Tanzania 2019

Wildlife and Ecology in East African Ecosystems


Dr. Jeremy Kerr
University of Ottawa

Catherine Sirois-Delisle (csiro098@uottawa.ca) a PhD candidate at uOttawa, will join us in the field as a co-instructor.

August 18 to September 3, 2019. We fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO), midway between Moshi and Arusha. We arrive early afternoon on August 19.

Tanzania - a transect of national parks across its northern frontiers, including Arusha NP, Manyara NP, Tarangire NP, Ngongoro Conservation Area, and Serengeti NP.

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 as it cools down. Safaris do not take place after dark. 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. 

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.

Basic field gear requirements

Very little is required in terms of specialized field gear. It is not necessary to go out and equip yourself with “safari stuff” or to buy specialized clothing that most people in Canada do not already possess. We are camping everywhere except when we are in Moshi, the city where we will spend two or three days at the start of the course. Students will be paired up in tents.

I try to fit everything into one large suitcase (which gets checked) and one regular-sized backpack. We have to carry all the suitcases with us, which means they need to be strapped to the top of the safari vehicles. Don’t overdo it.

We are travelling during the Tanzanian dry season. As a nearly-equatorial country, Tanzania doesn’t have a hot and cold season like we do here. Summers in Toronto or Ottawa are often hotter and far more humid than what we will experience in Tanzania. Expect a high temperature of about 28-30 degrees C in the Serengeti (at the hottest point in early afternoon) and low temperatures around 17-18 degrees C. It can be COLD at the top of the crater around Ngorongoro, so you need a jacket or effective sweater there to stay warm.

You need to be prepared for two major environments in terms of clothing: urban and safari. In urban areas, you’ll obviously be around many Tanzanian citizens, and we must dress appropriately. Tanzanian society is somewhat conservative, which means that both women and men should avoid “revealing” clothing. Tops should cover shoulders and chests and stomachs more or less completely, midriffs should not be exposed, and pants/skirts/whatever should be on the long side. The basic idea in cities is to attract no negative attention and to be respectful of local customs. On safari, things are more relaxed. Tanzanian guides are well used to our western summer attire and shorts and relaxed tops won’t cause undue trouble. Dress for extremely sunny weather that can burn skin rapidly.

I always wear shoulder-covering tops and usually wear synthetic fabric pants. I use button-up, synthetic fibre shirts more than t-shirts because they are cooler and better ventilated. I bring a few synthetic fibre t-shirts that move moisture away from your body. Always have a hat and sunglasses. Baseball caps are fine for protecting your nose but excellent at failing to protect ears and the back of your neck. So, I rarely use them in the field and NEVER without a lot of sunscreen. Broad-brimmed hats are a better choice.

Clothing summary:

  1. A few pairs of trousers - cool and light

  2. Shorts (women: wear a sarong or wrap over shorts if in urban areas, pants are fine too; men: pants only in urban areas)

  3. A few t-shirts and a few button-up shirts or blouses. At least one or two long sleeve shirts to protect arms from sun.

  4. Sun hat - broad brimmed

  5. Warm outer layer (e.g. fleece)

  6. Waterproof jacket/windbreaker

  7. Summer hiking socks - several pairs

  8. Walking/hiking boots/shoes (closed toe always for outdoor activities)

  9. Sandals for comfort and long drives

  10. undies - as many pairs as you need

  11. pyjamas or something comfortable/appropriate you can wear in a tent with a fellow student.

  12. Bathing suit (some campgrounds may have pool areas)

  13. Camp towel for showers

Sunscreen. High SPF and water resistant in case you sweat a lot. Unless you are lucky enough to have skin that never burns, equatorial sunlight in the dry season is nasty for sunburns.

Cameras. Any kind of camera is fine. Many people have wonderful success with the cameras on relatively recent cellphons. I shoot a lot of fun wildlife/ecosystem pictures on my iPhone 7+. Even on a really good cellphone, however, optical zooms are weak (if they are present at all) and you need strong optical zoom to see many of the organisms you’re travelling to Tanzania to experience. I used to use a Canon point and shoot camera and I have many wonderful pictures from it.

These days, I also bring more more powerful photography gear with me. I shoot with a Nikon D7100 DSLR, which is great and reasonably compact, but the lenses are a different matter. I will have a variety of zoom lenses with me, ranging from a “walking around lens” at 16-85mm, to a medium zoom (70-300mm) and a serious safari zoom at 200-500mm. Because my camera uses a DX sensor, the effective zoom on these lenses is multiplied by 1.5, so my big lens is effectively a 300-750mm monster. I will probably bring big and small tripods also. You do NOT need such gear to get tremendous pictures on this course.

