Tracking down the trackers we need to help do some Loibor lion tracking!
As part of her PhD dissertation, Laly tracked lion spore (footprints) in order to estimate lion population numbers inside and outside of the National Park. Now, years after her original estimates, it is Dennis’s job to repeat her methods and obtain new estimates. One of the keys to Laly’s research was the use of Hadzabe trackers. The Hadzabe are a tribe found in North Central Tanzania (Lake Eyasi and Rift Valley areas). They are some of the few true hunter-gatherer societies left and, unfortunately, they are essentially being pushed out as Tanzania’s population continues to grow. They are incredible trackers and hunters, as well as have a unique language featuring clicks (similar to the !Kung in the Kalahari, but linguistically and genetically unrelated). Our goal for the weekend was to travel to Lake Eyasi and find the Hadzabe trackers Laly had worked with years ago and to bring them back to help Dennis with his research.
Fortunately, Laly and Buddy have friends who own a beautiful campsite on the shore of Lake Eyasi, which is where we stayed. It was a tropical paradise on the edge of the Lake…which currently happens to be dry, making for a very interesting juxtaposition. Kaounda, a Hadzabe, works at the camp, and he was our link to the trackers in the bush. Our first morning, Kaounda took us to the home of Saitoti, one of the trackers that had helped Laly. As Laly and Buddy caught up with their old friends, Sam, Dennis, and I were taught how to make fire and shoot bows and arrows by the younger guys. I have never seen someone make fire so quickly – and only using two sticks! I could only do it with Kaounda’s help. The Hadzabe do not like to be inside, and the ones we visited lived in a little grove of trees.
We returned to camp with assurances that the Hadzabe wanted to come with us to Noloholo and that they would track down another one of Laly’s old trackers who was out hunting. We then spent the rest of the day relaxing (closest thing to a vacation we will get this summer). In the evening, we went fossil hunting in Lake Eyasi. Several years ago, hominid remains were found in the Lake, dating back to about 125,000 years ago. There were tons of pieces of fossilized bone, and some of the kids found fossilized teeth. Each year when the Lake fills again, the fossils and stones are tumbled around, so you never know what you will find! No hominids for us, but I did find a pretty cool fossilized tibia and tortoise scute!
The next day, we picked up three Hadzabe – two elders that Laly had previously worked with, and a younger one that they will train. First we had to stop and pick them up some warmer clothes (see picture), as it is far colder at Noloholo than at Lake Eyasi. As we got close to camp, we began seeing far more animals, which was very exciting for them. There are very few animals left where they live, but their ancestors grew up on lands that once looked much like Loibor Siret. It didn’t take long for them to get used to seeing tracks again, as they pointed out lion and hyena tracks on the way home. They also have a deep desire to hunt EVERY animal that we have seen so far – Laly jokes that she will have to take away their bows to ensure that they don’t start taking animals out. We now have them happily situated in a little grove in camp, and they have already been out to get in the habit of tracking again three times.
So now, in camp, we have people speaking English, Swahili, Maasai, and Hadzabe – it’s starting to get tricky! We are really glad to have the Hadzabe here; it is not every day that you get to hang out with true hunter-gatherers, and I know that there is a lot we can learn from them before we leave. Already, yesterday Dennis and the Hadzabes (sounds like a band name!) tracked and found a female lion – odds are looking up for Sam and I to have another lion encounter here!