For an amazing gallery of photos taken by Dylan Higgins '09 on the 2007 Africa FSP, click here.
Kendri Cesar '08
Clara Chew '09
Juliet Coffey '09
Sally Elliott '08
Jake Feintzeig '09
Colin Gentry '09
Erin Gu '09
Dylan Higgins '09
Brenna Hughes '09
Diana Jih '09
Marissa Knodel '09
Kyle Lad '09
Lindsay Leone '08
David Nutt '09
Emma Palley '09
Sarah Parkinson '09
Caitlin Pierce '09
Jenna Smith '09
Emma Virginia '09
Professor Bill Roebuck
Professor Jack Shepherd
Assistant Professor Michael Dorsey
Research Assistant Professor David Mbora
First Letter from Africa
12 September 2007
Kathleen and I arrived safely in South Africa. It is very hot (85+) here, dry, and everyone is grumpy waiting for the spring rains. The overnight flight from London (Heathrow) seemed faster than usual, and I awoke at sunrise to see a dusty, waterless Zambia passing seven miles below us. Africa this far south of the equator is semi-arid, and those of you who have joined us in these ventures know the taste and smell of Africa on the ground shortly before the rains come: the sound of mopane bees in the bush, the feel of grit in the mouth and on the neck, the still air that penetrates deep within you. Here, too, is that persistence of life: below us, gliding toward Johannesburg, the emerald green circles of irrigated commercial farms. The sudden appearance of the mighty Zambezi River, above Victoria Falls, full and flowing. A rectangle of green trees in the grey dust around a farmhouse. Small gardens behind circular straw-roofed huts nurtured by determined (and often desperate) small-holder farmers, usually women. As we descend, old, rural Africa gives way to new, modern Africa, with its paved roads, larger irrigated farms, water storage ponds (some the size of small lakes), dual motorways, tree- lined suburbs, commercial centers. Water is the prism through which life is monitored. We all have one thing in common: we wait for the rains. There is a certain irritation among us at the heat, the dry air, the dust. Working with our colleagues preparing the coming term, they remind me that "Dartmouth always brings the rain". And indeed, in the past the arrival of our students has often been quickly followed by the first spring rains, a blessing to us all. We eagerly await these young harbingers on Monday.
Cheers, Jack and Kathleen
Second Letter from Africa
23 September 2007
Dear Friends, Parents, Family:
We have completed our orientation week and the students are now at their homestay families. This is a long weekend in South Africa -- Monday is Heritage Day -- and Tuesday morning at 0800 we depart by bus for the lowveld and eight days in the field.
After the students' arrivals, spread throughout the day last Monday, we started Tuesday with a group meeting, a review of the coming academic term, and then a tough briefing from a very large member of the University's campus police. This is a no-nonsense chap, and the students were appropriately quiet and attentive. We then began the process of introducing them to the university, their classrooms, the commercial shopping area here (called Hatfield), and other amenities. This included, happily, three nice restaurants where we all dined together Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. It was a slow and reverse epicurean slide from calamari on Tuesday to pizza on Thursday. Kathleen and I, along with Prof. David Mbora (who joined us a week ago), are now dining this weekend on fresh fruits.
Two field trips highlighted the week. The first, to the De Wildt Cheetah and Wild Dog Centre, gave the students their first introduction to wildlife management issues that face southern Africa (and other game-rich areas of this continent). Cheetah and wild dog breeding programs are controversial (preservation vs. conservation; farmers vs. wildlife managers). Our students will be able to track this issue in Namibia in November, where they camp for two nights at the Cheetah Conservation Foundation, north of the capital, Windhoek.
At de Wildt we visited various cheetahs, including the unusual and rare King Cheetah, in large holding pens, and then on a vehicle rode around their extensive grounds watching them and, in separate areas, wild dogs being fed or in held in breeding compounds.
The cheetah (and, of course the wild dog) is rare in the wild, although we did see two cheetahs at a water hole in Kruger National Park last year. And, several years ago, another AFSP group saw a pack of wild dogs sauntering down the main paved road, also at Kruger. You never know.
So, studying the cheetah now becomes one of the core animals we will look at repeatedly this term, along with elephants. (We are starting that study on Tuesday, so more on them soon!) But the cheetah also lets us begin examination of human-wildlife collisions, loss of habitat, and efforts to identify and preserve a key element of the ecosystem.
On Friday, we went out to Sterkfontein and Swartkranz, to look at pre-historic archeological sites where there is profound and, as you will hear in a moment, obvious evidence of early hominids. The cave system at Swartkranz is a favorite of mine: the mystery of early hominids and their relationships to rather large and nasty predators, and the site (thought to be the first) where early people captured and controlled fire for cooking and other purposes. It's exciting to stand on that ground and think about the very early people living there, "the cradle of humankind", from which we all are said to have emerged. As one of our lecturers told us: "This is where the world's people originated. Welcome home."
Welcome indeed: Our lecturer, from the University of Witswatersrand, is the only woman with a "dig" at this World Heritage Site. After rummaging about in the caves at Swartkranz, we went across the valley to her site. (Remember, she said, our ancestors were the ones who made it across that narrow valley successfully.) There, at Copper's Cave, she explained her own field research and then turned us all loose to look for bones, claws, teeth etc., which were abundant in the rocks and soil around us. Right off, we found the three front claws of a large predator protruding from a rock.
