Forest Conservation in Tanzania: SUST Alum Emily Rhea Reflects on Conservation Biology Travel Course

During the spring of 2016, Roosevelt students in Prof. Nobby Cordiero’s BIOL 367 Conservation Biology class capped off their semester with a May trip to Tanzania. This guest post is by RU alum Emily Rhea, a May 2016 SUST graduate who took this course as part of her final undergraduate semester.  

Outside the entrance to the Serengeti National Park (photo: K. Wentz-Hunter)

Outside the entrance to the Serengeti National Park (photo: K. Wentz-Hunter)

In my last semester as a SUST major at Roosevelt, I took Prof. Nobby Cordiero’s BIOL 367 Conservation Biology class — one which changes the way you see the world. On May 14th, my fellow students and I set off with our two instructors, Profs. Cordiero and Kelly Wentz-Hunter, on a trip from Chicago to Tanzania which turned out to be the learning experience of a lifetime. Having been to Tanzania once before, I was one of the few in our group with an idea of what to expect in terms of the landscape and culture; but the experience was even more profound than I could have guessed. If you love biology like I do, the chance to learn in the field in such a hands-on way is incomparable to any classroom-based experience.

Matriarch and calves (photo: E. Rhea)

Matriarch and calves (photo: E. Rhea)

The first week we spent every day on safari exploring and learning about the savanna biome and the ecology of the plants and animals that live within it. The fact that merely driving on the road is like off-roading in the US just adds to the excitement. As one of our drivers, Philamon, said, “It’s like free African massage.” For me, being able to look at the animals and take pictures when we saw them as well as discuss their role in the ecosystem and their connections to other animals and plants was fascinating.

At Serengeti National Park

At Serengeti National Park

Of course, in a mere week we cannot describe and assess all of the species present; but we covered so much information about both biotic and abiotic characteristics of the savanna biome that I feel like I now have a big-picture understanding that is just as in-depth as my understanding of our Midwest prairie ecosystem, if not more. That’s rather amazing since I’ve been learning about the prairie since I was five years old and my mother would point out the flowers, birds, and trees that she recognized while on walks together. On this particular trip we were lucky enough to see all of the “big five” game animals — lion, elephant, cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. Most exciting of our many sightings to me was the cheetah; the matriarch of elephants that passed right by our car; and the vultures feasting on a zebra.

Safari cars at Amani Nature Reserve (photo: A. Kordas)

Safari cars at Amani Nature Reserve (photo: A. Kordas)

After a long and trying trip from the lovely coffee farm we stayed at in between exploring the Serengeti, Tarangire, and the Ngorongoro Crater, we arrived at the Amani Nature Reserve in the Eastern Arc Mountains. We spent the next week exploring the rainforest, learning from the expert biologists studying at the reserve, and working on our individual research projects. Spending the week among post-doc biologists and having the opportunity to pick their brains (figuratively of course!) was fantastic. Not to mention we were in the rainforest! During both weeks the cooks made fabulous food, which we all devoured eagerly. Most of us thought we would lose weight during the trip, but the food was so good we probably all gained a few pounds.

Most of our group, but not all, at the church after planting trees; wearing our kongas (photo: M. Holstein)

Most of our group at the church after planting trees; wearing our kongas (photo: M. Holstein)

Finally, during our last day in the rainforest we planted over 2,500 tree seedlings with the Amani community and Kihime Afrika. This was an amazing experience not only because we were doing hands-on conservation work but also because we were working together to achieve a goal with the community. This common goal gave us a basis for connection with each other and our host community. Afterwards we feasted and danced at the local church. This experience showed that even though we live on different continents, in different hemispheres, with different monetary means and social norms, we can still have common goals and interests and connect over nature, food and dance!

Emily Rhea (BA ’16) graduated from RU with departmental and university honors, and was elected to the Franklin Honor Society. Emily transferred from the College of DuPage in the fall of 2014; at RU she majored in Sustainability Studies and minored in Biology. She has written frequently for the SUST Blog and remains an active leader within the Roosevelt environmental sustainability community. During her time at RU, Emily completed internships with the Microcosm marine biodiversity documentary film research team, The Plant on Chicago’s South Side, and the Hawaii Wildlife Fund in Hawaii.

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