At the end of a long week of hikes and gorilla treks—and a long month of exploration—all of us in the Primate Studies Field School had so many sights and sounds and memories to process. Our final projects gave us something to focus on and a way of consolidating all that we had learned and thought about over our month in Rwanda, and we had just a couple of days at the end of the trip to polish off our presentations.
It was hard to believe that we’d reached our final week in Rwanda when we arrived in Volcanoes National Park. For many of us, this was the climax of the trip, since Volcanoes is home to both golden monkeys and Rwanda’s most famous primates—mountain gorillas—as well as the site of the late Dian Fossey’s groundbreaking study of these amazing creatures.
With one park down and two to go, we in the Primate Studies Field School headed to Nyungwe National Park in southwestern Rwanda. Nyungwe was once a very large rainforest, an almost stereotypical African oasis complete with tangled vines, trees and green as far as the eye could see, and a whole host of animal species calling it home. Today, Nyungwe is much smaller and more fragmented, with a road winding through the park and trails only accessible if one is accompanied by a guide. But its beauty is undeniable, and, even though it is far from the untouched rainforest it once was, it still holds incredible intrigue and potential for adventure.
One of the aspects of my trip to Rwanda for which I am perhaps the most
grateful is the exposure I had to so many aspects of primatology. From opening
my eyes even more to the importance of conservation to exposing me to the
fundamentals of field research, the Field School exceeded my greatest
expectations and hopes in terms of its breadth and comprehensiveness. And, if I
can express this feeling that I had through a single story, I know which one I’d
Akagera National Park, on Rwanda’s eastern border, is a savanna habitat home to many of the typical African safari animals—including hippos, giraffes, and zebras—as well as baboons, vervet monkeys, blue monkeys, and galagos. In many ways, it looks like the images we see of the African savanna on TV and in books, but I came to find in my week there that Akagera is uniquely Rwandan.
When I told my friends I would be traveling to Rwanda this summer, many of the responses were one-sided. “Is it safe?” they’d ask. “Are you parents okay with that?” Or, even a bit more extreme, “Why would you want to go there?” The image and history of the little African nation—found sandwiched in the middle of the continent between the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, and Burundi—seemed to override any possibility in their minds that Rwanda could be a place I would want to visit.
Caitlin is a student at Harvard majoring in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and minoring in English. An aspiring primatologist, she has always had a deep love for animals and an interest in their behavior and welfare.
Letters from the Field
Letters From the Field is a blog written by contributors studying or working with animals; some in their natural habitats, some in captive environments. It is a compilation of their stories, studies, and/ or experiences. If you would like to share your experiences in this blog, please contact us by clicking on the button below: