This field course has been described as a “life-changing” experience (in a good way) by many of its past students. It has certainly been just that for me. I have been leading this safari to northern Tanzania for more than a decade as well as conducting different kinds of research in the region on different occasions. This page is intended to demystify the experience a little bit, but there is no substitute for just being there.
Moshi and environs
We fly into JRO, or Kilimanjaro International Airport, a very small airport that is serviced by a few major airlines. It is about halfway between Arusha, a bustling city that is the largest in the northern area of the country, and Moshi, a quieter place that is on edge of the plains just south of Mount Kilimanjaro. We drive to Moshi after arriving by our safari crew. Everyone is tired at this point. Arrival times vary, depending on which flights we end up taking. In Moshi, we will visit Mweka College, to hear about some of the ecosystems we will visit, and a few areas near the city.
Arusha National Park
After a couple of calm days around Moshi, we’ll head to Arusha National Park. This is one of the smallest parks in northern Tanzania, protecting forests and other ecosystems on the slopes of Mount Meru. There are no guarantees about what species we might find in national parks, but this is one place where we are likely to be able to get reasonably close to flamingoes or catch a glimpse of Black and White Colobus monkeys. Bird life is diverse and abundant here, as are some mammal populations.
Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara
Tarangire NP has extraordinary bird life and we have had incredible good fortune there in seeing cheetahs and cubs up close. There is abundant mammal life there also, and Tarangire is famous for elephants. Zebra and impala are also likely to be around in good numbers, and Tarangire might be the first place on this trip that we encounter the distinctive baobab trees, which have gigantic trunks and small crowns. Some are a thousand years old or more. Lake Manyara is a “soda” lake, with strongly alkaline waters. This area is perfect for flamingoes, which feed on phyto- and zooplankton that contain carotenoids, which give flamingoes their distinctive pink colouration. Lake Manyara is also home to impressive arrays of bird species and is where we are most likely to encounter some of the impressive kingfisher species, including the gray-headed kingfisher and giant kingfisher. It is also one of the few places where there is a chance of finding a lion in a tree, so look up as well as around there.
Serengeti and Ngorongoro
These are among the most iconic landscapes in the world. Both areas are vast, and form part of an even larger and continuous set of conservation areas. There is an extraordinary diversity of wildlife in these areas and the ecosystem processes have fascinated ecologists for generations. We will have a chance to discuss those processes, based on some of the readings for the course, and in-person observations. There are abundant predator populations, particularly lions, as well as ungulates. We sometimes find leopards, which are reclusive and hard to spot, and cheetahs. We will be there at the right time of year to see the wildebeest migration, but it is hard to know exactly where they will be in advance and we cannot guarantee we will see it.
We will also pass by Empakaai crater, where there is another alkali lake and usually flamingoes. This gives us a chance for a rare walking safari and we plan to descend from the rim of this crater to the valley floor. On the way back, we will stop at Oldupai Gorge, where some of the “missing link” hominid fossils continue to be found and where some of the first evidence of hominids walking upright was discovered by the Leakeys 70 years ago.