Wildlife research draws student to Tanzania

Sweet Briar College senior Savanna Klein photographed lots of wildlife during her semester-long stay in Tanzania — such as this elephant in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Sweet Briar College senior Savanna Klein photographed lots of wildlife during her semester-long stay in Tanzania — such as this elephant in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Savanna Klein’s semester abroad in Tanzania really started nearly three years ago during a lecture by Barbara Kingsolver. Klein asked the novelist, who spoke at Sweet Briar’s 2013 Waxter Forum, what advice she had for aspiring environmental writers.

“Travel as much as possible,” Kingsolver told the then-first-year.

Two days later, a representative from the School for Field Studies visited one of Klein’s classes.

“I immediately knew that was the program for me,” says Klein, who will graduate in 2016 with a major in environmental studies and minors in English and creative writing and economics.

The School for Field Studies runs multiple programs throughout the world, most of them in remote areas. What unites all of them is their academic and environmental focus, says Klein. She chose the Tanzanian program, Wildlife Management, because it fit best with her academic interests.

“I am not sure if I want to make a career out of environmental studies and economics, but I am very interested in how the two work together to implement successful environmental policies,” she says.

Klein’s trip to the East African country this past spring took her to the village of Rhotia in northern Tanzania, where she stayed at a place called Moyo Hill, the field site for the School for Field Studies.

Spending her nights in a cabin-like “banda” — Swahili for “shed” — Klein took advantage of the site’s dining hall, classroom and a small library during the day. In addition to her four classes — Wildlife Ecology, Wildlife Management, Environmental Policy and Socioeconomic Values — Klein also completed a Culture and Swahili course.

View of Moyo Hill, where Klein spent several months doing research
View of Moyo Hill, where Klein spent several months doing research

Afternoons were often spent doing fieldwork, such as “walking transects and doing detailed observations for Wildlife Ecology and Wildlife Management,” Klein says, or “walking through villages conducting interviews for Environmental Policy.”

The semester also included two five-day trips, one to Tarangire National Park, in the Manyara Region, and another to Serengeti National Park, which spans 5,700 square-miles in the Mara and Simiyu regions.

“The expeditions were a mix of classwork and having fun randomly driving around on game drives,” Klein says. “We were lucky enough to see African wild dogs, bat-eared foxes, leopard cubs, lions hunting and a caracal, along with the usual East African wildlife.”

But her favorite part of the whole experience was her final project.

“Directed Research is what every SFS student spends their last month in the program working on,” Klein says. “Each SFS program has a Five-year Plan for the area in which the program is located. These plans are a collaboration effort between the professors and the people in the area to improve social and environmental issues. Directed Research projects are the components that help implement the Five-year Plan. For Tanzania, the Five Year Plan focuses on ways to change land and resource use in a way that will benefit communities as well as the ecosystem.”

Klein’s project involved analyzing beekeeping and its contribution to household income and poverty alleviation. For several weeks, she interviewed beekeepers in two villages. Klein designed the questionnaire she used for data collection, organized and analyzed her data, wrote a report and presented her findings to the community.

“I found out that, while beekeeping is a useful secondary source of income for some farmers, the full potential for profits could not be reached due to the lack of access to education on modern beekeeping techniques,” she explains. “With sturdier, better-protected hives, beekeepers could make much more honey at less of a cost. Ultimately, it would be ideal for beekeepers to learn how to make these modern hives and how to process the honey in a way that would increase the quality.”

A lion in Serengeti National Park
A lion in Serengeti National Park

Klein’s research was sent to district officials, along with other students’ findings. She is hoping the region will start implementing some of her suggestions.

In the meantime, Klein is educating people back home about some of the things she learned in Tanzania. One issue in particular stood out.

“The most important thing I took away from this trip is how important it is to address human-wildlife conflict,” she says. “A lot of people from all over the world want to go to Africa to see the wild animals, and they get all worked up about these animals being killed. What most people don’t realize, though, is how much the people who have to live with these animals struggle.

“A Tanzanian living right next to a national park will most likely never set foot into it. The zebras and elephants, however, will have no problem eating that person’s crops, and the lions, hyenas and leopards won’t think twice about killing off that person’s cattle. It is illegal to kill the wildlife, so the Tanzanians have no way to retaliate.”

The national parks, says Klein, bring in lots of money, but hardly any of that profit trickles down to the local population.

“If you care about wildlife,” she suggests, “start thinking about the people, because the fight for conservation will be much easier if the local people value the wildlife as much as you do.”

Klein (right) with Mama Sho, a retired primary school principal
Klein (right) with Mama Sho, a retired primary school principal

Klein returned to Sweet Briar after the events of last spring and picked up where she left off. She represents the Class of 2016 on the Honors Program Student Council, plays viola in the orchestra and is a member of Tau Phi.

The most important things, she says, haven’t changed, and that’s why she came back.

“I chose to come to SBC because of the small class sizes, wonderful professors and amazing campus. Many liberal arts colleges can say they have small classes and good professors, but none of them have the incredible outdoor classroom that is our campus,” she says. “I came back because of the relationships that I have with my fellow students, my professors and the land. Many of the people and places at SBC have inspired me more than I ever imagined possible.”

You can read more about Klein’s semester abroad on her blog.

Editor’s Note: After the publication of this story, Klein dropped her English and creative writing minor.