be such a part of all of it. Not that I feel that I’m solely responsible or anything silly like that, but I of course do my fair share to contribute to the world’s problems. I use (as pretty much everyone in a Western country does) excessive, extravagant amounts of water to shower, wash my clothing, clean the dishes, water the lawn , etc. I have my own car and often drive it considerable distances as the only passenger. I use iPods, computers, cell phones, electricity – all of which are nice, but not actually necessary for life. I alone generate so much garbage – wrappers, packages, uneaten food – some of which is recycled but much of which still goes to sit in a landfill. Sure, the landfill may not be right alongside the road as it is here in East Africa, but the truth is that it still exists somewhere. I participate in a sport which involves putting a large four legged animal (who can walk quite nicely his own four legs) into a big metal box on wheels and using excess amounts of fossil fuels to haul it around long distance. And I’m more environmentally conscious than many of my friends and family? That’s a terrifying thought!

I’m not quite sure how to reconcile all of this with my lifestyle at home. I’m not going to forgo the modern world and become an Oregonian Hadza, or anything like that, but I’m definitely going to have to make some changes. There are definitely small changes that I can make that hopefully over time will add up and lessen my own personal carbon footprint. Horseback riding, while totally frivolous, is something I don’t want to give up, so I think I’ll really try hard in other areas of my life to be a better, more aware world citizen and reduce my impact.

The ideas I have had so far are:
1. Be more conscious of my water use – don’t run the dishwasher unless its full, take shorter showers, etc.
2. Be more committed about buying local produce – I need to make time to go to the farmer’s market even if it feels like I don’t have any.
3. Become a vegan – I don’t intend to be ridiculously strict about it and will still eat dairy, eggs, etc. if other people cook, but when I’m in charge of making my own food there are many other alternate things I could make. Livestock production, on the scale that we in America do it is absolutely devastating to the environment and I think I’ve been lying to myself for a long time by pretending that being a vegetarian helps this at all while I still eat other animal products.
4. Plan my car time better – between work and school I will still likely be doing quite a bit of driving, but if I can plan in advance, I can make sure to stop along the way for shopping, etc. instead of going home and making separate trips.
5. Rely more on my own two feet for transportation – a two or three mile round trip to the grocery store, or a four or five mile round trip to the library is nothing, given that I’ve met many people here in East Africa who have to walk for hours in order to get to school or work.
6. Buy more things used – clothes, shoes, etc.
7. Depending on my living situation this spring/summer, grow some edible plants of my own, even if it just a small herb garden in pots on the window sill.
8. Add non-dog friendly ingredients to recipes last – that way my lab can have the leftover veggies which he so enjoys and are very good for him, instead of the food being wasted.
9. Make sure I always have my own water bottle and mug in my car so that if I do buy something to drink, I don’t have to use a paper or plastic cup.
10. Really try to share the experiences I’ve had here with other people in my life. I don’t want to be preachy or irritating because I feel like all of these kinds of decisions are really personal ones that everyone has to make for themselves on an individual basis and I’m not doing a particularly good job myself on limiting my own environmental impact as it is. But at the same time, I hope that maybe by sharing my videos, photos and stories from this trip I can help the people I know who haven’t had this experience understand some of the truly wonderful things that are in the world and then maybe they will be inspired in some small way to think about little changes they could make in their own lives.

Sorry this has been so long and serious! I promise more light hearted entries soon! I’m going to try very hard to live a much “greener” life when I return home and if anyone has any further suggestions for me (or wants to provide a helpful reminder now or then), I would much appreciate it!

Miss you all,

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