Category Archives: Camp Life

Seeing Lions: An Intern’s Experience at Noloholo’s Environmental Summer Camp

By Savannah Swinea

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The road we travel is so bumpy – I fear every moment that I will be thrown out into the outskirts of Tarangire National Park. But the students around me show no fear, only happiness and excitement, so I relax as we traverse the Maasai Steppe of Northern Tanzania spotting zebra, giraffe, and antelope. Suddenly, the car stops and all heads turn as we are told that lions are nearby. We see them in the distance, and the students become quiet with awe as they stare through their binoculars. I ask, “Have you ever seen lions before?” They all shake their heads, saying “no” without words. The two lionesses lie close together under the shade of an acacia tree. After a long period of silent observation, the Land Rover starts again and we continue to explore the savannah ecosystem. When we return to the campsite, it is evident that the journey has sparked the interest of the students, and their environmental teachings about these beautifully unique creatures can finally be put into the perspective of one lucky enough to see them in person.

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As an intern in the Environmental Education department of the African People and Wildlife Fund, I work closely with the primary school students who venture to Noloholo as part of the environmental summer camps hosted here. The camps give top students in the area practical knowledge of their environment and how to take care of it, and sometimes provide a glimpse at the vulnerable species that become more rare every day. The students are not only intelligent and motivated but are also kind and fun-loving. I believe their sense of adventure and awareness of their environment will allow them to succeed as stewards of the country that is their home: Tanzania.

Camp kids playing at Noloholo

10 Years of People & Wildlife [VIDEO]

Full article published on National Geographic Cat Watch

Just ten years ago, two young explorers set up camp by a small acacia at the top of a hill given to them by the rural Tanzanian community of Loibor Siret. That camp was to eventually become a permanent base for the African People & Wildlife Fund’s conservation programs focusing on the lions of the Maasai Steppe – a program that now protects thousands of head of livestock and 100 lions every year with over 500 Living Walls. With one side of the hill looking to the community rangelands and the other side looking to the eastern edge of Tarangire National Park, a flagship haven for African biodiversity, the location was a perfect metaphor for the work they set out to do.

Those two explorers were Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld and Charles Trout, now directors of the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW). What started as a tent on top of a land rover has grown into an operation that spans 19 communities across 30 000 km2 of Northern Tanzanian rangelands. The small two-man tent has been replaced by the Noloholo Environmental Center, a one-of-a-kind emblem combining traditional architecture and sustainable design that stands on top of the hill where it all started and marks the organization’s headquarters in Tanzania. The newly released 2014 Annual Report highlights the milestones of the last ten years, and as we celebrate a decade of success on the Steppe we invite you to share in celebrating Big Cats and Communities in Northern Tanzania.

This video highlights the journey we have taken over these past 10 years, and the strong relationships that have stemmed from it:

Hard-Working Hands Span Cultures and Generations to Come Together for Big Cat Conservation

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By Deirdre Leowinata, African People & Wildlife Fund

Originally posted on National Geographic Cat Watch on November 14th, 2014

Africa is the land of diversity, hosting a vast amount of biological and cultural variance within each of its 53 countries. Biologists and David Attenborough fans all over the world know it for its unique, charismatic species: The roaring, the stampeding, and the larger-than-life. Anthropologists and Human Planet fans know it for its lion hunters, its hunter-gatherers, and its fascinating traditions that have been remarkably preserved through time. As a single country, by certain measures Tanzania contains more distinct peoples and languages than there are countries in the world (see Hirst, 1972). It is a land rich in history, and draws thousands of tourists every year for a walk on the wild side.

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Our staff at the Noloholo Environmental Center are from all over Tanzania: the slopes of Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru to the islands of Lake Victoria; the bustling metropolis of Dar es Salaam to the small rural villages surrounding our environmental center. Most tourists bypass our little corner of the country beside Tarangire National Park, but this year we benefitted from two National Geographic Student Expeditions that came from all over the world to add a little bit of big-cat- conflict education to their photo and wildlife safari.

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(Photo by Charlotte Thorson, caption by Joseph Peralta)

Each group spent a day in the communities surrounding our Noloholo Environmental Centre building the protective enclosures for local homesteads (‘bomas’) we call Living Walls. Nothing brings people together like hard labor (except perhaps Tammy), which has a way of completely leveling social stratification. In the warm afternoon sun the same beads of sweat were glistening on the skin of the students, leaders, boma residents, office staff, field officers, and even our executive directors. As holes were dug, Commiphora poles were planted, and fencing was nailed around the enclosure, students and local community members bonded — with smiles and kind gestures when no one was available for translation.

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(Photo by Sitara Pal, caption by Fefe Malton)

In the history of the world, ethnic diversity has not always been tied to positive things. Often, cultural differences have had negative outcomes like social and economic inequality, which has many times led to violence and suffering. On those two sizzling afternoons in Northern Tanzania, the same red earth dusted the faces and coated the multicolored hands of many regions, hands that were working together towards one goal. That goal was peace between two different kinds of neighbors: humans and wildlife.

In an area where lions and other big cats roam among the herds of Maasai cows, Living Walls reduce attacks on livestock and consequent retaliation on lions. The walls mark the union of two unique pools of knowledge, and during the wall building, those two bomas on the Maasai Steppe marked the union of many different cultures. It may have been just me, but I think I caught a glimpse of the ideal world, and it looks pretty beautiful.

You can sponsor a family’s Living Wall by donating to our program here.

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Sources for this post:

Hirst, M.A. (1972). Tribal mixture and migration in Tanzania: an evaluation and analysis of census tribal data. Canadian Geographer 16: 230-248.

Miguel, E. (2004). Tribe or nation? Nation-building and public goods in Kenya versus Tanzania. World Politics 56: 327-362.