But the most exciting moment came when several of the students found a small tooth jutting from a rock. Prof. Mbora confirmed that it was not a primate -- his field of expertise -- and our lecturer got truly excited when she agreed that it was indeed a tooth of a very early hominid. She telephoned her advisor back at Wits, and they are bringing out high-speed dental equipment -- no, no, no, not to fill a cavity -- to excavate around the tooth. There will be more on this soon.
It continues hot here -- 90-95 F-- and very dry with a wind out of the north (from which heat comes in this hemisphere). The lowveld is already nearing 100, we hear, which if the rains do not come before Tuesday will mean a sweltering week in the bush doing our fieldwork. If Dartmouth brings the rains, may they come now!
All the best,
Jack and Kathleen
Third Letter from Africa
9 October 2007
Dear Friends, Parents and Family:
We are back safely from our first major field trip. And as the green grocer said to Kathleen yesterday: Dartmouth indeed brought the rains. For the last three days we have had lightning, window-rattling thunder, and torrents that filled the roads and streams. Everyone is delighted and spirited by this important seasonal change.
But on 25 September we left a hot and dry Pretoria with the jacarandas showing only bare branches under the African sky. But we noticed a bloom here and there on them—a harbinger that the rains (and Dartmouth!) were coming. We drove out along the high veldt and then down the northern escarpment of the Drakensberg Mountains into the low veldt and JC Strauss' camp along the almost-dry Olifants River, at Phalaborwa.
This year, JC settled us into a South African Defense Force Special Forces camp, a fenced encampment on a bluff above the Olifants. Four of the students got the five-star room: high in the trees looking down on a row of hippos sunning themselves along a patch of flowing river. The rest of us scattered around the camp in rooms; the five young men of our group—David, Jake, Kyle, Colin and Dylan—and the two Shepherds bunked in two large rooms at a bush camp about 100 yards away. We were in Big Five country (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and cape buffalo) and we lived in a reverse zoo: We were fenced in, and the animals wandered about in freedom.
Thus our first lessons were tracking and observation, and our classroom was the open African bushveldt. JC got us all up at 0530—yes, Mom, that's five-thirty a.m.—and everyone showed up every day of this trip for tea, coffee and rusks (a hard and delicious Boer biscuit edible only by dipping it into a beverage) by 0600.
JC used what the environment gave him. First, he taught us to walk quietly in the African bush, single file, listening and looking at this new environment. Our first evening, he also had us separate from one another by 4-5 yards, and sit in silence listening to the African day become the African night. On this first evening, we heard frogs, the Mozambique nightjar (a bird), the grunting of hippos in the river, the alarms and calls of elephants.
Next, we discovered two elephants on a hill, and seven more feeding across a farther hillside. JC maneuvered us so that the wind came into our faces, rather than having the wind give us away, and taught us to read ground signs regarding these animals: prints, feces, urine, small branches stripped for food.
These observations proved valuable: millipedes eaten by a civet cat (not really a "cat" at all), python eggs, a fish eagle, and leopard, rhino, crocodile and hippo tracks along the sandbank of the river. We learned how different animals move, when, and how they communicate. The elephant, for example, steps on its own track, hind foot overlapping the print of the front foot. In dust and sand, the details of the elephant's padded feet are clear and one comes to understand how they can move almost silently through the bush; they can also pick up communications from other elephants through these footpads for up to 5 kilometers or more.
After almost 36 hours of field training, we took JC’s "live" tracking test in the bush. It turns out that some of our students picked up this skill quickly; Colin even declared that he was going to become an African guide! At JC’s we also gathered for our first group plenary meeting in the field, around a welcomed campfire (the temperature dropped just before the rains came). Sally, Erin, Kyle and Caitlin led the group in a discussion about what we had seen and worked on, and how we were adjusting to being in the field in such a large and diverse group.
After this initial exposure to the bush, we next camped at Timbavati, inside the fences on the western edge of Kruger National Park (KNP). Timbavati is the central focus of this first field trip. Having learned something about our new environment, its signs and characteristics, we now began to put this to work.
Timbavati curves for about 50 yards on the embankment along a dry riverbed inside the KNP boundary. It is Big Five country and not fenced. Wild animals can, and do, wander into the camp (or through it) day and night. The students were briefed on this, and alerted to be especially careful at night. (It is my personal belief that along with the academic program there should be an experiential component, which includes confidence-building activities in the field.)
At Timbavati, we were joined by two field biologists, Michele and Steve Henley. The Henleys are halfway through a five-year grant to study elephants and their impact on vegetation and water in this savannah region. In some parts of Africa, the elephant is endangered; across the continent, its numbers dropped in less than 10 years from about 600,000 to below 300,000. In Kruger/Timbavati, there are some 15,000 elephants. But some field biologists (not the Henleys) think there may be too many elephants in this region and that Kruger's carrying capacity should be around 7,000. To reach that number, there is a continuing discussion of “culling” (killing) elephants in the park. So the Henley's work is very important. They are analyzing elephant breeding herds and looking at impacts on them (weather, vegetation, water, migratory patterns, etc) Among other questions, they are asking: How can we identify elephants and what amount of destruction are the Timbavati elephants really doing to their environment?
We divided into three teams. Kathleen joined Group C (Kendri, Sally, Marissa, Kyle Lindsey and Caitlin). I was part of Group B (Clara, Dylan, Diana, Colin, Sarah, Jenna), while Dr. David Mbora, a professor in Dartmouth’s Biology Department, was a member of Group A (Juliet, Jake, Erin, Brenna, David Nutt, and our two Emmas, E. Palley and E. Virginia). After rising at 0530 and consuming coffee, tea and rusks, the three Groups went off into the bush. (We rotated activities over three days, so everyone got a chance to do all three.)
