Tanzania | Study Abroad | Wildlife Conservation | Political Ecology

Tanzania: Wildlife Conservation and Political Ecology

Explore the balance between ecological concerns and socioeconomic objectives in the vast wilderness expanses of northern Tanzania.

The program challenges students to reframe notions of sustainability in relation to local population needs, perspectives, and values. Through rigorous thematic coursework and hands-on experiential learning, students consider how natural resource management will benefit future generations in light of the current factors driving environmental degradation. Students explore the country’s diverse human and natural environments through seminars and field visits to nature reserves and conservation areas.

Major topics of study include:

  • Wildlife ecology
  • Conservation, environmental issues, and national park management
  • Life and culture, history, politics/economics, and current events
  • Relationships between socioeconomic objectives, ecological parameters, and cultural transitions from multi scale/actor perspectives in various Tanzanian landscapes
SIT Tanzania helped me develop a different perspective on the world and to view things through a very different, non-western lens.

Tara Boggaram, The University of Texas at Austin

Academic director giving lecture in the fieldTanzania is a beautiful and diverse country in East Africa spanning the Serengeti Plains; Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak; and the Zanzibar archipelago. The Serengeti ecosystem (approximately 25,000 square km) includes Oldupai Gorge, a formation of the Great Rift Valley system and the site of renowned early hominid fossil discoveries by Mary and Louis Leakey.

The Serengeti also contains the immense Ngorongoro Crater, a UNESCO world heritage site and the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera. The Serengeti is home to a large and diverse population of wildlife. More than 120 ethnic groups live in Tanzania, comprising tremendous cultural and linguistic diversity, though unified by a single national language — Kiswahili.

Scale and Location

Two key watchwords for this program are "scale" and "location." Students consider a few essential questions throughout the semester, exploring how changes in scale and location have an impact on these inquiries. To fully appreciate the diversity and complexity of this region, students are on the move, exploring the variety of natural habitats. Excursions are chosen specifically to provide a variety of locations and scale.

Not Just Science

In this interdisciplinary program, students realize that ecosystems are inseparable from the human ecology of the region and that issues related to development and human population growth inevitably affects the natural habitat (and vice versa). Through the Environmental Research Methods and Ethics course and program fieldwork, students learn to integrate their scientific learning with the social sciences, creating a more complete and complex picture of ecology and conservation.

Student in SerengetiSupportive Partners

The program has three major in-country partners: Sokoine University of Agriculture, Klub Afriko Cultural Orientation Center, and the host communities. These partners are instrumental in the success of the program, and many students have returned to work with the program’s partners in future endeavors.

Independent Study Project

Students spend four weeks near the end of the semester working on an Independent Study Project (ISP), pursuing original research on a selected topic of individual interest. The ISP is conducted in Arusha, Moshi, or surrounding areas, or with program approval, in other parts of Tanzania. 

Sample topic areas include:

  • Impact of tourism on the natural environment or cultures
  • Management options in designated wildlife areas
  • Environmental education
  • Soil conservation and agricultural practices
  • Arusha youths’ views on population and environment
  • Wildlife-livestock disease interaction in the Kwakuchinja corridor
  • Behavior of primates, e.g., Colobus guereza and olive baboons in Sagara Forest
  • Wood use in various types of protected areas, including village forests
  • Bio-indicator studies, e.g., birds and butterflies at various locations
  • Perspectives on population and the environment
  • Vegetation analysis and elephant damage at Ndarakwai Ranch

Note: Because of restrictions on fieldwork in Tanzania, students should expect to spend all or most of the Independent Study Project outside the boundaries of Tanzania’s national parks.


Previous college-level coursework and/or other significant preparation in environmental studies, ecology, biology, sociology, anthropology, international relations, or related fields, as assessed by SIT.

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The semester is divided into four highly integrated courses: Intensive Language Study in Kiswahili, Environmental Research Methods and Ethics, Wildlife Conservation and Political Ecology Seminar, and the Independent Study Project.

The Wildlife Conservation and Political Ecology Seminar consists of two components: 1) Life and Culture and 2) Wildlife Conservation and Political Ecology. The Life and Culture component includes lectures on history, politics/economics, and current events. The Wildlife Conservation and Political Ecology lectures focus on wildlife ecology, conservation, environmental issues, and national park management. During the Environmental Research Methods and Ethics course, students learn how to integrate both social science and ecological field techniques through anthropological and field ecology projects. These skills are then applied during the Independent Study Project (ISP).