Three New Schools Join the Fun at 2014 Noloholo Environmental Camps

By Deirdre Leowinata

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Summer Camp: For many, the term brings fond memories of campfires, fast friendships, ”cannon balls” into cold water, mess halls, and hiding from the counselors when they tell you to go to sleep. For many families in North America, summer camp is a given.

In the communities that we work in here on the Maasai Steppe, summer camp is a little different. For those students who participate, our Noloholo Environmental Camps are highly competitive, involving a combined evaluation from school grades in addition to two separate tests. And if they don’t study, even the best students can’t assume they will get in, with only five boys and five girls taken from each school. When they finish their tests, students wait anxiously to hear whether they will be taking the bumpy ride to camp in our trusty lorry. For those whose names are called, you will never see children run as fast to get permission forms signed by their parents. For those whose names are not called, some can try again next year, and a gentle pep talk from our Conservation Education program officer, Neovitus “Neo” Sianga, returns smiles to the children’s faces.

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This year, we added three new primary schools to the environmental camp program: Emboret, Loibor Soit, and Mbuko. So far, we have held two weeks of camp: one for the students of Loibor Soit and Mbuko, and the second for Kangala and Emboret. As per usual, and especially for the new schools, students entered cautiously, with wary glances at unfamiliar foods (like bread and peanut butter). But also as per usual, they quickly became accustomed to camp, and the initial timidity dissolved with the small candy rewards they placed in their mouths. By the end of the week, virtually every arm went up when a question was posed.

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On the list of draws for the kids, camp provides three good meals plus two snacks a day, a severe lack of chores, clean rooms to sleep in, and absolutely no physical punishment. Our Conservation Education duo consisting of Neo and Revocatus Magayane use teaching methods that are both instructive and fun, which are two words that aren’t often used in the same sentence here on the Maasai Steppe. Children receive prizes for raising their hands, games of tag teach lessons about ecological relationships, and game drives treat them to a different perspective on the wildlife that live in their own backyards. Each day, campers have lessons on topics from ecology and natural history, to project management and astronomy, while at the same time learning about what our team does here for conservation. Lessons are taught in dynamic and interactive ways that are constantly raising their confidence in important life skills such as public speaking, organization, and debate. They are exposed to role models such as our own Joyce Ndakaru and Elvis Kisimir, and on culture day, even our interns get involved in presenting their own special family traditions alongside Maasai elders. At the end of the week every attendee receives a certificate of completion, and the most actively participating boy and girl receive their deserved recognition. Each and every child goes home a little bit wiser, a little bit braver, and a little bit plumper.

It’s no wonder our camps are so popular here.

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Camp Critters (I Spy with My Little Eye)

Living in the bush has its ups and downs, but one of the biggest ups (or perhaps downs to some) is being able to expect to find a new friend – furry, scaly, or otherwise – almost every day. This summer, we have been very lucky to receive visits from a variety of the local inhabitants from every part of the food chain, including a few shy ones that seem to have worked up the courage to say hi!

It seems to be a very sssweet summer for the snakes here at Noloholo because they have been popping up in some curious places.  It can get pretty hot out when the sun is high in a cloudless sky up here on our hill, and ectotherms like snakes have to physically move themselves into warmer or colder locations to regulate their body temperatures. Our first visitor was a beautiful young puff adder who decided that the best place for shade was our environmental centre one afternoon during a visit with Dr. Sarah Durant of the Serengeti Cheetah Project and the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative. The snake appeared in almost surreal clarity, as if sharpened to perfection. In the sun, each scale – olive, gold, and brown – was visible in full detail. If you ever get the chance to see one in the wild, you will be sure to be struck by its beauty, along with some amount of fear depending on how ophidiophobic you are. They are, after all, responsible for a large chunk of the snake-related fatalities in Africa.

 

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This puff adder is just one of the guests we had in our environmental center this summer.

Speaking of ophidiophobia, the fear of snakes, would you go for a run knowing that one of the deadliest snakes in the world was hanging around? The black mamba is named not for its skin colour, but for its mouth, which starts to resemble death itself if you stare into the seemingly endless black hole for long enough. The silhouette of a rising mamba, which can easily lift two-thirds of its muscular body off the ground, is enough to strike fear into even the bravest warrior, let alone a new father taking his daughter for a stroll.

Then, there was the central African rock python. The biggest snake in Africa, and it snuck into our environmental centre (which seems to be a popular place) without any trouble. What’s more, it managed to climb just above the doorway for a quick nap without anyone noticing until an intern with a keen eye for snakes noticed its sleeping figure. Luckily, our wildlife intern had some experience with snake handling, and after a little bit of MacGyvering, a lot of manoeuvering, and a few pictures, she was able to set the snake out into a more suitable place for a nap. It was only a baby, after all.

On the Maasai Steppe, the night brings a cacophony of noises, and no night is exactly the same. The strangely harmonious hollow call of the hyena and the distant (or sometimes not-so-distant) moans of a lion pride are truly unique and magical experiences when you’re sleeping under a billion shining stars. One of the most haunting sounds, however, is the sound of a herd of frightened zebra whooping loudly as they run from a pride of lions. The scattered calls are sure to echo in your mind for years afterwards. Especially when, the next morning, the reason for the night chorus becomes apparent with the body of a young zebra sitting next to the staff fire pit. Those moments ensure that the circle of life, both the concept and the song, still sit in the back of your mind.

As old Murphy (as well as all the data on big cat vs. snake densities) would have it, the number of times we saw snakes this summer outnumbers the number of times we saw lions in camp. However, the lions continue to remind us of their presence with their nighttime taunts. It’s funny how many animals you can see when you’re not studying them.