Monday, 19 February 2018

Tanzania: teaching and seeing the Ngorongoro crater wildlife

Sept – Oct 2017
I had a packed week in Tanzania; I was in Kilimanjaro for a Tropical medicine (RSTMH) conference, then had an outstanding safari with Saba Lambert and did leprosy teaching with Steve Walker to the East Africa DTMH students.

Phil Gothard (EADTMH course organiser) persuaded the tropical medicine society (RSTMH) to have an African focussed meeting in Kilimanjaro linked to his course. Many young African scientists submitted papers for the conference and I enjoyed networking with people.  We tried a speed dating type mentoring scheme to link African scientists with older colleagues. My colleague Saba, a gifted story teller, described “Mapping leprosy in Ethiopia” and won the best presentation prize. We ate spicy Tanzanian food under a vast open air thatched roof for the conference dinner.

She and I had a 3 day safari in a jeep with a roof that raised to allow safe game viewing. Our driver was young and one of 250 operators working out of Moshi, the safari industry is so big there. We drove to Arusha and had nice coffee there; but we then tried to buy toilet paper in a huge store with only empty shelves. The Tangire national park is in a huge, dry landscape.  There were many vehicles with firangis for game viewing. On a 3 hour drive we saw zebras, giraffes and wildebeest.  We witnessed a dramatic chase, starting with seeing an old lioness under a tree she then sat across our vehicle, which caused 10 vehicles to crowd around us to see her. Some gazelles were by the river bed and she raced after one that was limping, but the gazelle escaped. The lioness returned looking tired and worn out.  As a veggie I was relieved not to witness animal slaughter but the lioness probably went hungry. Many elephants were grazing and extracting water from a dried up river bed below a cliff face. We saw a huge python up a tree and drove across the landscape and up to the edge of the Ngorongoro crater.  We camped in posh tents with beds and sheets with views of the bush, i felt close to nature, the forest is all around.

Ngorongoro Crater, was formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed three million years ago, is 600m deep and has a 2600 square kilometers base.  The visitors centre at the park entrance explains the unique geology.  In the morning mist hangs across the crater.   We drove up to the crate edge through a green acacia forest and had fabulous views across the crater. Descending one traverses different ecologies and we saw huge cacti. On the crater floor we stopped by a stream where ducks, ibis and herons fed; a trio of jackals trotted by. We crossed the plain full of grazing animals, numerous zebra, endless wildebeest, gazelles (several types) and antelopes. The land is desert-like but broken up with rivers and streams. At the “hippo pool” there is water and what I thought were rocks until they moved and I could see they were 20 hippos there. There were many birds there, plovers around the pool and pelicans crash landing the water surface. We had lunch next to an acacia tree on a volcanic rock, lovely to be outside the vehicle and next to water. In the afternoon we crossed the crater floor pausing to look for rhinos (unsuccessful). We climbed up the edge of the crater on an excellent metal road up through the forest zones.
 It was the best day of game viewing I have had, there were so many animals and birds all peacefully grazing and at close quarter. There are many vehicles but not so many that one feels crowded.  The landscape had contrasting terrains, the flat dry crater bottom, the areas of water and the forest on the sides.  We returned to our posh camping and were well fed.

Woke to a hoar frost outside the tents, because the area is at 1200m.  I enjoyed the descent to the plain to Manyara park where we saw many different trees and thousands of water birds (herons, plovers and ibis) at a small lake.  A fish eagle perched in a tree.  We drove up to a viewing point. We drove to Arusha and had lunch under the trees there.  I was surprised at the large scale of the safari industry, all the lunch boxes come from a central place and have meat, sandwiches and samosas, after a couple of days there were recognizable and the drivers get weary of them. There are many tourist shops selling Tanzanian and Kenyan work.  The drivers are also in close phone contact and share game sightings.

We had a day teaching leprosy, i gave three lectures, we then taught the students the leprosy practical skills, such as nerve examination and making slit skin smears in small groups. 6 treated leprosy patients from the moshi area came up for teaching sessions. The patient for my group was an elderly man who had been diagnosed aged 10 with BT leprosy and a patch on his foot. He then dropped out of school. fortunately he was later able to return to his village and get married so although he had bad deformities he was not stigmatised. So there was lots to discuss and showed that leprosy is not always stigmatising. I had fine views of Kiliminjaro in evening light as I was driving to the airport. Next time I shall walk on a short mountain walk there.

i had a very long journey home, there was severe winds at Schiphol so my flight on to London was cancelled. `I was booked on a flight the next day, so i booked myself onto a Eurostar train and at least got home that day. I ate herrings for breakfast and shopped for Dutch foods in Schiphol!

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