Visiting the Issa Valley and UPP

If you’re interested in volunteering, please read through the below description (updated April 2017).

Also, please read here for a description by Tifany Volle, who spent 3-months at Issa in summer 2016 during her time as a Bachelor’s student at LJMU.

Expectations

The Ugalla Primate Project (UPP) invites qualified individuals to volunteer for the Project, and is open to discussing potential independent studies for those volunteers. Visits can range from as short as one month to up to a year, but this must be decided in advance for permit reasons (see “Costs” below). It is critical that volunteers know what to expect, and also what is expected of them.

A canvas tent for visiting researchers (A. Souchal)

The camp & accommodation

Our camp is remote, about 70km southeast of the nearest village, Uvinza, and about 130km northwest of the nearest town, Mpanda.  The Issa camp was established in 2008 in the miombo woodlands that dominate the landscape, and is situated at ~1550m altitude next to a stream (see below), which serves as the main water source for drinking and bathing. Life at camp is very basic. Volunteers can expect to sleep in a canvas tent beneath a grass structure (see picture at right), on a thin mattress, use a bucket of water (or go into the river, see below) for bathing, a long-drop (hole in the ground toilet), and eat a very basic diet dominated by a staple (rice, ugali (a maize flour porridge-like bread, bread) and beans. There is a modest solar power system available for charging small electronic devices, batteries, mobile phones, and laptops, and mobile phone signals from Airtel, Vodacom and Halotel. These signals are 3/4G and so can be used for internet access. There is also satellite internet, but as with power, access and capacity are limited and depend on users, consumption rates, and time of year. Best to do not assume these will be plentiful – be ready to be offline!

Refreshing in the camp spring after a long day in the forest

There are two distinct seasons at Issa: a dry season from ~May-September, and a wet season from ~October-April. In June, grass fires begin and eventually burn >80% of the underlying vegetation. As the dry season continues into late July- August, temperatures can reach 340C, and it is recommended that everyone carry several liters of water for long days walking (up to 25km/day) in the dry, burnt, landscape. Humidity rises in the wet season, and researchers work even in conditions of heavy rainfall. From March-June the grass grows to ~2m high and is difficult to walk through. The landscape is extremely hilly and physical fitness for any volunteer is critical. It is impossible to work effectively at Issa without climbing and descending steep slopes and negotiating difficult, rocky terrain, which can be treacherous with mud in the slick wet season and dry grass during the dry season.

The study area (F. Stewart)

The landscape is spectacular with a diverse array of wildlife, including nine species of primate, roan antelope, bushbuck, two species of duiker, etc. which are resident throughout the year. Evidence of lion, elephant, hyena, and zebra are seen from time to time, and leopard and buffalo more frequently; densities are low, however, and these animals are rarely seen. With the exception of the redtail monkey and baboon study groups, all animals are unhabituated and flee when encountered.

Although the camp is remote from any Tanzanian villages, there is a large refugee settlement less than 12km away, and people are sometimes encountered in the forest. These are usually illegal poachers or loggers, and almost every time they flee immediately when encountered. On those occasions when they do not, UPP teams are well experienced in handling these events, which often results in a conversation about the status of the land and legalities of their activity, as well as confiscation of any bushmeat or equipment they may be using. When necessary, authorities are called to support this work, and twice a year we facilitate government forest rangers conducting patrols of the study area.

Team photo (April 2017)

Researchers 

The number of personnel at camp can range from as few as 4 to more than 10, depending on time of year, visiting collaborators, other volunteers, etc. There is always at least one person at camp at all times to prepare meals and remain vigilant over camp equipment. Field assistants (FAs) are all Tanzanian and have varying English abilities. Basic knowledge of Kiswahili is mandatory for anyone staying >1month, and can be learned in country with concerted effort.  There is always a camp manager on site, whose duties include supervision of the FAs, administration of finances, driving for supplies, and overall project coordination from the ground.

Typical day and data

The weekly schedule is available in advance. Research teams always consist of two field assistants (or assistant + intern/volunteer/collaborator). All field assistants are familiar with and capable of collecting data on all the sub-projects, and so team-composition can vary daily. The chimpanzee and red-tailed teams almost always leave camp first, usually around 5:30am (sunrise is around 6am all year). Other teams (transects, phenology, etc.) leave ~ 7am. Workdays also vary in duration. On chimpanzee days, teams try to track a party for as long as possible and return in mid-afternoon only if the chimpanzees are lost, whereas red-tailed teams return between 6.30 and 7.30pm, once the monkeys have selected a sleeping site.

