Last weekend I finally found the time to take some of the longer-term students at Mkuyu into Ruaha National Park for the day. Mkuyu Guide School is providing young people from southern Tanzania with the opportunity to learn about wildlife and the safari industry in the hope of making a career in guiding a realistic alternative livelihood. The guys have been bugging me to take them for a while and were raring to go by the time I got down to the new camp in Tungamalenga. The day started well as we found a huge chameleon right outside the camp, the guys knew all about how they change to darker colours under stress. I showed them how to use a leafy branch to get them safely out of the road, they were excited to learn that safari goers also find them fascinating!.
As we entered the park, I reminded the students that the day was intended as a learning experience for them after many hours in the classroom, and boy did they let me have it! Polite as ever, "excuse me sir, I have a question", their enthusiasm did not let up throughout the day, even after lunch, when most guests fall asleep for a bit. Everything from how to pass vehicles without too much dust, why some male lions have big manes and some don't, to why the Great Ruaha River wasn't looking so 'great'. Conservation around Ruaha National Park can often by a depressing story with population expansion, ivory poaching and mismanagement painting a gloomy picture. Spending time with young Tanzanians who are keen to learn about conservation and tourism whilst possessing an obvious passion for wildlife was truly inspiring.
The giggles of delight and gasps of "wow" on finding our first lion and sitting right in the middle of a herd of elephants were no different from those I hear out of guests from all over the world. The critical difference being that these were the people who will decide on the future of Ruaha National Park and other wild places like it all over Tanzania. Tourism can protect wild places; but only with the help and inclusion of local people. It was encouraging to see the light going on for many of the guys, looking out over Ruaha, who had pre-conceptions of the importance of wild places, not just for their intrinsic value but also for the economic future of Tanzania. One of my favourite sayings (I've no idea who coined it!?): "You have to go there, to come back," came to mind again as I watched the guys start to put together a lot of what they had been learning about.
One of the biggest hurdles the students face is speaking English and familiarising themselves with western culture, vital skills for working in tourism. To that end we had some good news recently with the first booking for a conservation safari with Wildlife Connection, a local project working to reduce human elephant conflict and the guide school. I hope to be taking students with me on safari to increase their exposure to guests and the business of safaris. Find out more here. The school is also welcoming some new students this week, who will have some new mattresses and diesel to pump water!
If you would like to know more about a safari in Ruaha National Park and southern Tanzania, local conservation issues and organisations, the Mkuyu Guide School or anything else, please get in touch here.