On the first day, for example, Group A spent the first morning with a very knowledgeable professional field instructor (Brendon) walking about 4 kilometers and analyzing the vegetation of the savannah, observing impala and other ruminant activities, and putting their new tracking skills to use.
Group B rode out to an isolated section of the riverbed for optional rifle craft training. This continues a five-year-old segment of the AFSP in which students may learn about the AK-47 and fire eight rounds at balloons and targets. Why the AK-47? This rifle, more than any other, has changed the face of Africa. In the early 1990s, tens of thousands were dumped on the global weapons market by the former Soviet Union (and later by China), where they became the weapon of choice of game poachers and, more recently, child soldiers. Some rangers and guides now also carry the AK-47. To know this weapon is to know more about the struggle between wildlife conservation, and the daily confrontation over wildlife preservation, especially endangered species like the rhino and elephant. (This segment of the AFSP is optional for students.)
Group C, with Kathleen, went out with the Henleys that first morning for elephant research and observation. On 29 September, Group B, my gang, did its elephant observation segment. We all rode together on an open, tiered Land Rover with no cover. The Henleys explained their fieldwork: observation, identification (usually by notches in the elephant’s ears), the use of GPS and collaring to find elephants, and then the analysis of their herd behavior. Elephant herds are matriarchal, usually controlled by an elderly female (60+ years), with a scattering of younger aunties and then breeding females, adolescents and very young ones; males are generally driven out of the herd around age 12-15 (if I remember the Henleys correctly). Those lone bulls may move in an area up to 3,000 square kilometers; one bull was tracked by another research team as he walked almost 50 miles to and from water and a cabbage patch he was raiding.
On this overcast day after an hour search we come upon a breeding herd of some 40 elephants. The elephants pull small branches from the mopane bushes, or uproot the bushes and eat the roots. Food before the rains is scarce, and an adult elephant may consume up to 200 pounds of vegetation daily. Some of the elephants pull up grass by the roots, shake it to get the loose sand off before eating—the sand will wear down their molars, and the average elephant grows only six sets of molars in his/her lifetime. Several very young ones are nursing; one we watch nuzzles alongside its Mom to find her right breast. Mom moves her right leg slightly one, and the youngster suckles (through her mouth, not her trunk). To shift the little one to her other breast, Mom moves her right leg back, covering that breast and easing the youngster off it. The youngster scampers quickly around Mom to the left side, where the leg goes forward and the little one continues nursing. I am awed by the ease of this movement and its delicate choreography, along with the utter safety of the small elephant under its huge Mom (three tons or more).
Just as it starts sprinkling, a second herd strolls in. These elephants are well known to “our” herd, and the two matriarchs, both with wrinkled skin, move quickly and sniff and greet one another. The two herds blend together in greeting; even the youngsters, some only 1-2 years old, touch the nostrils of their trunks to those of the other little ones, and then rub foreheads together and gently push each other. Adolescents wrestle with their trunks. The herds make a rumbling sound in their bodies as a way of greeting one another.
As the rain increases—we are getting a thorough soaking, but the elephants love it!—the merged herds, now about 70 elephants, move slowly to our right and into a large, muddy area. Here they toss mud on their backs; some of the adults actually lie down and roll in the mud. The little ones copy the adults and flop into it, or fling mud about with their trunks. A two-year-old (the Henleys tell us) tries a couple of mock charges: ears out wide, trunk up, trumpeting (the pitch is too high). Older elephants enjoy some butt and back scratching on old trees, and after many stomach rumbles the herds separate, one ambling down a path to the south and the other off to the west.
The rain stops and the sun, surprisingly hot, emerges once again. We are now soaked, and climb out and hang our rain gear on the Land Rover. The Henleys review with the students the elephants we have seen; they have a set of identification books. Notes are compared and Dylan has a series of photographs that are also very helpful in this task. That done, the students (encouraged by Steve Henley) practice “bok drol spoeg,” the field art of seeing who can spit impala dung the farthest. Impalas drop a convenient, small, round ball of dung perfect for the task. Sarah, Clara, Diana and Jenna are surprisingly good at this, although Colin gets a running start and appears to “win” the contest. The winner remains in dispute!
That afternoon we have a lesson in anatomy. One of the field instructors, LD from the Institute of Wildlife Management at the University of Pretoria, shoots a male impala. We gather in the sandy riverbed with the dead animal, cleanly shot once through the brain. (Impala are not endangered, but widely prolific to the point of causing destruction to some habitats used by other species.) LD teaches anatomy and this is a thorough (and respectful) class. First, Lindsey and Marissa lift the animal into a hoist and then, with LD’s help, into a support frame from a tree limb at the sandy edge of the dry stream. Under LD’s instruction, the students take turns removing the impala’s skin: Brenna and Marissa skin the left side; Erin, Sally, Kendri and David do the right; Colin finishes with the legs.
One by one, LD removes and discusses the impala’s internal organs: the gallbladder, liver, spleen, kidneys, heart and the lungs. He blows into the severed windpipe, which inflates the dark lungs, thus showing us how they work and making them a beautiful, lighter red at the same time.
As this is going on, we notice a dark-green/grey snake, perhaps four-feet long, sliding silently across the tops of the bushes behind the impala demonstration. We all move closer to look at it, and an instructor explains that this is a boomslang, one of the most poisonous in Africa. But not to worry: it’s back-fanged and would have to chew vigorously on an appendage (finger, toe) to inject any poison.
