The Tarangire-Manyara Ecosystem is at the heart of Maasai country. The Maasai people are traditionally pastoralists, moving across the landscape in search of forage for their cattle. Every 14 years, the Masai community initiates a new age-set of warriors, who range in age from 12 to 20 years. In an important rite of passage, these boys become men during a circumcision ceremony and several subsequent months of rigorous cultural training in the skills and responsibilities of a warrior.
We were fortunate to be invited to some of the festivities taking place the evening before several local boys were to be circumcised. The ceremony involved the trappings of most good parties, including singing, dancing, eating, and drinking. In the late afternoon, a group of recently circumcised young men surrounded the boys about to be circumcised, alternately chiding and encouraging them during hours of singing and dancing in the boma of one of the initiates. In another nearby boma, women and warriors from the previous age-set sang and danced. At sunset, warriors ran the initiates all the way down the slopes of Mount Meru to a ceremonial center in Arusha, returning just before the dawn “operation.”
Please enjoy some photographs from this very special occasion.
The boy in the gray blanket was to be circumcised early the following morning.
Initiates (in gray blankets with sticks) are encouraged and taunted by recently circumcised men (dressed in black).
Women and older warriors sing and dance.
A procession of recently circumcised new Maasai warriors.
The giraffe is the tallest animal on the planet, and as such is uniquely adapted to access vegetation higher up in the tree canopy that other, smaller browsers cannot reach. Despite their ridiculously long necks, they actually only have 7 vertebrae – the same number as humans and most other mammals.
Giraffe tongues can be almost 2 feet long!
Although giraffes drink water when it is available, they can survive where it is scarce, obtaining their liquid quota from the vegetation they eat. They occasionally eat grass and fruits of various trees and shrubs, but their primary food source is the acacia tree. As a deterrent to being eaten, acacia branches are covered with daunting, sharp thorns. These thorns do not discourage giraffes, however, because giraffes have long, thick, muscular, prehensile tongues that can gather and slide foliage off the branch. Their tongues can be more than 50 centimeters long (about 20 inches - almost 2 feet). They also have thick saliva that protects their mouths from the thorns. Giraffe also sometimes break a branch off and munch the whole thing – thorns and all!
Giraffes are selective feeders and although they forage for 16 to 20 hours a day, they may actually consume only about 65 pounds of foliage during that time, and they can even maintain themselves on as little as 15 pounds of foliage per day.
Thorns don't bother the giraffes.
Tree hyrax basking in the sun.
An interesting animal one might come across on one's safari in Africa is the hyrax, a small furry mammal that looks somewhat like a big guinea pig or a rabbit with round ears and no tail. Unique to Africa and the Middle East, the hyrax is a rather unusual mammal, so unlike other animals that it is placed in a separate order by itself (Hyracoidea). Amazingly, the hyrax shares a remote ancestor with elephants and sea cows (dugongs and manatees)!
Hyraxes are primitive animals, exhibiting many traits characteristic of early mammals. They are not very good at internally regulating their temperatures, and can often be seen basking in the sun or huddling together for warmth. They use molar teeth at the side of the jaw to slice off leaves and grass. They are not ruminants, but they have multi-chambered stomachs that allow bacteria to break down tough plant materials enabling them to digest fiber like ruminants.
Two hyrax species are rock (or bush) hyraxes and the third is a tree hyrax. They are widely distributed in East Africa, living from sea level up to over 14,000 feet in elevation and in habitats ranging from dry savanna to dense rainforest to cold alpine moorland. Tree hyraxes eat leaves and fruits, while rock hyraxes feed on grasses, herbs, leaves, fruit, insects, lizards, and birds’ eggs – both types obtain most of their water from their food. Hyraxes are eaten by pythons, raptors, leopards, and smaller predators such as caracals, servals, and civets.
Fossil remains show that hyraxes the size of oxen once roamed the earth!
The Explorer's Club Journal has published an article about the Wild Nature Institute's research on the Masai Giraffe in Tanzania. We thank the Explorer's Club for publishing the article and for generously providing financial support for our work. You can click on the page below to download a pdf and read.
Wild Nature Institute scientists Monica Bond, Robert Mollel, and Derek Lee look into Ngorongoro Crater.
Surveying for Maasai giraffes in Serengeti National Park.
Unfortunately, we calculated about 20% of giraffes were afflicted with the disease, which causes lesions on the backs of the forelegs. No one has yet estimated the prevalence of Giraffe Skin Disease in northern Tanzania, and it is also unknown whether the disease increases mortality of giraffes. Wild Nature Institute’s scientists are filling this knowledge gap, so wildlife managers can allocate conservation efforts where they are most needed.
It wasn’t all work, however. We got up-close-and-personal with thousands of western white-bearded wildebeests while their world-famous migration of more than a million animals passed through the south-eastern portion of the Serengeti. Migrating Burchell’s zebras and Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelles were extremely numerous as well.
We’ve just returned from a 10-day trip where we surveyed for the presence of Giraffe Skin Disease in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Serengeti National Park, and Lake Natron region.
Western white-bearded wildebeests on their annual migration through the Serengeti.
We enjoyed viewing vast flocks of Greater and Lesser Flamingos at Lake Natron – the lake is critical nesting habitat for these beautiful birds. A proposal to build a salt mine was recently stopped, but the lack of permanent protection for Lake Natron remains a grave concern
Lake Natron is critical nesting habitat for flamingos.
We were joined on our trip by two filmmakers and fellow biologists, Sean Bogle and Sarah Chinn. Sean and Sarah assisted us with Giraffe Skin Disease surveys, and are working with WildLens to produce a documentary film about the Wild Nature Institute’s important work on demography of Maasai giraffes and conservation of one of the last remaining ungulate migrations in the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem. You can read about the film project at: