We left Ruaha today and headed for Udzungwa National Park. This part of Tanzania is much different from the places I’ve seen. It is lush and green, and water is plentiful. I almost feel like I’ve stepped into the Impenetrable Forest of the DRC. So far no mountain gorillas, so I’m pretty sure we’re still in Tanzania. Our time in RUNAPA was breathtaking and won’t soon be forgotten. We did many game drives and saw countless elephants, giraffes, impala, and even lions. We did a health assessment of the park giraffes and surveyed for skin lesions. We also immobilized free-ranging giraffes and that in and of itself was a memory I will cherish. On our final day at the park we heard from an artist who lives within Ruaha and makes a living sketching and painting the wildlife and landscapes she calls home. She was a fascinating person because she lives amongst the wildlife in the African bush, miles from the nearest doctor, grocery store, or even neighbor. I talked to her at length about her passions and her spirit for Tanzania. I told her that I dreamed of living in the field, observing wildlife, collecting samples, and living simply and sustainably. Her advice to me was simple: just do it. She said it as simply as that. If you want to do something, follow your instincts and make it happen. She then shared story after story about how she listened to her “gut” and how it had protected her and maybe even saved her life. She was inspiring not because she was able to live for 14 years in a national park without electricity or running water, but because she had a passion and a dream and she was living it. To me she symbolized drive and possibility.
To celebrate our time in the park we ended with a BBQ around the campfire down by the river. The stars were beautiful and the weather perfect. We took turns saying “asante sana” and ate a delicious meal prepared for us by the chakula mamas. Afterwards we went to a wedding reception of one of the park rangers. Envirovet helped to pay for the DJ so that we could have a joint party. The bride and groom were gracious hosts and we felt quickly at home with their families. Attending a wedding reception was an Envirovet “first” and I’m sure it was a memory none of us will soon forget. Let’s just say it was a “cultural experience.” Lots of dancing, food, music, family, friends….and did I mention dancing?!? Yes, the music didn’t end until 6:30 the following morning, but I admit my expiration was long before that.
I will miss Ruaha and I hope to return soon. There is so much opportunity for research and collaboration as the park resources are low and the staff small. But it is such a unique place that needs protecting to ensure that my children’s grandchildren will be able to see the same wildness that I experienced this week. If they do, it will surely change them as it has me.