Studying Wildlife Research Techniques in Tanzania

Name: Abby Pope

Type of Project: Study Abroad

This past summer, I went through a third-party program called the School for Field Studies and participated in their program on Wildlife Research Techniques. I spent one month in a small village in northern Tanzania, studying the Manyara-Tarangire ecosystem. I spent a couple hours in the classroom each week learning about different research/observation/data collection techniques and then I would actually go out into the field to apply what I learned.


The gate to Moyo Hill Camp-where I lived in Tanzania

I learned a lot during my four weeks in Tanzania, everything from learning to speak a new language to how to hand wash my clothes. But, I think the most valuable thing I learned was that I am cut out for a career in field research. For a couple years now, when people have asked me the dreaded question every college student hates to hear  (i.e. “what do you want to do?”) I’ve always confidently said field research. But in my mind, I’ve had my doubts. I’ve always had a desire to study elephants and that would mean I would have to travel to Africa or Southeast Asia in order to study them in their natural habitats. Would I be able to leave my life in America to do that? Would I be able to adapt to my new lifestyle? Would I get so homesick that I’d have to leave? These are all questions I have asked myself. So when I saw that SFS had a program that taught field research techniques in a location where I was guaranteed to see some elephants, I knew this would be my perfect opportunity to see if I really could create a career and life around field research.

Traveling to Tanzania was a big step for me in many ways. It was the first time I flew in an airplane, it was the first time I left the United States, and it was the first time I felt like I was truly challenging myself. Before leaving, I had always thought of Africa has the hot, Serengeti Plains and I was in for a huge shock when I stepped off the plain and realized how cold and green Africa could be. The cold was the first shock, the next shock was the food. We ate the same thing for breakfast every morning, lunch was different variations of pasta, and dinner was beef that was too chewy for my taste or goat or fish (meats I didn’t eat). I also had to get used to cold showers. We had a water heater that made the water lukewarm at best, but that was only when the power was on and we could actually use the heater. We had WiFi, but it was terribly slow, which made for a difficult research paper to write. There was no access to a washer and dryer, so all of our clothes were hand washed. This usually consisted of me bending over a bucket and rubbing my clothes together and trying to get all of the red dirt out of my clothes.

The view from Moyo Hill

The view from Moyo Hill

All of these things that were very hard to get used to. After all, I had spent 20 years used to the fact that my showers would always be hot, I had no reason to wash my clothes by hand, and I always had multiple options when it came to food. And even though these were obstacles, I got through them, because they were really only such small inconveniences compared to the people I was meeting, the things I was learning, and the places I got to see.

For the first time, in a long time, I actually enjoyed all of my classes while I was in Tanzania. They were interesting to me and the fact that I got to apply what I learned one morning in class later out in the field in the afternoon was amazing. Everything made a lot more sense when I could actually apply theory to practice and I gained a lot of valuable information on different types of field research techniques.

We spent an afternoon identifying animal tracks with the Maasai (I'm on the far right) !

We spent an afternoon identifying animal tracks with the Maasai !

At the end of my stay, when I re-evaluated everything that I had been through and experienced, I realized that I was extremely capable of having a career in field research. It would undeniably be a little bit challenging at first, overcoming the cultural shock and getting used the resources I’d have available to me, and accepting that I was away from home and family. But, I’ve always considered myself to be fairly adaptable so I think that the mores times I travel to a new location, it will seem like more of an adventure rather than a challenge.

I was extremely delighted by how I handled my safari in Tanzania and I came back to Ohio State rejuvenated and ready to tackle any academic challenge that might be thrown my way on the road to becoming a research scientist. Ideally, I’d like to study elephant behavior, so I’m excited to take my behavior/endocrinology classes next year. I’m also eager to use my new knowledge on research techniques to aid me in my own individual research in the lab that I’m currently in. And, lastly, rather than being anxious about graduate school, I’m now very excited about all the possibilities/projects that lie ahead of me.

I will never forget my time in Tanzania. The experience made me a better person and a better student. I am now more aware about the problems and challenges people in other cultures face on a day to day basis. Though this is the only way they know how to live their lives, I respect what they do every day and I appreciate the resources I have so much more. I’m so excited to begin my career in field research and the classes I took and the techniques I learned only reaffirmed that.

There were so many elephants in Tarangire National Park!

There were so many elephants in Tarangire National Park!

Before leaving and during my stay, I kept a blog about my travels. It was a great way for me to process what was happening and to be able to share what I was doing with my friends and family while I was away. You can find all 24 of my posts here: Lions and Elephants and Giraffes, Oh My!

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