Helping Young Street People and Restoring Village Nature at Kiboko Lodge in Arusha, Tanzania

In late August 2022 I was privileged to be able to spend a long weekend at Kiboko Lodge, on Ngurdoto Village land, nestled on the edge of Arusha National Park, in Tanzania.

You can find a full bird list, if you need it, somewhere on eBird.

Checking my note book I see that a total of 62 species of bird were registered in two and a half days, of thorough investigation, within the four hectare grounds of Kiboko Lodge.

Hadada Ibis are delightfully tame at Kiboko, if you sleep-in of a morning they may wake you with their wonderful cries. The vocalisation for which they are famed!

Not many years ago one might have recorded twice that number of birds in two and a half days here. And hippos too! Sadly, for we the old school naturalists certainly : “The Times they [have been] a-Changing”.

Through the past five decades a cruel wind, especially as far as wildlife is concerned, has continued to blow across much of the highland plateau of East Africa. As the inequities of European imperialism morphed into the insanity and injustice of turbo capitalism gone global.

Our human populations in the tropics have grown and grown, unmatched by sufficient financial regulations or ecologically sensitive agricultural and industrial interventions to alleviate deepening local poverty.

As elsewhere in Africa and the so-called Global South the number of people who have been forced to scrape together a living from ever smaller patches of degrading soils has significantly increased. Increased decade after decade.

The larger wildlife is the first to disappear from the scene under such conditions. However Kiboko Lodge is within shouting distance of Arusha National Park. Big animals still visit the grounds of the lodge. An elephant wandered in each night during my stay. And there are lots of little Vervet Monkeys who are only too keen to steal your sweet meat treat from any unguarded tray of “afternoon tea”.

In tandem with Africa’s phenomenal population growth it has been the evolving international political situation, specifically the concentration of financial wealth and power into ever fewer hands, globally and regionally, and not overpopulation per se, that has kept the people of Africa poor

However in thousands of locations across the continent, often at a relatively small scale, fantastic work is being done to challenge and to change the inequities of the status quo. One such initiative is the wonderful Watoto Foundation

The Watoto Foundation strives to lift ‘at least some lucky young men’ from a life of hardship on the street. Then, after a few months of induction, they have exchanged a dismal prospect of a life of struggle and strife in the big cities of Tanzania for this healthful and tranquil location on the edge of an astoundingly beautiful Arusha National Park.

At Kiboko they undertake further tourism focused training in the lodge. The vast majority prosper. Some stay on for years. Many do so well here that they become permanent features at the lodge, and are busy mentoring the next generation of threatened youth for a life in the tourism industry and beyond.

Nowadays initiatives like that of the Watoto foundation, working at Kiboko Lodge, are doing wonders to turn the tide. In their own small way they turn around some of the multitude of unhealthy developments of eighty years, in our destructive post-World War Two world.

Kiboko Lodge is a very fortunate location indeed. It has a beautiful grazing marsh right there in front of it. This is an area of permanent moist grassland surrounding a swamp of Typha and Cyperus rushes. The whole is replenished by underground springs.

The lovely view from the lodge on a cool season morning

Consequently even during the cool dry season (June to September), local villagers can come each day to gather fodder for their milk cows, who are kept in stalls, back home.

This harvesting of fodder grasses is a repeated cyclical removal of vegetation. An activity that is highly beneficial to the general ecology of the whole area.

“Gardener George” works skilfully in his waders to mimic the ecological activities of the larger animals who until recently lived in this wetland next to Arusha National Park

During the two drier seasons of each year, fodder harvesting by the villagers opens up areas of the wetland to the sunshine. These openings enable a multitude of species of little plants, invertebrate and smaller animals to colonise and thereby create a suitable ecological niche for some of the “bigger fancy folk” those creatures that we the Overseas Ecotourists (or Travelling Naturalists) want to see when we come to Africa.

Our “Take Away” : We get to understand how mosaics of tall medium and short vegetation are created and why they are essential in forests, grasslands and wetlands in order to conserve and restore a wider biodiversity in our world.

Conservation and restoration work, a “fake hippo trail” now in the making at Kiboko wetland where, not very long ago, wild hippos came and went, and lent their Swahili name to the lodge
The tea house and sunset bar at Kiboko right beside the wetland ~ a truly fabulous spot for birders and naturalists
The wooded grounds of the lodge are now being managed to attract even more wildlife

So in summation : if you are visiting Northern Tanzania (the fabled Northern Circuit of Safari Jewels: Kilimanjaro, Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Tarangire and Zanzibar) , and you want to make a difference, ask your agents to book you a couple of nights at Kiboko Lodge. And on the day between you can comfortably explore the woefully under-appreciated Arusha National Park. It’s right next door.

Arusha National Park is just twenty minutes by car from the lodge – and it’s an amazing place

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