The Station and Accommodation
The Issa research station was established in 2008 in the miombo woodlands that dominate the landscape of the Issa Valley. The station is unquestionably remote; situated at an altitude of ~1550m with the nearest village, Uvinza, 70km southeast and the nearest town, Mpanda, 130km north. Despite our remoteness, we have a modest solar power system available for charging small electronic devices, batteries, mobile phones and laptops. We also have satellite internet, but access and power are limited depending on users, consumption rates and the time of year. It is also possible to access the internet with 3/4G signal from Airtel, Vodacom and Halotel; though, with such remoteness, you need to be ready to be offline!
Life at the station is very basic. Volunteers can expect a limited diet, dominated by a staple rice, ugali (a maize flour porridge-like bread), bread and beans. The accommodation is a thin mattress and canvas tent sheltered beneath a grass structure. Our research station has a stream which serves as the main water source for both drinking and washing/bathing - bathing can be achieved either by using a bucket or bathing directly in the stream. The toilet facilities consist of a hole in the ground toilet, known as a long-drop.
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 more than 80% of the underlying vegetation. As the dry season continues into late July- August, temperatures can reach 34°C, and it is recommended that everyone carry several litres 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 anyone 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 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 focal study groups of red-tailed monkeys, baboons, and chimpanzees, animals are generally very fearful of humans and flee when encountered. A complete list of medium and large mammals that have been observed over the years can be found here.
Although the research station 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, our 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.
Go to our gallery to see more images of the research station!