Back to the impala. LD explains that the impala is a ruminant with four stomachs. He removes them all as a single unit, and dissects each stomach starting from the one closest to the mouth to the fourth near the colon. We begin to understand the process of eating, digestion, rumination and excretion in these animals as we study the texture and condition of the material in each stomach. We even work our way down the colon to find those little, round pellets that are so easy to spit. Only now, we see that they are carrying out only what the animal could not use, which isn’t much.
Timbavati is packed with other instruction. Prof. Mbora continues his series of lectures on ungulates, vegetation and the African savannah. We discuss their impacts on the fragile savannah ecosystem. How do browsers and grazers influence woodland and savannah vegetation? Another day, the Henleys, Prof. Mbora and all of us examine an artificial borehole and discuss the “piosphere” (fat circles) of destruction by animals that graze outward from that water source.
One of the central confidence-building exercises at Timbavati is orienteering. On two occasions, the students go out into the field in their small groups with a compass and topographical map. For these afternoon exercises, we swap groups. I go out with Group A; they will have to take me and an armed instructor through three legs of a grid point and then back to camp. Our first task is to find “a green frog” (rubber) at each leg. After discussion among themselves and some map-and-compass readings in the riverbed, Jake and David take the first leg (Grid 222/260 meters), Emma Virginia counts the meters (with Juliet as backup), and the others sight the markers. We nail the first green frog hanging on a string from a low tree. Erin and Brenna take the second leg (Grid 152/ 100 m), Emma Palley measures the meters, the rest do the sightings. We find the second rubber frog on a dead branch. The team works together on the third leg (Grid 99/ 360 m), switching assignments, and after a longer walk we re-enter the dry riverbed. No frog. Ah, but less than 50 feet down stream we find the third frog dangling from its string on a stick in the sand. Much cheering and congratulations. Group A reconfigures for the next task, and taking turns navigates with compass and map an almost direct line through the African bush back to camp.
The second, and tougher test of orienteering came on 30 September. I went out with my usual morning group from Group B. We all climbed into a Land Rover, blindfolded our own eyes, and rode out into the bush with an armed instructor. Blindfolds off. Where are we? Group B first has to locate themselves using landmarks, and then find its way back to camp (and to my afternoon tea!). They are superb! First, they stand still, discuss where we might be, get a bearing. Then, they find a landmark. After some minor hesitation and interspersed with discussions, we all walk for 47 minutes to discover an abandoned dirt airstrip we had seen earlier. Next they take a compass reading, and plot their way to camp (which was marked on their map). Every 100 feet or so, they repeat the process: Reading, landmark, walk. Sharing the work and sightings, they reach camp in under two hours of walking. Excellent work! (And the tea tasted especially delicious!)
Timbavati is well known among our students for wildlife sightings. In day training and evening game drives, we spotted giraffes (including a very young female), three rhinos (a mother, her calf, and her next suitor, a huge bull), zebra, Cape buffalo, various hawks, owls and vultures, plus the usual brilliant assortment of birds. One morning we come upon a small pride of lions: four two-year-old cubs, two lionesses, and a handsome male, all (as they say) “in good nick,” in excellent condition. We roll up close (10 feet), turn off the engine on our Land Rover, and watch them—well—sleep. It is mid-morning. I had heard them at dawn roaring. To be honest, lions in daytime are boring; they move about as much (and in the same ways) as your domestic house cat. These ignore us (as long as we stay seated in the vehicle we are perfectly safe).
However, then we notice an old female stretched out on the track in the dust, sleeping. She is grey-muzzled, her fur darker than the younger lions, her ribs and pelvic bones protruding. When she rolled over, I could see a slash wound down her right leg. It was open enough to see the ligaments. When she stretched onto her back, we all gasped: she was mortally wounded. There, on her upper right chest to the left of her leg was a deep, penetrating wound perhaps 6 by 8 inches. We speculated that she may have been attacked by another pride in a territorial dispute, or gored by a wart hog or a buffalo.
The pride ignored her, and as the morning progressed they slowly moved away from her deeper into the bush. Our instructor estimated that she had no more than a few days to live. That night, we tracked by vehicle the male as he made the rounds of his territory, marking it with urine and on one occasion a magnificent series of roars. The cubs and females, including the old grannie, were nowhere to be seen. Lions are in some difficulty across southern Africa. In our final leg of this field trip we pitched up in the crowded research and tourist camp called Skukuza, in Kruger National Park (KNP). Skukuza holds about 2,000 people—all inside a fence—and is the principal research camp of this large and important national park. (Kruger is the size of New Jersey.) We had lectures in the field about fire control and management (much of this section of KNP was accidentally burned during July and August), alien species of plants intruding into the ecosystem, and water management issues in this dry savannah. A fourth lecture discussed, among other issues, the increase in tuberculosis among the lion population, which is being infected by the Cape buffalo. A drop in the number of lions is of great concern, since tourists come to the national parks to see the Big Five, of which lions may be the most dramatic. (Anyone who has seen lions hunt and kill a large prey like the Cape buffalo will know what I mean.)