Links to syllabi below are from current and forthcoming courses offered on this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer..

Wildlife Conservation and Political Ecology Seminar – syllabus
(ENVI3000 / 4 credits / 60 class hours)
An interdisciplinary course conducted in English, with required readings, examining the relationships between socioeconomic objectives, ecological parameters, and cultural transitions from multi scale/actor perspectives in various Tanzanian landscapes. Lecturers are drawn from institutions such as the Sokoine University of Agriculture, the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, and various nongovernmental organizations.
Beginning Kiswahili – syllabus
(SWAH1000-1500 / 4 credits / 60 class hours)
Intermediate Kiswahili – syllabus
(SWAH2000-2500 / 4 credits / 60 class hours)
Emphasis on speaking and comprehension skills through classroom and field instruction. Based on in-country evaluation, including oral proficiency testing, students are placed in intensive classes, with further language practice during homestays, lectures, and excursions.
Environmental Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ENVI3500 / 4 credits / 60 class hours)
A course in environmental research methods and ethics concerning both the social and natural sciences. The main focus is on learning how to collect, analyze, integrate, and report social and ecological data to critically understand and evaluate program-related environmental issues. Topics include an introduction to the Independent Study Project; environmental field study ethics; and the World Learning/SIT Human Subjects Review Policy. Specific qualitative field study methods include designing research projects; writing a research proposal; interviewing; surveys; participatory rural appraisal techniques; maintaining a field study journal; and data set analysis. Specific ecological field study methods include micro- and macrohabitat analysis; wildlife population sampling and analysis; fauna and flora identification; animal behavior; geographic information systems; and statistical analysis of data sets.
Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits / 120 class hours)
Conducted in Arusha, Moshi, or surrounding areas or, with program approval, in other parts of Tanzania. Sample topic areas: impact of tourism on local cultures or the natural environment; perspectives on management options in designated wildlife areas; environmental education; soil conservation in Mayo Village; body modifications among Maasai at Ngare Sero; behavior of Colobus guereza in Sagara Forest; canopy and habitat use in sympatric primate species; modernized farming methods in Mgwashi; Arusha youths’ views on population and the environment; vegetation analysis of elephant damage at Ndarakwai Ranch. Note: Because of restrictions on fieldwork in Tanzania, participants should expect to spend all or most of the Independent Study Project outside the boundaries of Tanzania’s national parks.

Browse this program's Independent Study Projects/Undergraduate Research

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

on safari in Tanzania
First morning in Tarangire National Park

The program includes excursions to nature reserves and conservation areas such as Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, and Tarangire National Park.

All excursions are designed with the objective of changing scales and locations, providing a variety of lenses and perspectives for students to explore essential questions. At the largest scale, the program travels through the 25,000 square kilometer Serengeti-Ngorongoro ecosystem. This final, 14-day safari provides a re-focusing of the content of the program in preparation for the Independent Study Project.

The mid-scale experience takes place in the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem, where students explore a fragmented ecosystem and the western conservation model of national parks. The smallest scale safari is to a tropical forest, where the group explores the micro-temporal and micro-spatial aspects that are replicated on larger scales — an exercise in fractal geometry. These different locations also provide insight into the ways that different ethnic groups interact in their landscapes.

Reese MatthewsReese Matthews, Academic Director

Reese Matthews has an MS in science education from the University of Southern Mississippi and an MS in technology and science policy from the School of Social Sciences and Philosophy at Georgia Tech, where his thesis focused on alternative environmental resource management policies for Antarctica. Reese was a US Peace Corps volunteer (1989–1991) at Lomahasha Central High School in Swaziland, teaching science and biology classes and setting up a school library and senior science laboratory. He was the academic director for the SIT Tanzania Biodiversity and Conservation program (1998–2000) and came to the Wildlife Conservation and Political Ecology program in January 2001.

Oscar Paschal Nyakunga, Program Assistant

Oscar has been involved with the program for more than five years. He is a graduate of Mweka College of Wildlife Management (MWEKA) and worked for their Wildlife Division. His primary responsibilities are the oversight of all field academics, planning and logistics, and assistance with the ISP modules.

