RANGER TRAINING PROGRAM
We at K.E.E.P felt that in these uncertain times a good place to start would be via education and training, there are a lot of folks suddenly with a lot of time on their hands hence the launching of our first project K.E.E.P WATCH. This is a 30 day Park Ranger training course in collaboration with STEP (Southern Tanzania Elephant Program), where we are honing the skills required of 2 women and 14 men for a life spent living rough and wild in the African bush protecting the area along with its inhabitants.
It is a tough existence being a ranger in Africa. Days are spent trudging through the undergrowth on patrol, the harsh sun beating down during the midday hours filling the eyes with sweat. Thorns, thistles, burrs and blisters are just accepted and lived with, they are part of the environment out here. Not only uncomfortable but also dangerous, for often very little pay these ambassadors of nature risk their lives on a daily basis not only from the wild animals that swarm around but there is also a chance of coming across the occasional poacher too! The big return for them, and what keeps them going, is often the pride they feel in defending their precious natural resources and the continued existence of them, this makes it all worthwhile.
We at K.E.E.P like to help in any way possible and we are now two weeks into our ranger training course where we play our part just to make them that little bit safer in the bush while they go about their work. The 16 chosen rangers have come along in leaps and bounds. Thirsty for experience and knowledge they are throwing everything they have at this. The first week comprised of getting to know the tools of our trade, namely the rifle, and they have endured intensive weapon safety training and continuous drills to become familiar and proficient with them in a dangerous animal situation. It may only happen once in a lifetime, but the day it happens and life is at stake, they will all be very glad they had this training. After finding the “sharpshooters” of which there were a few, we were then safe enough to get into the field and start patrolling.
The second week has been mainly on foot. We are getting out there gathering information on how the area fared after the subsiding of our last major rains, apparently the most the country has received overall since the 60’s. The already limited road network and infrastructure took a beating: erosion gullies, washaways, and the loss of one particularly important bridge which gives vehicle access to the Western half of the area during the wet season. The laborious process of rebuilding these important access points we shall leave for next week. This week we are focusing on understanding animal behavior and warning signs. Currently we are having too much fun walking through the unspoiled wilds of Africa getting the Rangers acquainted with being on foot close to big game and how to manage and avoid the accidental encounters they frequently have during a day of patrolling.
Moli, as many of you know, has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the animals and workings of the African bush. Many of you will also know he is never shy to share these little"Nature Nuggets" on his walks or while watching the sun set. These little tidbits of information give you a slightly deeper understanding of the workings of nature, now in the absence of tourism you can catch Moli here, and in this issue Moli is having a look at the resident Hippo at the training camp - Hugo. Read more below.
HUGO THE HIPPO
JUNE 16, 2020
Our training camp overlooks the mighty Ruaha River, much to the displeasure of “Hugo” a young solitary male Hippo who thought he had claimed this peaceful and idyllic meander of water for himself until we showed up. The sunrises and sunsets are now accompanied by Hugo’s constant snorts of disapproval as he swims past, he often lets us know exactly how he feels about us, by pointing his ample exterior in our general direction while defecating in that wonderful unique Hippo fashion.
We are excited to see more hippo moving downstream into our area again, the numbers have been rather low of late due to extreme dry conditions a few years back which reduced our hippo numbers by about 50% and only in their absence did we notice firsthand the valuable role these lumbering large characters have on the ecosystem.
A keystone species for Africa, the Hippopotamus is vital to the functioning of the Continents waterways in many ways. As they trundle along the bottom of rivers, their stumpy legs churn up the sediment, re-nutrifying water essentially. As they are pure grazers, the grass and nutrients which they get away from the rivers edge are then deposited back into the water via their digestive systems, another form of fertilization. The Hippo populations also ensure the constant flow of water through the system, rivers and lakes in Africa can quickly begin to clog up with the aquatic vegetation that sprouts so profusely in Equatorial Africa especially after the rains. Rather akin to tanks, the numerous Hippos push channels and gullies into the vegetation as they force their way through it, this allows the water to keep flowing instead of damming and pooling, stationary water is never a good thing. Even down to us simply trying to do our walking safaris, we are deeply indebted to the Hippos as the provide the same “tank” service on their pathways along river edges which open up a whole new world of walking close to the river itself, without which it would not be safe or possible to get near the waters edge. So we shall raise a glass to Hugo and the rest of his kind this afternoon at sunset as he saunters by, it is important never to take anything for granted in nature, even just a single little Hippo such as Hugo.
In every newsletter, we will supply some fun for the children to get involved. In this issue, we have created some flashcards to learn Swahili! Swahili is the official language of Tanzania along with English (and other East African countries).
So, click on the link below to access the Swahili Animal flashcards.