The interaction of humans and wildlife come together over the diseases threatening these species, and over the impacts that human are having on these conservation areas like Kruger and Timbavati. Another lecture linked these issues in discussing “social ecology,” the expansion of national parks, and the protection of challenged ecosystems. Kruger is now taking down its eastern fence along the Mozambique border. It is translocating some 6,000 elephants across the line. In the next two years or so, Kruger will join with the Limpopo parks and a major park in Zimbabwe to form a Trans-Frontier Conservation Area (TFCA) roughly the size of western Europe. Eight such parks are underway across southern Africa, and more are in agreement or planning stages. With this large-scale effort to conserve ecosystems, biodiversity, wildlife, etc comes a difficult task to incorporate large numbers of very poor people who live along the edges (or sometimes inside) these conservation areas. Without bringing them into the wildlife, tourism and environmental equation, these expanding TFCAs will not be able to move forward. Thus, our next field trip, which beginning tomorrow (10 October), will focus on indigenous communities: the farming community of Kaphunga, Swaziland, then onward to eastern Kwa-Zulu Natal (South Africa) to visit some of the communities being brought into the economic and environmental issues of wildlife management, tourism, expansion of conservation areas.
I should close by adding that we saw wild dogs in Kruger—a first for me in 40 years of African experience. We returned to Pretoria ready last Thursday (4 October) ready for laundry, home cooking, rest, and more lectures preparing us for tomorrow’s trip.
Dartmouth did indeed bring the rains, and some unseasonably cold weather. But the Africans celebrated with us: the rains have come, a blessing to Africa and its people. The jacaranda trees are almost in full bloom now. Their lavender petals scatter across the red clay soil, their promise fulfilled.
Jack and Kathleen
Fourth Letter from Africa
25 October 2007
Dear families and friends,
Karen and I left Dartmouth and New Hampshire on 6 October, joining the Africa FSP 2007 in Pretoria on 18 October when the group had returned from their second field trip. During that time, we were exploring Lesotho for the 2008 Africa FSP program!
Karen and I reviewed with the students what they had done for the first half of the term, and helped them prepare for their mid-term exam. Professor Michael Dorsey of the Environmental Studies Program at Dartmouth joined the FSP at this time, as well. He lectured and gave the students assignments in preparation for their visit to the Apartheid Museum (23 October), and following the tour we had an extensive discussion about globalization, economic empowerment, and a more current version of "apartheid" between the "haves" (us) and the perhaps billon people who "have not" – and are therefore not benefiting from globalization. Professor Dorsey departed for Dartmouth this morning.
As you are aware, your students are enrolled in three courses while here in Africa. One of these, ENVS 84, is a projects course, and this year the topic is environmental health. I have asked the students to explore issues where the environment (built environment, wild environments, home, and workplace) contributes to adverse health effects. The topics that they will explore range from specific animal diseases (e.g., foot and mouth disease and cattle movement in Southern Africa exported to the Northern Hemisphere) and human diseases (diarrheal diseases and acute respiratory infections, which are the biggest threat to rural children under 5 years of age), to diseases connected to employment (e.g., asbestos and coal dust exposure). To augment this course, Dr. Dawn Harland, Assistant Director of Dartmouth Colleges Student Health Services, arrives in Jo-burg on Friday, 26 October. She will accompany us to Namibia and serve as a technical consultant to the students, while assisting me with lectures regarding public health and the environmental impacts on humans, domestic livestock, and wild animals. In our travels in Namibia we will learn much from lectures at venues that we visit. We’ll visit the Cheetah Conservation Fund, where there will certainly be lectures on diseases that threaten the cheetah population as well as other wildlife. Toward the end of the trip we will visit the Rossing Mine, which is a huge, open-pit uranium mine. The biggest concern for workers there is not radiation, but rather dust exposure. Upon our return to Pretoria, the students will finish their ENVS 84 papers and present the results to the group and to others at the University of Pretoria.
Finally, e-mail access will be extremely limited in Namibia, and it is likely that your students will not have access until we take a break in the town of Swakopmund on 7 and 8 November; following that there will be an e-mail "blackout" period form Swakopmund until we return to Pretoria.
Everyone is excited to visit Namibia and in years past this has been one of the highlights of the entire Africa FSP.
Fifth Letter from Africa
26 October 2007
Dear Parents, Friends and Family:
We have returned from our second field trip and finished our classes. The Roebucks (Bill and Karen) have arrived to take over the program, Professors David Mbora and Michael Dorsey have joined us and given a series of excellent lectures, and departed. Kathleen and I depart next Saturday. The students have handed in two small papers, and taken Prof. Mbora’s quiz and my mid-term. They are also preparing for the Namibia desert-ecology field trip and their ENVS 84 paper, a large research document focusing on health issues in this region. Dr. Dawn Harland, MD, Director of Dick’s House at Dartmouth, flew in this morning to join them for the Namibia trip.
We returned to Pretoria ten days ago from the harsh realities of our second field trip just in time to catch the excitement of the run-up to the South Africa vs. England championship match at the World Rugby Cup final in Paris. Last Saturday, South Africa set up more than 70 large, outdoor screens across the country; some 6,000 fans gathered here in tiny Hatfield Square. A contingent of our students organized a party and watched the game at one of their homestay families. I turned on the TV in our flat, but kept the sound down so I could hear the gathering in Hatfield Square half-a-mile away. For me, it was like being in the stadium.
And, of course, the Springboks won the World Rugby Cup, beating England 15-6 and setting off a nationwide celebration. The cheering, horn honking, dancing in the streets went on most of the night and set off celebrations that continue today almost a week later. We all are now basking in the excitement of the ’Boks victory. Everyone seems to be wearing the South African flag or the green-and-gold of their “Bokkies.”
