When Peter Jones bought Ndarakwai Ranch in the mid-1990's, it was heavily overgrazed. It had previously been a British cattle ranch during the days of the Tanganyika Protectorate, and the Tanzanian government began to manage the ranch in the 1960's. Since then it had fallen into disrepair and mismanagement, leaving hardly any ground cover, and few shrubs or trees. Since the land was privately purchased twenty years ago, the grasses are recovering and many of the native acacia species have returned and matured, and with the vegetation has come wildlife. We've seen zebra, impala, eland, warthog, wildebeest, elephant, genet cats, civet cats, blue monkeys, Syke's monkeys, vervet monkeys, baboons, and bushbuck.
While many parts of Ndarakwai have recovered significantly, understanding the many factors that contribute to landscape change in this environment is important to understanding how to successfully manage dry savannah environments. In order to understand this change, we identified 10 random points, five inside and five outside of the reserve, and had the students perform vegetation plot analysis around these points. They recorded the percent of ground covered by vegetation, recorded the number and type of woody species, and measured crown diameter of the shrubs and trees to determine how much of the ground is covered. After several dusty hours around the area and a couple of snake sightings (at safe distances), students returned to camp to analyze and present their findings.
These measurements can in turn be used to confirm data garnered through satellite imagery, and current satellite images can be compared to past images to examine the change in the distribution of grass and shrubs/trees over time. The vegetation plots that the students identified will also serve as baseline data when we return in future years.