Friday, December 14, 2012

So now what?

Well, directed research is done. The paper is turned in, I presented to faculty, and biggest of all, I met with the community to discuss the results and implications of my research.

At only 10% of my grade for the directed research class (compared to the 65% our paper ended up working out to) the community presentation wasn’t really on my radar until a few days ago. However, it turned out to be a bit of a Big Deal for which I am really grateful. DR has ended up being one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever done (I feel at least), and I think that I really realized that during the community presentations today.

For those who don’t know, because I’m not sure how detailed I went into it in previous posts, my research was characterizing the dynamics of crop-raiding by wildlife in Mto wa Mbu, a town directly adjacent to Lake Manyara National Park (through interviews with farmers because uh unfortunately 4 months is not enough time to undertake a long-term monitoring project of crop-raiding incidences). Agriculture is one of the main economic activities in Mto wa Mbu, and, uh, obviously elephants tromping through your fields and eating your maize isn’t exactly conducive to making a living as a farmer. Crop compensation/consolation schemes exist in Tanzania, but officials are slow to respond and more often than not, farmers never receive the money promised (or at least, none of the 167 farmers I talked to did). From that, me and my research partner analyzed differences among farms like position in relation to the park and a corridor, crops grown, and plot size and how that contributes to what species crop raid, how often crop raiding happens, what time of day it happens, etc. We also assessed current mitigation strategies employed by farmers, but also used our data and other literature to suggest what we think might be more appropriate or effective mitigation strategies compared to the highly labor intensive and relatively low effective ones currently used by most farmers.

Although I ended up not working on Charismatic Megafauna™ like I initially anticipated when I came here, I’ve really enjoyed my project. I learned so much about Tanzanian culture, practiced my Kiswahili, ate TONS of free bananas, and did something that I (maybe kind of naively) believe actually matters. As neat as it would have been to do wildebeest demography or carrying capacity or something, I thought a lot about what it means to be a wildlife manager (lame) and then re-read my Aldo Leopold land ethic paper (even lamer) and I’ve really realized the fact that wildlife doesn’t exist in a vacuum and that if I want it to persist, I can’t separate management of wildlife from the human aspect. Which, you know, is actually perfect for me in a way. I love wildlife and I love science, but I also love people and I feel like if I accomplish anything in my life, it might as well to be helping my fellow man so this overall has turned out to be a totally awesome and eye-opening experience for me. It has also done a lot to kind of focus my career direction, which is somehow really awesome and really scary at the same time.

Also: I was having a slight crisis over if I could fit genetics into crop-raiding research one night and then the next morning my advisor here handed me a paper titled “Using molecular and observational techniques to estimate the number and raiding patterns of crop-raiding elephants.” It was an awesome paper and people should read it because it was super neat. Then I had a really brilliant idea for a continuation of my project here and then before I could mention it to my faculty advisor, he told me he had talked to park rangers about starting literally almost the same thing so I’m kind of convinced he can read my mind.

Anyway, enough of me pouring out my heart, and I’ll just write a bit about community presentation day. None of us were really quite sure to expect. A lot of people had to weirdly combine their projects because they used similar methods I guess. All 11 people in the wildlife management group had to give a 40 minute presentation on 9 different projects (including translation). For whatever reason, wildlife ecology got to divide up, so me and the single other girl working on crop-raiding with me got half of that to present. Yeah. Whatever.

We weren’t sure how many people were coming, but I think it was probably over 100. Some notable audience members included local government officials, some totally awesome and really nice giraffe researchers, officials from Tanzanian National Parks Authority, and the director of African Wildlife Foundation’s Tanzanian chapter. So yeah I was a little nervous, but I have to say, Hanna and I totally ROCKED it. It was awesome. I was a bit worried how community members would respond to two American girls coming in and being like “Oh, baboons eat your bananas! Sorry about that” but our management implications were very strong and very well received. We also may or may not have been somewhat responsible for starting a rather heated discussion about the current status of crop consolation in Tanzania. I felt bad about the flack the TANAPA officials got from farmers in the discussion after all the presentations (even though I find myself more and more on the side of farmers), but my advisor said it always gets a bit political even if no one is presenting on human-wildlife conflict just because it is such a big issue in this area and locals have few other opportunities to ever be in the same place as a TANAPA guard. The TANAPA guy was very adamant that if farmers followed proper procedures, they would receive compensation but I can’t quite say I believe that, especially since elephants had been walking all throughout my study site for the entirety of fieldwork, destroying crops and saw a grand total of 0 TANAPA employees responding to crop-raiding. It’s funny in a sad way that they had a much quicker response time to when a crop-raiding elephant was killed in my study area.

Overall, it was a very worthwhile day and I feel very accomplished about what I’ve spent the last month doing even though days upon days of writing was super tedious. My advisor also told me that he was very proud of our presentation, which made me feel, uh, really awesome. Also not gonna lie, I got a little misty eyed when people were so genuinely interested in all of our projects and genuinely happy and excited about us sharing them. My time here is coming to a close way too fast, but I think my departure will be bittersweet. Most of the time, I’ve been very nervous about how I could get myself back to East Africa, which is silly because I’ve been here twice in two years now AND I’ve had the opportunity to meet some great role models while I was here who, despite not being born here, have made East Africa an integral part of their life. I know that if they can do it, I can do it to. 

The only disappointing part of the day was that my translator Ibra missed my presentation! He had to go to Arusha for his business (he has a real people job working for a tourist company when he's not pulling me out of the mud in the rice paddies) and only got to Rhotia as presentations were finishing up. He did apologize so I guess that's alright.

Super lame and cheesy post! Sorry, not sorry, I just have a lot of emotions. Tomorrow is our last community service day. I’m helping build a house. Yay!

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