We have seen a large spectrum of The Rainbow Nation this term. The roaring celebration of this country and its cries for “national unity” after the dramatic victory by its inter-racial rugby team serve in contrast to the more somber and entrenched issues we have encountered and studied. This last week we visited the Apartheid Museum and held a series of seminar discussions, lead by Prof. Dorsey, about South Africa’s difficult history and the fragility of its new nation. And we interrogated some very troubling questions: Has apartheid really ended? Is there a global economic apartheid taking its place?
This, of course, was the sub-text of our second field trip. We needed a close look at the rising regional tensions between conservation and development, and between wildlife management and national park expansions and the indigenous communities that border those parks and suffer the heavy and chronic burden of high unemployment. Put another way: South Africa’s economy continues to grow at about 5% GDP annually; it is in its seventh consecutive year of positive economic growth. But despite a expanding and largely black middle-class, the nation’s unemployment rate remains fixed at about 25% of its work force; when you add in people who have stopped looking for work, that number jumps to 45%, many of them in the rural sector. This forms a stormy backdrop to The Rainbow Nation.
We spent the second field trip examining these issues and tensions. Specifically, we wanted to see, discuss, engage and analyze the role of indigenous communities in conservation, wildlife management and, perhaps most importantly, the rising promise of tourism as one part of “poverty alleviation.” Remember, South Africa and its neighbors are aggressively engaged in expanding and connecting their national parks across international borders. For example, the fence between Kruger National Park and Mozambique is coming down, and when connected to national parks and reserves in that country and in Zimbabwe, this huge Trans-Frontier Conservation Area (TFCA) will form a park larger than western Europe. With the World Soccer Cup being played in South Africa in 2010, there is already a rising impact of trans-boundary tourism in the country’s multi-tiered economy.
We visited and camped in four community areas where local people are increasingly being engaged in eco-tourism, trained for roles in tourist and wildlife management operations (as lodge staff or rangers/guides, etc), or sharing in the profits from such activities. These were in Kaphunga, Swaziland, and then Kosi Bay on the Indian Ocean, Tembe Elephant Park, and finally in Phinda, a private up-scale tourist operation re-investing its profits in the surrounding local communities.
We have visited Kaphunga each year since 2001. We stay in a compound built by Mxolisi Mdluli, whom we call by his nickname Myxos (pronounced ‘Meeks-sos’) and his close friend Sbali. The students rolled out their sleeping mats in several bowl-shaped, straw-covered, beehive huts; Kathleen and I pitched our tent. Our compound looked out across a series of other small compounds and farmland that stretched over the gently rolling hillside below us; we could see down several thousand feet to the valley floor and the sugar cane fields and rivers below. Kaphunga consists of smallholder farms, two primary schools, a secondary school and a clinic spread across these mountain tops. The older kids near our compound walk six miles each way every day to secondary school.
The principal crop is maize, watered only by rainfall, and when we arrived the farmers Kathleen and I have come to know were making an annual gamble: the rains had come, and they were plowing and planting maize seeds. If the rains continue, and if there is a hot spell in January to ripen the maize, their gamble will pay off in higher yields. The risk is visible: the World Food Programme has maintained a large dusty-white tent near the secondary school and runs a child nutritional program that provides one hot meal a day in the primary schools. It is there because chronic drought since 2002 has caused unbroken seasonal hunger.
Kaphunga is a very welcoming community, and our students fan out to work with the farmers (spreading manure, plowing with teams of six oxen) and to assist the teachers in the primary schools. But it is unseasonably cold. Kathleen and I put on all of our clothing; the students are in fleeces, the farmers in heavy coats. A bitter mist clings to these hilltops, and only lifts momentarily when we all gather at Matjana Community School nearby. The little primary kids are all lined up, many shivering, to sing welcoming songs (some in two-part harmony) and the Swazi national anthem, followed by a recitation of The Lord’s Prayer. The Dartmouth students, with a solid core of excellent singers, respond with “Lean On Me,” which is so well done that the principal and her teachers start gently dancing to it. They conclude with “The Star-Spangled Banner,” done so well that I feel my throat tighten.
The Swazi kids get in the last word with a roaring cheer of appreciation and handclaps:
[clap, clap, clap]
[clap, clap, clap]
KEEP IT. . .!!
[clap, clap, clap]
[hands waving above their heads]
We play a soccer game (in the hot sun!) at the Ekukhanyeni Primary School, a large and more crowded facility than Matjana. The field is surrounded by kids and we diplomatically tie (0-0), followed by more cheers. We later bunch together in the community’s clinic to learn more about the diseases afflicting the people of Kaphunga. HIV/AIDS is certainly one (60% by one estimate), but we are surprised to hear the head nurse share her worries about water-borne diseases and upper-respiratory infections (largely from cooking fires in the huts). It is a disquieting, humbling hour.
As we all depart Kaphunga—Kathleen and I for the last time—the sun is rising and I watch James the farmer plowing his field, the six oxen drawing the steel shank along the slight curve of dark earth. Two women walk down from his compound with a blue bucket containing his breakfast. We ride into Manzini for our own breakfast at the market and a little bargaining for Christmas gifts before setting out for Kosi Bay.