Binoculars. I strongly suggest you bring binoculars with you. These do NOT need to be expensive. I won’t advise you on what binoculars are best, as everyone has different views about what works best for them. It’s a personal choice. I use older, slightly beat-up, MEC-branded binoculars. They have 8X magnification and an objective lens diameter of 42mm (that is, 8X42 binoculars). I suggest that 8-10X magnification is about right. The second number (42mm) has to do with how much light the binoculars let in. Bigger numbers are better, but we’ll be working in full sun most of the time. Small, dim, dirt-cheap binoculars are vastly better than none at all.

Sleeping bag. Yes, you need one. Summer bag with sleeping liner should be adequate. Tents are provided.

Sleeping mat. There are foam rollouts to sleep on but some people find these uncomfortable. I sleep on a 3/4 length thermarest that self-inflates. When I’m feeling sore, I put this on top of an ultra-light camping cot.

Sunglasses. It’s really bright out there. I bring athletic, polarized shades and I cannot do without them. Anything that stays on your face and that you can use with your binoculars will do. Such sunglasses are easy to find and are not expensive in places like MEC.

Batteries/power: Our camp crew has always been able to field-charge our electronics using their generator. You must bring your own chargers and cables. If you want to bring a USB power supply, these can be good for a couple of extra days of power for cellphones and the like. Tanzania uses UK-style plug adaptors.

Water bottle: We will have bottled water in the field with us at all times. It is redundant as a consequence to have a water bottle, but this is at your discretion. Make sure it stays clean, if you bring one.

Reading materials: It’s a pretty social course, but if you like to read before bed or on long drives in between places, bring something along. I will probably bring a Kobo and some e-books in addition to a cellphone. Bringing physical books is cumbersome and heavy. You can bring what you want but you have to carry them.

Photocopies of passport and visa: Everyone MUST bring a photocopy (not a digital photo, a photocopy) of their passport and the visa that is issued by the Tanzanian High Commission prior to departure (more on that at a later date). We bundle these up and send them to the Canadian High Commission in Tanzania so they know who is with us in the field.

Sunscreen and insect repellent: I usually use SPF30 or higher and always use water-resistant stuff. Getting a burn can make for an uncomfortable trip, so be careful to avoid this. There are some mosquitoes but, in the dry season, they are uncommon. If we find a patch where they are present (e.g. in Moshi), mosquito bites should be avoided because of malaria risk. So, bug spray with Deet is part of your recommende course kit. I will have some.

Flashlight: Yes, you need one and no, a cellphone light is insufficient. You need a dedicated flashlight. I’d recommend you use a compact LED light of some sort: battery life can be very long and they are bright enough to illuminate a fair distance ahead of you. Here’s the basic rule: you need to see if a buffalo is standing 20 or 30m ahead of you if you head to the bathroom in the darkness while we are campling in the Serengeti. Such lights are inexpensive and commonly available.

Teddy bear: I don’t bring one of these (no, really, I don’t), but some people seem to really want a sleep toy. I have no advice at all about what kind is best.

Travel medication and other personal medications/toiletries: Please follow medical advice. Typically, you will be prescribed Malarone or something like it as an anti-malaria drug. You might also be prescribed a small package of antibiotics (like Cipro) in case you get a nasty bout of food poisoning. In advance of travel, you may also be prescribed various vaccines or oral medications to reduce or eliminate risks of hepatitis A (associated with food poisoning or contaminated water), typhus, and a variety of standard boosters, like MMR. We will not be entering a yellow fever country, so a yellow fever vaccination has never been required in the past.

Other gear summary:

  1. Personal wash kit  inc: travel soap, travel towel, toothpaste etc

  2. Small first aid kit for scratches, scrapes and blisters

  3. Sleeping bag (Summer bag with sleeping liner should be adequate)

  4. Sleeping mat

  5. Sunglasses

  6. Camera and batteries

  7. Water bottle (optional)

  8. Writing materials - pens/pencils

  9. Reading materials

  10. Photocopies of passport and paperwork

  11. Sunscreen

  12. Insect repellant

  13. Flashlight

  14. Sleep toy. Unicorns preferred.