Up Close and Personal: Studying Wildlife, Culture in Tanzania

Anna Koziarski poses with Iraqw children during the homestay portion of her trip to Tanzania

Image Credit: Anna Koziarski

February 2, 2015 Rachael Keeney

For as long as she can remember, Anna Koziarski, a senior environmental science major with a concentration in wildlife ecology and management, has always had an interest in wildlife. During the fall 2014 semester, Koziarski was able to act upon that interest, gaining three months of hands-on experience by taking part in the School for Field Studies program in Tanzania.

“As a kid I was always most drawn to documentaries on Animal Planet and Discovery; my greatest role models were, and still are, wildlife biologists and educators” Koziarski said. “On this trip I was able to learn what exactly goes into wildlife ecology research, not just from a purely science perspective, but from a political and ethical standpoint, which has made me even more appreciative of the work my role models [have done].”

Koziarski and roughly 40 other students stayed in a “camp” composed of cabins, a classroom, a library, and a dining hall, taking courses in Wildlife Ecology, Policy, Management, the Swahili language, and interacting with lions, zebras, giraffes, elephants, and other Serengeti animals. Also, for part of the program, students lived with an Iraqw family, one of the major ethnic groups in northern Tanzania, where they prepared meals and swapped stories in both English and Swahili.

“I've always been drawn to Africa for its diverse ecosystems, unique wildlife, [and] incredibly diverse culture,” Koziarski remarked. “I decided to go to Tanzania to learn more about these things, as I am interested in one day working as a wildlife biologist.”

More specifically, Koziarski aims to be a field researcher in conservation working to educate people about the significance of healthy ecosystems. During the last month of the program, Koziarski was able to jumpstart her field research experience by identifying a research topic, synthesizing information learned over the course of her stay, analyze data, and then write a final research paper.

“My project looked at the patterns and perceptions of conflicts between large carnivores and humans,” Koziarski explained. “We interviewed local people about their experiences with wildlife and tried to figure out what patterns existed and what socioeconomic [status] made a household more likely to encounter conflict.”

“I would be lying if I said it was easy,” Koziarski continued. “Not only was the data collection physically exhausting, [but] sometimes the stories that people shared with us were hard to listen to (conflicts with humans rarely end well for the animals)…By the end of it I came away with a paper I was really proud of, and I realized that this work may be a topic in wildlife ecology I would want to pursue further.”

Koziarski is currently working with her study abroad advisor to submit her work for publication.

“I've met an incredible group of people (students, faculty, and locals) who each have their own stories and ambitions, [and] one of my favorite memories was sharing stories about our lives and passions, and figuring out how we're going to get there,” Koziarski recalled. “When we were camping out in the bush of Serengeti we could see the eye-shine of hyenas circling our camp, curious about our presence…at night we would wake up to the snorts of buffalo right outside our tents, and in the early morning, as the sky was just beginning to turn orange, we could hear the calls of lions echoing through the savanna.”

Though not her first time visiting Africa (having previously traveled to Egypt, Kenya, and South Africa), Koziarski yet managed to learn something new; something that she will carry with her in all her wildlife endeavors.

“Wildlife ecology is about more than looking at animals: there is an incredibly delicate and complex relationship that humans have with the natural world, and the more I learn about it, the more I realize that none of our problems have an easy solution,” Koziarski said. “This can be a little disheartening sometimes, but I think it also motivates me to learn as much as I can about the natural world in an attempt to save it.”