We pitch up that afternoon at the Utshwayelo Community Camp. I can hear the surf of the Indian Ocean about a kilometer away across the high dunes. We shower for the first time in four days and play a little rugby before dinner. The evening discussion around the fire is one of the best yet; we are joined by a young American couple working on an AIDS project; by Wayne Matthews, conservation officer at Tembe Elephant Reserve, and his new assistant Mandisa Mgobozi; and by Dr. ‘Scotty’ Kyle, his wife, Diana, and two of their children. Dr. Kyle will lecture on a dune the next morning about “Gill-netting in Kosi Mouth,” which is actually a key discussion about resource utilization and the tensions between indigenous fishing activities and the need to conserve resources (i.e. fish). Around the fire, we all discuss poverty, illness, and indigenous communities well into the night. We debate whether or not the Utshwayelo community can actually make a profit charging only R55 (about $8) per person per night.
Kosi Bay, a World Heritage Site, give us a chance to snorkel and swim in the tidal salt-water pools in the river’s mouth. It is unrivaled: long white beach and sand bars, aqua-blue water, dunes that rise eight to ten stories crossed only on foot or by four-wheel-drive vehicle.
We get back to work at Tembe Elephant Reserve. Wayne Matthews and Nick de Goede, the Tembe Reserve’s manager, give us lectures on the ecosystems and the local communities. The major issues here are how to include those communities in the Reserve’s operations and profits—a goal for more than two decades—and how to maintain the Reserve’s biodiversity. We spend a day visiting various parts of the local community and discussing the Reserve with its members. Some of these discussions are revealing: the need for better schools, the place and role of clinics, the religious beliefs of community members, the job and educational opportunities here and elsewhere, the introduction of lions into the Reserve, etc.
The biodiversity issues are complex. To keep the Reserve attractive to tourists, Reserve managers (including Matthews and de Goede) have undertaken two controversial actions: to introduce four lions to the Reserve in 2004; and to control the number of elephants in the Reserve. The lion decision was made without consulting the local communities, who have rights to use the Reserve to gather reeds and, on occasion, to cull (hunt) excessive nyala. There are now 15 lions in the reserve, down from 17 after two escaped and got into one community and had to be shot.
The Reserve’s managers are also concerned that the elephant herd is exceeding carrying capacity and damaging vegetation and other animals (most immediately diminishing the suni population). The controversy? The park managers are actively darting elephants to inject contraceptives and thus diminish the number of elephants. This is an experimental process attempted in only a few places. It also re-directed our attention to earlier work with the Henleys in Timbavati.
Finally we spent a night at Phinda, a very up-scale, private African reserve. One camp we visited (prices start at $1,000 per person per night) had floor-to-ceiling glass walls overlooking lighted waterholes, its own private airstrip, an outdoor pool, etc. We, however, stayed in a tented camp at greatly reduced costs, but the experience did allow us to discuss with the reserve’s owners about how private conservation efforts could benefit local communities. Phinda is run by a foundation and a private entity that cater to “high-end visitors” in 40 safari lodges and camps globally. Its mission is wildlife conservation, tourism balanced with benefits to local communities; i.e. wildlife as a profitable form of land use. At Phinda it directly employs 274 people from the local communities and puts R5.5 million (more than $800,000) directly into the local communities. Two of the local communities also own three-quarters of Phinda’s land, rented to the operators in a 72-year lease carrying a R1,5 million annual rent. We spent a full day in a fast, but encouraging, round of meetings with local community members and projects funded by the profits from the entire Phinda operation. The students agree that Phinda is a good end to our fieldtrip. There is even an omen: As we depart, we come upon a female cheetah and her four small, fuzzy cubs crossing the dirt road.
Our field experiences this trip reached from Myxos’ eco-tourism adventure in the Kaphunga compound without electricity or running water or much profit, to Phinda’s elegant and encapsulated presence in the African bush, with its profits going to a primary school, clinics and a development centre with computer training. Overall, it was a positive ending to our quick investigations, and one that gave hope that at least in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, local communities could indeed benefit from carefully-considered tourism and wildlife management programs.
Pretoria looked lovely after the dust and wind of the bush. The jacaranda trees now form lavender arches over the streets; their blossoms cover the walkways outside our classroom. The Springboks have made everyone proud and upbeat, and so have our excellent students. They now turn their reading and discussions toward the desert of Namibia, the world’s oldest. They pause only to call Kathleen and me into the classroom and sing to us in farewell.
We find this goodbye especially difficult. These are wonderful young people, among the very best of our AFSP teams: bright, hard-working, kind to one another, absorbing all that Africa gives them. When they finish singing; Kathleen and I respond in unison
[clap, clap, clap]
[clap, clap, clap]
KEEP IT. . .!!
[clap, clap, clap]
Jack and Kathleen
Sixth Letter from Africa
20 November 2007
Dear families and friends of the Africa FSP students:
On 29 October, we flew the two hours to Windhoek, Namibia to begin our last big field trip. Windhoek is the capital and largest city (about 300,000 pop.) in a country the size of California and with a total population of 2 million. Nearly a million people live in the far north where it is wet and tropical. This leaves few people in the Namibia that we visited, but likely more that the desert and dry lands can support at current resource usage. The academic challenge was to understand as fully as 18 days can offer the ecological, environmental, economic (agriculture, fishing, mining and tourism), and political issues facing this largely dry desert country.
We were a group of 19 students; my wife Karen Baumgartner; Dr. Dawn Harland, Assistant Director of the Dartmouth Student Health Service; Ms. Aimee Ginsberg, the University of Pretoria coordinator for the Dartmouth program, and me. Crazy Kudu/Wild Dog Safaris met us with two vans, each capable of holding 15 passengers. The two guides, Willem Ganeb and Elias Kahuadi, have guided us the previous four and three trips respectively. They know our program well, and what we expect of the students.
