Tanzania 2019

Leopard in an Acacia tree in the Serengeti. Photo by instructor during the field course in 2014.

Leopard in an Acacia tree in the Serengeti. Photo by instructor during the field course in 2014.


Ontario Universities Program in Field Biology


Course Title:

Wildlife and Ecology in East African Ecosystems


Dr. Jeremy Kerr

University of Ottawa




Dr. Rachelle Desrochers

Department of Biology

University of Ottawa


ROUGHLY August 20 to September 3, 2019 (dates are chosen to minimize flight costs).




Approximately $5500 (Airfare, accommodations, travel within country, and food are included; some additional costs for travel medicine and a travel visa are necessary). The exact cost will depend upon airfares, itineraries, and the international monetary exchange rates at the time our booking is made. We have no control over such fluctuations and students must recognize that costs may vary. The standard deposit will be required to secure a place in the course. 


Completion of second year university biology program, including introductory ecology course, or equivalent that we recognize is mandatory. Permission of the instructor and satisfactory completion of the course’s risk assessment materials are required. For safety reasons, students must agree to and abide by a code of conduct, take responsibility for their actions in the field, and formally recognize risks in a waiver. 

Enrolment: ~22 (8 spots reserved for uOttawa students)

Course Description:

This course brings students on wildlife safari through some of the world’s most extraordinary and iconic ecosystems, found across northern Tanzania, one of the safest areas in Africa. Ecosystems in the area include different kinds of forests, savannahs, and higher elevation ecosystems on the slopes of extinct volcanoes. Parks to be visited include the Serengeti, Kilimanjaro, Ngorongoro, Tarangire, and possibly Arusha). We will discuss how ecological interactions in this region are shaped by climate, wildlife migration, volcanic history, and human use of different habitats. We will observe species’ behaviour and interactions in the field and some introduction to human-wildlife interactions (including zoonotic diseases).  


  • 15% oral participation and engagement with course activities, including Mandatory half-day risk management session attended in person or by teleconference.

  • 15% oral presentation in the field based on elements of the field experience in Tanzania. Oral presentation is researched and prepared in advance of field course.

  • 35% field book: observations and responses to questions completed in the field.

  • 35% final essay: expanded and scholarly presentation of material covered in the oral presentation for the course, using primary scientific literature (i.e. journal articles) as sources.

All components of the course must be completed, including risk management participation.

Before the course, each participant will be asked to become the "course expert" for a particular ecological or conservation topic and to prepare a short seminar on the subject, which will be presented informally to the group during evening in the field. Formal reports must be submitted within three weeks after return to Canada.  

Participants must be able to hike for moderate periods in warm weather and at elevations. Safety rules in the field must constantly be observed. Participants must contact a travel physician prior to the start of the course regarding necessary vaccinations, preventative medications and to receive advice regarding personal medical requirements (e.g. asthma or allergies). All participants must have a passport that will be valid for six months past the end of the course. Citizens of most countries (including Canadians) require a visa before departure. Travel abroad involves inevitable risks; consult the Foreign Affairs travel web site. Additional information on risks will be provided.

*For your enrolment numbers please show the total enrolment with your reserved seats in parentheses; e.g. 12(4) would indicate total enrolment is 12 with 4 seats reserved for the home university. 

An Average Day – What to Expect

(a)    Daily timeline

An average day in the field in Tanzania will begin around 0700 with breakfast prepared by camp crews and served in a meal tent or lodge. Trips out on safari will begin around 0830, including hours of wildlife and ecosystem observation during the morning. The warmest parts of the day in places like Serengeti will be when lunch is served, followed by a short rest period, and then more time out on safari in the afternoon. Safaris do not take place in the evenings. Class activities after dinner will include presentations by students, discussions amongst participants of the day’s events, notable sightings, and interpretation of observations. 

(b)    Work habitat & Physical exertion 

A significant part of the course is in the form of safari, which is in big Toyota Land Cruiser-type vehicles. However, some hiking is also likely. Walks along the middle elevations of Kilimanjaro are likely to be quite cool much of the time, as are potential hikes into a crater (Empakaai) of the Ngorongoro conservation area. These are not strenuous hikes, but they are at high elevations of about 2000-3000m, so they feel demanding compared to a walk at sea level. 