Mercy Felix Kamnde (Mama Juni), Office Manager

Mama Juni has been with SIT in Tanzania since 2009 and her organizational work provides a strong foundation for the program. Her responsibilities are numerous and include managing accounts, supervising local staff, procurement, and acting as a confidante to the students. Mama Juni is the backbone of the program, and she ensures the program runs in an efficient and professional manner.

Beatrice Mollel, Kiswahili Language Coordinator

Beatrice is the language coordinator and head Kiswahili language teacher with SIT Arusha. She has been developing the program’s Kiswahili materials and classes since 2004. Beatrice directs a capable team of five teachers and was instrumental in an East Africa–wide process of standardizing SIT’s Kiswahili language courses. Beatrice is also pursuing her BA in education at a local university.

Hosianah Mollel, Homestay Coordinator

Hosianah has been the homestay coordinator for five years. She lives at the center where students come for Kiswahili and is an integral member of the Bangata community. She is responsible for all aspects of the homestay for the program, including the selection of families, orientation, and day-to-day liaison with the families.

Francis Makari, Wildlife Expert

Francis Makari is the newest member of the program’s family, having joined us in 2014. Francis is a graduate of Mweka College of Wildlife Management (MWEKA) and is a veterinarian by profession. He also works on numerous NGO projects in Tanzania. He serves SIT as a wildlife expert while on safari and assists students with their ISPs.

Lecturers for this program are drawn from institutions such as:

Additional program lecturers:

  • Lazurus Likindikokoi — also known as Babu (grandfather) Liki — is a veteran wildlife expert and guide working for over three decades in the field of wildlife conservation. His work experience includes the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Authority (NCAA) and the Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) where he founded the national Community Conservation Service (CCS).
  • Anthony Rapheal — also known as Bwana Ndege (Mr. Bird) — is an independent ornithologist and celebrated bird scholar in East Africa. Anthony also runs a successful private birding company in Arusha.
  • Mike Mokoro — the director of a CBO advocating for the improvement of the lives of Maasai in northern Tanzania. Mike has worked with the program for more than 10 years. He leads discussions about pastoral livelihood change and introduces students to Maasailand at Ndarakwai during orientation.

HomestayThe program’s host communities in Bangata and Ngare Sero provide a foundation for the program’s success. In Arusha, students spend three weeks living with a family in the peri-urban community of Bangata. This village, about 8 km from Arusha town, is high on the slopes (1500 m) of Mt. Meru. Accommodation is varied between "modern" houses with electricity and wattle and daub homes. The families range from two-parent professional households (veterinarians, teachers, doctors) to those headed by single mother subsistent farmers.

Another homestay takes place in the Maasai village of Ngare Sero for one week. This is a semi-remote village at the base of the Maasai sacred mountain Ol Doinyo Lengai. Again, students are placed singularly, only this time there is very little variation in living conditions.

Other accommodations during the program include hostels, private homes, small hotels, and 33 nights of camping.

A diversity of students representing different colleges, universities, and majors study abroad on this program. Many of them have gone on to do amazing things that connect back to their experience abroad with SIT. Learn what some of them are now doing.

Alumni of this program are currently working:

  • in bilateral aid organizations and environmental NGOs.
  • for local citizen action forums and educational institutions.
  • in management, teaching, research, project design, and investigative journalism.
  • Tanzania: Wildlife Conservation and Political Ecology is available in both the spring and fall semesters.
  • The fall semester generally begins in late August and ends in early December.
  • The spring semester generally begins in the last week of August and ends in mid-December.

The dates listed above are tentative. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   Nov 1, 2015


SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: Not yet available.

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Tanzanian cultures and society
    • Wildlife and conservation
  • Environmental Research Methods and Ethics course focusing on environmental research methods and Human Subjects Review
  • Intensive language instruction in Kiswahili
  • All educational excursions to locations including nature reserves and conservation areas such as Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, Lake Manyara National Park, Mazumbai Forest Reserve, Ndarakwai Ranch, Loliondo Game Controlled Area, Enashiva Nature Reserve, and Tarangire National Park, including all related travel costs
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food)
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board: Not yet available.

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period.  This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Arusha), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period.  Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay.
  • All homestays (three weeks in Arusha and one week in a Maasai village)
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend, or through the homestay.

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare to Program Launch Site

International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Immunizations: Varies

International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.


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