A HALI/PREDICT field update from our Coordinator, Dr. Harrison Sadiki:
The HALI/PREDICT project has been planning a visit to the villages buffering the wildlife management areas bordering Ruaha National Park this fall, in order to assess the potential for bat and rodent sampling as part of the PREDICT project’s wildlife disease surveillance program. On the 6th of December, 2010, we started our first trip to the field going from Iringa (the HALI headquarters) to Tungamalenga village (110Km), where we spent a night at Chogela campsite (the HALI field camp). On our way to the site we looked for any signs of bats and rodents, and we observed the habitant/vegetation change for indicators of where the greatest number of these animals might be.
On the morning of December 7th, we started with Mahuninga village, the last village in Idodi division bordering the protected area (the Wildlife Management Area bordering Ruaha National Park). It started raining in the morning when we met with the Muhuninga village Executive Officer. It is traditional when working in Tanzanian villages to always begin activities with introductions and meetings with the village officers. We started by signing the visitor’s book (another Tanzanian custom – see picture at left) and introducing ourselves and the HALI/PREDICT mission – to conduct disease surveillance on bats and rodents to better understand what pathogens these animals may be carrying in the Ruaha Ecosystem. The Executive Officer was enthusiastic and he welcomed us to do research in his village. After introductions and discussions, we moved to the area where they normally see bats; the special trees where all the villagers hold their meetings.
Unfortunately there was not a single bat on that day due to rain. The villagers said all the bats were hiding in big buildings like hospitals and schools, a very interesting point as hospitals and schools house people that are often more susceptible to disease and frequently have naive or compromised immune systems. We talked to a few people on site to get their input on bats and rodents, using their local language names for these animals.
After the village center, where 95% of people are of the Hehe tribe, we moved toward the area where pastoralists live (communities like the Maasai, Barabaig, and Sukuma), and we interviewed a few of them on what they knew about bats and rodents, and if they see them regularly.
From Mahuninga we moved to Kitisi, the area with maximum interaction with wildlife at the edge of the protected area. Unfortunately, the village government officials were not there, so we drove back to Mapogoro village. This is a unique village with tall mango trees. According to the people living there, they normally see bats in these trees. We interviewed the village chairman and he was so excited to hear from us that we will be doing research on bats. On December 7th we all woke up at 5:30am and went to Mapogoro to watch for the bats returning to an abandoned house and the mango trees. We managed to see a few, small bats (popos in Kiswahili).
Later that day, we moved from Idodi to Pawaga division, where we introduced ourselves and conducted interviews in Isele, Mbuyuni and Mboliboli villages. In Mboliboli, we passed through one of the Sukuma households, which is far from the village center. The Sukuma are an agr0-pastoralist community that has long been participating in the HALI project. After our discussion with the head of the household, he presented a live chicken to Liz Vanwormer, our HALI/PREDICT staff scientist, on behalf of the group.
Generally our trip was successful because we managed to capture all the information we planned before (e.g. interviews with village officials and households on objectives of the study, locations of bats and rodents, observations of high-risk areas or interfaces with contact between bats/rodents and people, and GPS mapping of the area). We also managed to accomplish our mission despite of the rain, which makes driving from place to place very difficult as the roads are unpaved, and makes appointments with important officials and household members tricky to schedule and maintain.
This trip was also the first visit to the HALI project area for our two new team members Goodluck Paul and Zikankuba Sijali, both newly graduated Sokoine University of Agriculture veterinarians. Bravo, bravo team! We look forward to starting active surveillance of bats and rodents in these villages after the new year.