On the first full day in Namibia we divided into two groups. Half the group visited the National Botanical Gardens of Namibia, where they first saw the unusual plants of Namibia, but more importantly learned how the newly expected pharmacological properties of some plants have driven the prices up and the plant populations down severely. Two good examples of valuable plants: hoodia and devil's claw. Additionally, the issue of invasive plants was discussed, as well as the water utilization and conservation properties of native plants of the Namib Desert. The other half of the group visited the water reclamation plant where effluent such as would come from a standard sewage treatment plant in the United States is further processed into drinkable water. The facility is state of the art; the primary psychological issue one faces is drinking water that one bathed in only four days previously!
From Windhoek, we spent two nights at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) where many issues were examined. I will briefly touch on only two. First, the world’s largest population of cheetah lives on commercial farmlands, and these animals are tempted by and thus killed when they hunt the stock. CCF has developed guard dog programs to protect calves, goats, and sheep from cheetahs. One of CCF’s most ambitious programs is to harvest the thorn bush and turn it into energy. The organization is just beginning to turn a profit with fireplace logs sold under a "cheetah friendly" logo. An even more ambitious project is to help develop an intermediate size electric power plant fueled from thorn bush wood. The major problem for cheetah and livestock farming is that most of the historical savanna grasslands have now been replaced with thorn trees that exclude the habitat for cheetah and farming as well.
From CCF we quickly toured the Etosha National Park. This over 100-year-old treasure is similar in age and prominence to Kruger National Park and Yellowstone National Park in the US. The geological structure and tree species were the key items of our study at Etosha.
From Etosha we went to the Windpoort Game Farm and spent the weekend examining game farming, trophy hunting, and ecotourism and the difficulties of earning a living from this dry land in the shadows of Etosha National Park and within large, fenced farms.
We left Windpoort on Monday and headed into the Namib Desert proper to visit Twyfelfontain (a late stone age site of nearly 2000 petroglyphs) and the Brandberg (the highest point in Namibia and site of other pre-European human activity). These two sites afford views of community conservation and ways for rural communities to protect their heritage and earn income by guiding tourists.
On 7 November we headed down the gravel plains of the desert to Cape Cross to view the Cape fur seals coming ashore to deliver their pups and breed. This seal has been and continues to be an economic resource–both from the meat and fur harvested from the seals and from the revenue earned by the many visiting tourists. This is certainly an emotional/ethical and economic conflict, but one that is sanctioned by a constitution that requires Namibian resources to be used sustainably for the good of all Namibians. We then spent two nights in Swakopmund, an old colonial town with striking German architecture. Our primary objective was to do laundry, clean gear, shop for groceries, and allow the group a bigger space than two busses and a small camp at night to roam in.
On the road again, we visited the Rossing Uranium Mine of Rio Tinto Group. This one mine contributes nearly 5% of the gross domestic product and is a major employer. The issues of concern related to the ENVS 84 course; that is, radiation exposure versus silica dust exposure. Turns out that exposure to radiation is very minor compared to dust exposures that might be a risk. Extensive engineering measures are used to suppress dust exposure. By evening we arrived at the Gobabeb Training and Research Centre in the heart of one of the driest and oldest deserts in the world.
Gobabeb is located on an ephemeral river, the Kuiseb River (also called a linear oasis, as its water below the dry riverbed supports a thin line of vegetation of all types running inland nearly 200 km). To the south of this linear oasis is the sand sea of dunes that runs for hundreds of kilometers, and to the north are the gravel plains that continue north into Angola. Three ecosystems in less than 500 yards, and very fragile with variable rains averaging less than an inch or two per year. The desert poses interesting conflicts. It contains unique life forms, minerals that are of considerable economic value to this poor country, and an early warning system that can and does respond dramatically to climate change. The management issues are complex and conflicting.
Approaching the end of this field trip, we visited the heart of the sand sea composed of nearly stable star-shaped dunes and then on to a Naukluft Mountain Park in the Namib. This, too, is a desert, but provides considerably different vegetation and habitat. Here I held oral exams for 40 minutes for each student, and they studied for the final exam that will be given in Pretoria on Tuesday, 20 November.
Final exams in ENVS 40 and ENVS 42 are underway as I write (10 a.m. local time on Tuesday, 20 November). I thought you might be interested in what your student should or could know, so I’ve provided you with a couple of questions that I’ve asked on the exam.
QUESTION #3 [2 to 3 pages]
The Windpoort Farm was purchased from a bank when the local farmer went bankrupt attempting to raise goats and cattle. It appears, at least on initial examination, that the farm is financed and sustained by the retirement funds of the Osbornes and the current incomes of the Versfelds.
A. How can they turn a profit and sustain Windpoort?
B. What does Windpoort contribute to Namibia?
C. What are the costs of Windpoort to the Namibian environment?
D. What would you like to see Windpoort become in say 20 years?
QUESTION #4 [2 to 3 pages]
Namibia is one of only a handful of countries that allows seal harvests, and one of even fewer countries that allow commercial harvests. For example, Namibia’s neighbor to the south, South Africa, has banned sealing. Discuss how Namibia should handle the sealing issue, listing the pros and cons for individual Namibians and for the country as a whole.
This has been a very rewarding term, and it’s hard to believe that it’s almost over.
Last Updated: 10/8/08