There may be some walks in hot areas near Tarangire National Park with armed guides and local conservation leaders. 

(c)    Common activities


·   Common activities include high elevation walks in areas with abundant wildlife. 

·   Associated risks relate mostly to discourteous interaction with local peoples and are mitigated through simple politeness. Some wildlife species present risks, particularly mosquitoes that may carry malaria. This risk is mitigated through the use of travel medication that prevents the disease and bug spray to prevent mosquito bites. While we will be in close proximity to large wildlife species, like elephants and buffalo, and top predators, like lions, we do not approach these animals outside our vehicles. We may encounter them on walks in the presence of trained guides or in campsites in the Serengeti, but will not approach them.  

(d)    Weather, dehydration, & biting insects

·   Because most visited regions of Tanzania are at high elevation, it is less warm than most people expect and some areas are cold, requiring jackets. The course will take place during the dry season, so significant rainfall is unlikely. Sunburn can happen fast in dry, tropical environments but this risk is mitigated identically to a day outdoors in Canada. The course is supported by a camp crew that distributes and manages pure water supplies, so dehydrations risks are low provided students remember to drink a little extra water. 

·   The two main insects that are irritants in the field are Tsetse flies, which are like horseflies in southern Canada, and mosquitoes. Tsetse flies are managed by park staff using baited traps that usually reduce tsetse populations very substantially, and tsetse fly bites have been uncommon in the past.  Mosquito bites are also uncommon in the dry season and should pose few or no risks provided students heed travel medicine advice provided by their doctor. 

(e)    Toxic/poisonous, wildlife/ plants

We have not encountered plants that are poisonous on contact, though many plants are poisonous if consumed (as in Canada). Most work on safari prevents any contact with snakes, but it is not impossible to encounter a snake (which may be poisonous) in a campsite in some areas. Students will always wear their hiking boots when walking around campsites. Mobile ant colonies called “Safari ants” can be irritating if stepped on but they form distinct groupings that can be avoided by stepping over them.  

(f)     Sleeping, washroom & laundry facilities

·   There are tents for students, who will pair up overnight appropriately. 

·   Many washroom facilities are similar to those that would be found at provincial parks in Ontario, with flush toilets and toilet paper. Students should bring their own just in case. Some pit toilets will be used in the most remote locations. 

·   There may not be laundry facilities, so students should bring enough clothes to make it through. It is possible, during breaks, for students to hand wash the most critical items if they run short. 

(g)    Meal plans & food allergies

Staff cooks are experienced at accommodating diverse dietary needs, including vegetarianism, veganism, and kosher/halal. They also have experience in catering for those with allergies.

(h)    Non-academic responsibilities

Students have few camp responsibilities beyond being courteous with camp crew staff and packing up their things as we move to new locations. Camp staff break camp and set it up elsewhere. Cooking is done by the camp crew also, as is the driving. 

(i)     Degree of isolation 

·   Camp crew can charge phones and cameras regularly using equipment in camp. 

·   Cellular service in Tanzania is better than in remote areas of Canada and cell signals are available in most locations, although it may be faint in some of the most remote locations. 

(j)     Alcohol & drugs

No drug use is permitted under any circumstances, as this is illegal in Tanzania and can be punished severely.  Responsible alcohol use in camp is permitted. There are many local beers that students may choose to purchase and there will be some opportunities to do so. 

(k)    Vaccinations/ Insurances

Vaccinations should be assessed in consultation with a travel doctor. This may include vaccination against hepatitis A and B, typhoid, tetanus, and a series of regular boosters if those are out of date. Oral prescriptions for drugs that prevent malaria (e.g. malarone) are likely to be provided by a travel doctor. 

(l)     Social Situations

Students will be working with a team of peers in a close group for a period of about two weeks. There is little time in urban environments. 

(m)  Final comments

This course has been described by many previous participants as “the best experience of my life”. We designed the class to encompass the most beautiful places we know from this part of the world. Safety remains our primary concern at all times.