Field assistants help visiting scientists learn protocols, in English and Swahili! (Credit: L. Hambrecht)

On short work days, teams conduct other work after returning for camp. For example, chimpanzee, red-tailed, baboon, leopard and lion feces are sluiced in a sieve in the river in order to identify and quantify all food items. All data are via Open Data Kit, collected on Google tablets (donated by the Jane Goodall Institute, USA).

For the primates, data are collected on numerous topics, including (but not restricted to): behaviour (diet, ranging, group size, etc.), demography, activity pattern, injury status. Additionally, data on plant phenology, large mammal sightings and human activity across the study area are also systematically recorded.

Training & Independent Project (IP)

Nobody will be asked to collect data until s/he is comfortable with all protocols. Thus, initial periods on site are usually spent accompanying field assistants, helping with data collection where possible, and especially improving Kiswahili. Throughout this process, volunteers will also be expected to help with Project records and administration, and assist with data entry and organization. Schedule and work can be decided mutually with the site manager.

Kima
Juvenile red-tailed monkey (Credit: E. Mclester)

Visitors are encouraged to develop their own IP (in consultation with UPP administration), in addition to participating in overall Project data collection. Long-term data may be available for IPs and IPs may result in a publication and/or be the preliminaries for a Masters or PhD thesis.

 

Other Information

Project vehicle (A. Souchal)

There is a single Project vehicle that makes monthly trips to Kigoma and Uvinza. Uvinza is a large village with a regular, albeit limited, market, small guesthouses, and no running water or regular power. Kigoma, on Lake Tanganyika, has an airport, some larger hotels with running water and electricity, 2 ATMs, and multiple internet cafes and pharmacies. Staple foods and fresh produce can be purchased in either Uvinza or Kigoma, but Kigoma has a larger variety of both. Typically, the camp manager spends two nights here at the end of each month, and volunteers can accompany him/her for this period. Volunteers are expected to follow a similar work schedule to all others, whereby for every three days worked, one ‘rest’ day is earned. These ‘rest’ days may be used at camp, or be saved and used together for holiday or travel.

Dangers

Malaria: With camp in a remote location and at 1600m, there are few mosquitos at camp or throughout the study site. Rather, the highest risk of malaria infection is in the towns, especially Kigoma and Uvinza (in Dar es Salaam, malaria has been largely eradicated). Prophylaxis is recommended for anyone visiting the area. There are also malaria tests at camp, and malaria treatment can be bought from pharmacies in Kigoma.

DSCF1114
Credit: E. Mclester

Wildlife: Almost all animals are afraid of people, and everything from chimpanzees to leopards regularly flee from research teams. Snakes are most often encountered in the late wet season (Feb-April), but even then, rarely. Volunteers walk behind trained field assistants who are keen at detecting and avoiding snakes and any other dangers. To date, not a single incident of snake aggression has been recorded at camp and nobody has yet been bitten.  However, do not be complacent; there are cobras, mambas, puff adders and more present.  There are few biting/stinging invertebrates other than tsetse flies (patchily distributed) and honey bees (if you are allergic to beestings, this could be an issue).  However, “sweat bees” (small stingless bees) are sometimes very abundant.  They are attracted to sweat and can be very annoying as they drink from one’s body (especially corners of the eyes).  Fine-mesh headnets are recommended.

Accident: All volunteers are recommended to travel with a small first aid kit, although basic first aid medical supplies are available at camp. All volunteers are requested to take out comprehensive travel insurance and recommended to become members of AMREF Flying doctors (www.amref.org). In the event of an emergency, the project vehicle (which can be driven by the manager and one of the FAs) will take the injured person either to Uvinza, Kigoma, or Kasulu, for emergency medical treatment, or to the airstrip in Uvinza for evacuation (e.g. by AMREF), depending on the severity of the issue.

Co$t$

All visiting researchers are required to pay for necessary Tanzanian governmental research agencies TAWIRI and COSTECH research permits, which should be approved by these agencies prior to arriving in the country. UPP can assist with this process but applications are recommended to be initiated at least four months prior to the desired start date. Thus potential volunteers need to initiate correspondence with UPP with sufficient time for facilitation of this process.

Research station per diem costs vary with visitor and need to be discussed in advance.

A sub-adult male at Issa eyes researchers…eyeing him! (credit: A. Piel, March 2017)