Blogging is definitely more difficult in the African bush – limited electricity and busy schedules! We left our beautiful bandas at Riverside Campground for Chogela Camps (our most “rugged” accommodations thus far) in Tungamalenga. I am sharing a tent with Jocelyn and Sukuman and two toilets and one warm shower with over 20 women. Despite this, I am having the time of my life! I love life in the bush! Our first full day at the campsite we had a discussion around the smoking campfire about our previous day visiting the Maasai village. In the village we were treated to chai and flatbread, a song and dance with the women, and beautiful jewelry available to purchase. We were invited to come into their homes and visit with their women and children. We asked questions about their animals, their lifestyles, and their challenges. They were very willing to share with us and open their doors to all of us “mzungu.” I felt very humbled to be able to see life through their eyes for a day. I asked Mzee about his attitude towards the nearby Ruaha National Park, to which responded “It is my property.” The Maasai are pastoralists who migrate with their animals to wherever they can find food and water. Sometimes this means into buffer zones called “Wildlife Management Areas” intended to reduce human-animal-wildlife conflict and disease transmission. With the increasing human populations, the protected wildlife areas are feeling intense pressure from the local people. The animals can easily become nuisances and are then subject to poaching. These challenges will become increasingly common and more difficult to manage in the future. This is one of the primary reasons we are here in Tanzania.
During our morning discussion with Dr. David Mutekanga, Assistant Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society Ruaha Landscape, we summarized the challenges and brainstormed potential solutions for the Maasai people. My contribution to the group was a final thought: I kept hearing from my colleagues from developing countries about the local tribes in their countries and I realized that the U.S. has a history of extirpating those of a different culture (i.e. Native Americans). Development should not equal loss of biological and cultural diversity. The Maasai should be able to maintain their culture, but compromise will be required if there is to be peaceful relationships with minimal disease.
After our morning of discussion we divided into groups and mine was off to test Maasai cattle for bovine tuberculosis. It was so great! I got to draw blood from the jugular vein, shave spots for the PPD injection along the neck, and measure the initial skin thickness with calipers. We knocked down 4 animals and tested to get an idea of the health of the herd. After the testing we headed to the Maasai household to have a more intimate discussion with the family. They were so candid with us and even asked us a few questions of their own. The women, for example, wanted to know how old women are when they get married in developed countries. They also wanted to know how we all came together from different countries. It was great hearing what questions they had, and it started feeling like a real “Oprah moment.”
The Maasai are very generous by letting a group of students use their animals for learning. It is very important that we honor their generosity by giving back to them in a measurable way. The Mzee requested things like dip tanks for their cattle, a veterinary pharmacy to get drugs for their animals, and money for their children to go to school. They want us to help them solve their problems and not just come and tell them what problems they have. Lesson learned: in research it is so important to maintain relationships with those who help you do your work. Don’t just arrive and collect samples and leave. This has been done in the past and it leaves bitterness and reduces the likeliness that these people will allow for additional research in the future. Give back in a way that is meaningful to the people you are working with and who your research affects. Take the time to learn what they need and how they are gaining from your presence.