Tanzania is in the middle of the East African countries, bordered by eight other countries and the Indian Ocean. The country has a complex climate stratification system due to an elevation difference of almost 6,000 meters from sea level to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It is a biodiversity hot spot – home to 310 species of mammals (lions, rhinos, elephants, etc.), 1,060 bird species and over 1,500 endemic plant species. These natural phenomena are found in the park’s 16 national parks, 33 game reserves and 43 game controlled areas which constitute 23% of the country’s entire area. The tourism industry in Tanzania is huge, accounting for 16% of total GDP.
The School For Field Studies was founded in 1980 in response to concerns about “widespread environmental illiteracy among young people.” The vision of the organization is to provide students with the opportunity to explore the “human and ecological dimensions of complex environmental problems.” The first station opened in 1985 in East Africa.
Why East Africa? Why Tanzania?
Tanzania itself is a relatively new country, formed out of the countries Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964. It is comprised of 120 different tribes. Per capita income for 2012 was only US $1,328. Most of the country is rural and 75.4% of the country’s 40+ million people rely on agriculture for survival (a whopping 25% of the country’s GDP). Temperatures are high year round because it is near the equator. As a result, water is scarce and 58.7% of rural people walk an average of 27 minutes to get water. Up to 90% of the average person’s energy input comes from wood fuel, including firewood and charcoal. The result of these socioeconomic factors is that the short-term survival of Tanzanians is entirely dependent on using natural resources; however, the survival of Tanzania’s unique wildlife is reliant upon conserving natural resources.
This sounds like a doomed catch-22 unless the key-word “short-term” is addressed. With a population growing at nearly 3% Tanzania must use its natural resources in ways that are sustainable so they are not depleted. With global climate changes and increasing anthropogenic pressures intense protection of Tanzania’s wild areas is crucial. However, for Tanzania’s biodiversity to be protected Tanzanians must want to protect it – if local people do not have personal incentive to conserve than they will not – not when survival is in question – and there is little the government can do about it.
So, why SFS East Africa?
Because the long-term prosperity of both wildlife and Tanzanians is 100% dependent on the successful conservation and management of natural resources. The research done at SFS East Africa can help to iron out a plan or at least instill an understanding in students who later might be able to.