It’s been nearly a year since I started my ZELS-AS PhD and it’s been one filled with a couple of rough roads (literally) and many new exciting experiences. I set out for my first field trip at the end of January this year, beginning with the long drive from Arusha to our field house in Mugumu, on the North-Western corner of the Serengeti. We had a bit of a moment as we stopped to observe a pair of lions at the edge of the road, and heard the dreaded hiss of a tyre very quickly letting itself down. We managed to drive on for a couple of hundred metres before our five-strong female team managed to change the tyre in the middle of what felt like a monsoon whilst keeping watch for our furry friends!
After an overnight stop in Seronera due to our tyre delay, we arrived in Mugumu. We then headed to the field house where I would be staying for two months, and met our wonderful housekeeper Zilpah, who cooked, cleaned and washed clothes and generally kept me going. Her lack of English was also very useful for my attempts at learning Swahili! We were also introduced to our worryingly cute guard dogs, Kali and Simba.
During my two months with the team from the Tsetse and Trypanosome Research Institute (TTRI), I completed four transects to trap tsetse in the Ikorongo game reserve, on the edge of the Grumeti game reserve and into the villages of Robanda and Park Nyigoti. The aim was to examine the impact of vegetation on the dispersal distances of tsetse from rivers in and on the edges of wilderness areas. Our results (which are still being contemplated) were in some cases unexpected and raised questions about the use of insecticide on the edges of the game reserves.
This leads to my current trip. I arrived in Tanzania two weeks ago, armed with 1000 disposable razors and the same amount of aluminium bags. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, when you approach the biological safety manager at your institution they might look at you with slight amusement when you ask if you have licences to import hair from cattle into the country from Africa. I had decided that being able to quantify the amount of insecticide applied on cattle around the edges of parks would be useful when examining the larger picture of control in these areas and with this in mind I applied for a new import licence and began acquiring the equipment I would need to collect cattle hair from these herds. I was met with even more scepticism and amusement when attempting to leave the airport at Kilimanjaro. Lesson one – even if it’s not dangerous, if your equipment looks a little bit strange bring along a letter from your boss explaining that it’s for research and it definitely won’t be sold!
My normal tsetse work involves a lot of sampling in game reserves and areas where there is not that much contact with people. The cattle sampling has however been an entire new world, discovering many new villages not obvious from the main road, meeting village leaders, sub-village leaders, farmers and their families. I’ve witnessed the art of bringing down a cow, and learning that shaving a small chunk of hair from a cow requires quite a bit of skill! So far we are on target for our eight villages, involving many early mornings as we need to sample the cows before they leave the households for grazing, which in the dry season is even earlier as in some cases they need to travel long distances to find water.
Hopefully the trip will continue to go well, and I will return to Liverpool with a suitcase full of hair (something I never thought I would say) to analyse! I hope everyone’s ZELS-AS projects are going well and I look forward to catching up with you all at the end of August.
by Rachel Hopper, August 2016