Letter 1: Sept. 29, 2005
The rains are slow in coming to southern Africa this year.
After a series of light showers two weeks ago, the weather
grew hot and still. As our students gathered here in
Pretoria, it was heat that greeted them, and the early
opening of the lavender jacaranda trees, those harbingers of
the coming rains. But today, after strong winds from the
east, it is cool enough for a light jacket and -9 C. in the
hills to our south. The rains are postponed, for the moment.
Classes started this week with lectures on indigenous
comunities, cheetah research, and the political economy of
southern Africa, which raised a heated discussion among the
students about Zimbabwe's role in regional integration. We
completed our first one-day field trip, to the Cheetah and
Wild Dog Centre, where we had our first look at, well,
cheetahs and wild dogs, among other assortments of vultures,
turtles, honey badgers, et al. The Centre allowed us to
take an initial look at endangered cheetah populations, the
conflicts between cheetahs and farmers here, and the
diminishing numbers of king cheetahs.
Today we are getting lectures on reed collection by
indigenous comunities in Tembe -- a major problem of
integrating local people into the workings of a small park
(which we visit in a week) - and elephants and indigenous
communities. It looks like cheetahs, elephants and lions
will be our wildlife management focal points, and we will
examine them in terms of local people living next to, and
sometimes inside of, national parks or planned park expansion.
The students are packed and ready for our first extensive
field trip starting tomorrow (Friday) at 0700. We travel
first to "JC" Strauss and lessons on tracking and
observation of our immediate environment, then on Timbavati
for wildlife management and natural resource study, then
Kruger (tourism) and on eastward across KwaZulu Natal to
Tembe and Ndumo and Kosi Bay, for hands-on study of
indigneous comunity interactions with tourism, wildlife
management issues, and regional integration.
We return in time for two weeks of classes starting Monday
Everyone is very well, asking excellent questions, fully
engaged and enthusiastic. Let's hope that we can all now
bring the rains to this drought-ravaged area. In any case,
we will be welcomed back to a lavender city in full bloom.
All good wishes,
Jack and Kathleen