Leonard brought up an undeniable point this week when I got back into Tungamalenga from the villages out near the Waga-MBOMIPA border. The students need experience in the park. Leonard and Inno, running the school training safari guides at the border of Tanzania's largest nation park, struggle to get the cohorts of students into Ruaha for even one day during their 3-month course. In other words, Mkuyu guides face the same barriers to *positive* interactions with wildlife as most other Tanzanians: going into the park to see animals is prohibitively expensive, which leaves the remaining park relationships to be based on experiences of crop raiding and livestock predation. Livelihood destruction and inequality aside, this reality is problematic when you're training to shepherd tourists, safely and knowing of all things, through their safari. To be clear, these limitations are only so limiting- all the students can still identify the 80ish non-avian vertebrate species in Ruaha (along with most plants, and I've already mentioned their skills as birders).
But, we're thankful for Mzee (Mr) Kisenyage, the Executive Secretary and benevolent leader of the Pawagi-Idodi MBOMPIPA Wildlife Management Area (see previous rambling post). When Leonard requested permission for a game drive, Mz. Kisenyage said karibu, Mkuyu is most welcome. This meant that Mkuyu could enter the WMA for a game drive, which means a super accessible, cheap, and awesome (it's the communities' wildlife area, and so there's a great sense of pride) way to get experience. There remained only the transport issue. I was in town, and Bruce and I had nothing to do during prime evening game drive hours (5-7ish). An aside, and perhaps informative for the mostly UK-based audience here, Bruce is our aging yet reliable blue blood working class 80s landcruiser, named after the Boss himself. Together, Bruce and I can get 8 students plus Inno or Leonard into and out of the WMA no problem.
Easy as that. We split the group of 17 over Monday and Tuesday evenings. The MBO border is 5/7km or so from Mkuyu camp, less than a half hour. Since it's thick into the rains, the elephant grass is about Bruce-high but lists over, so you get this amazing sense of floating just head-above the matt of green, seeing over stretches and valleys when the miombo opens up. MBOMIPA is a gorgeous landscape. The students identified 42 bird species during the 3 or 4 hours of daylight split over two days. Though Inno had to continually hassle Frankie for wandering too far from Bruce when we stopped (in Frankie's defense, he was stuck in the inward facing seats in back, which is a rough spot to be stuck for viewing) because of the high grass being great hyena/lion stalking cover, the kids were thrilled. Monday we saw a big male hyena and large groups of giraffe and impala. Tuesday we were skunked on what the students giggled as quadruped wildlife (but the Tues ID'd twice as many bird species as Monday's). Yes, MBO has lower wildlife densities than Ruaha, but I'll save the reasons behind it for a later date in order to end this on the upbeat note that it warrants. The students are awesome, but more importantly they're interested and knowledgeable conservationists. A Ruaha trip is in the works. In the interim they'll be submitting checklists to their new eBird account, which will provide some of the first records for species presence and behavior *outside* of the park.
Thanks again to Jon for his help and insight and also for getting some smiles in the picture below, very difficult in my experience! Find out more about Mkuyu Guide School here, and keep up to date with the blog for more updates.