#DispatchesDNLee #TZ2018

Latest update June 9, 2018 Started on April 27, 2018

Evaluating pouched rat natural history ecology and behavior in Morogoro, Tanzania and beyond.

April 27, 2018
Expedition's summary cannot exceed 240 characters


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In The Field

Day Trip to Pangawe & Kileka

Morogoro is a big region and Moro-town and the nearby areas are quite diverse. I live in Moro-town, which is an urban center; but it's not a metropolis, a micropolis? Maybe. It's so hard to figure out, mostly because I am still evaluating everything via a Western and developed-nation lens. I don't know yet how to get out of my own way.

So I visited areas just on the outskirts of Moro-town. These are areas described as shamba which is rural or farmland for us. And these farms are mixed use - growing sisal (a fiber, makes twine), maize (for food), sunflower (for oil), cassava (for food), plus a variety of fruit & legume trees too - banana, mango, jack fruit, coconut, and pigeon peas). Talking with caretakers, there have been sightings and complaints of panyabukuu on farms this season.

For larger areas - shamba kubwa - I would love to build a trapping grid (or at least a transect) and do ongoing Capture-Mark-Recapture studies and identify their nests and burrow networks. In other areas like Kileka, in the Uluguru Mountains, accessibility (and safety) seem more challenging. I'd still like to study pouched rats from these very different habitats - lowland, open grass fields vs highlands, forested. I'd have to come up with some alternatives, perhaps in collaboration with ongoing removal efforts or studies with my host department, [SUA Pest Management Centre] (http://www.spmc.sua.ac.tz/).

Here are some photos from the day trip survey excursion. I even have some science scratches and scars from my tromping in the woods and tall grasses.

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Internet Down

The internet is immensely useful while in the field. Accessing email and communicating with family, friends, colleagues and students back home. Communicating with host colleagues. Accessing files on drives or remote access to home or partner institutions. Cataloging my science activities and data.

The internet is a work horse. Traveling abroad you should always expect some interruptions. Although Telecommunications infrastructure has been progressively improving in Tanzania since my inaugural visit in 2012, it still is comparatively less reliable than what I am use to back home in the States.

Slow networks. Patchy connectivity. Slow wifi. Disconnecting Ethernet network. One second you are online and the next you aren’t or they slow down to pace of a snail stuck in molasses.

You would think it would be due to network or service I’m using – I’ve used my data or my internet is being metered by my service plan. I can’t figure out, but I have noticed that when it’s out or patchy in one medium it’s out across the board. This means when I switch devices (and internet access and service plans, I may not find relief.

For example, when I was writing this post the Ethernet connection via the university just disappeared. At the same time, my phone service went from 3G service to E. These are different providers and services. Sometimes I can shut my phone off then back on to reconnect to 3G. But it’s so strange to be that lose connection in every way I have to access the Internet. Sometimes, I can’t even use data to overcoming the fade out.

It’s like a pulse – it up and down, in and out; and it can last for a few hours or over a couple of days. I was convinced it only happened on cloudy days – as if clouds were blocking the view of the signal waves to my devices. (As I was typing this and after shutting my phone off then on and unplugging the Ethernet, the plugging it up – 3G and connectivity suddenly apparates. So I continue my business online. 10 minutes late- out again.) See the video attached to this post. My transmission pauses several times and cuts me off unexpectedly.

This is more than frustrating. It’s a productivity killer. So much work I do depends on internet access. Email. Remote access to work. Communicating. Social Media. Google – Drive, Translate, Scholar, ALL of the things. Every time I come I wish I had a BRCK. I still desperately need one. It offers the promise of stable connectivity while I am in the field. But it doesn’t actually resolve the issue I’m experiencing, it merely makes it better for me.

I needed to send an email yesterday and it took over an hour to send a simple 8 word email with an attachment. I’m trying to complete an order online and it’s taking over an hour to do that – because of the internet fade outs. Now, imagine this is your normal, default. This is why collaborators from those regions may take up to a week to respond to emails or why those samples didn’t get processed or shipped. These compounded inconveniences from incomplete infrastructure are why our colleagues in developing nations aren’t top of mind when we’re asked to recommend science experts from the global south or why there’s been no African Scientists on short list for Nobel Prizes. Our STEM capacities are categorically different and we, in the West, are more productive as a result. It’s a disparity that ought not to exist. It’s a disparity I really want to level.

Revisiting my Research Inquiries

I’m visiting the exact places where the pouched rats I’ve previously worked with (and where all the pouched rats that are apart of the biodetection training program come from). They come from beneath the structures and trash piles and chicken coops latrines on people’s properties. They cross through the yard gardens adjacent to their homes. The traverse the ditches and heavily worked walk paths along the streets and between houses. In short, PANYABUKUU (Ki-Swahili for giant pouched rats) are nuisance for Morogoro’s city-dwellers.

I’m talking with people who complain of these large, nearly cat sized rodents that run across their yards while they are hanging laundry, who rustle the substrate of their poultry house, whose burrows and entry holes are so big that they can cause sinkholes beneath their outside CHOO or toilets. I’m now thinking about what my research means to these folks – who have been baiting and trapping pouched rats in their own homes and backyards for over a decade – offering them to the local biodetection training program – an effort to rid themselves of a nuisance. How does my research on the natural history and behavior of a rodent – and this population that lives in such close proximity to people – help them, now. Although still coming together, I’m considering the public health, rural-and-urban development, and housing-infrastructural implications of pouched rats on peoples lives.

How can my presence as a Western researcher benefit people who allow me to come onto their properties, into their homes and businesses be beneficial to them? How do I make my science less intrusive? How do I become less intrusive? I’m literally walking in on people’s lives, capturing and releasing back an animal that not only disturbs them, but also structurally compromises their homes and introduces health risks to them and their livestock.

The picture below is a walk through of the neighborhood where MOST of the trained and in-training pouched rats come from. See Cricetomys paw-prints the dust in the wood shop? Yea, they just walk all over and through everything.

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Quick update from Morogoro

Posted by Danielle N. Lee on Thursday, May 24, 2018

Inventory and Equipment check

I've visited Morogoro many times before, and I have equipment and supplies at my host institution. But like any situation where you leave something in storage or tucked to the side for a long time, you need to check and make sure you still have everything. And check the state of your supplies and equipment.

Today, I've been fussing with my solar panel with battery. It vexed me last time - 3 years ago. Portable renewable-generated electricity access does not seem to like me.

In Morogoro and getting started

Updates have been challenging because getting sustained internet has been hard. I have to pay for devices and my Ki-Swahili is too weak to navigate alone.

But I am in Morogoro - my expedition home base and I have gotten settled personally.

Accomodations. check Hair braided. check Connected with friends and Tanzanian family. check Connected with Tanzanian colleagues and outlined next steps of research. check.

In fact I'll be going out later today to investigate potentional nest sites of panyabukuu (giant pouched rats).

It's coming along well.

Week 1 Check in and Update

Checking in! Week 1 #DispatchesDNLee #TZ2018

Posted by Danielle N. Lee on Friday, May 18, 2018

Arrival - Ninafika Tanzania

I am back. After nearly 24 hours in transit, I have safely arrived to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania (Julius Nyerere International Airport, airport code DAR). Nina furahi sana karundi.

After completing

  • Immigration forms

  • Applying for and paying for Visa - $100 USD (They take credit/debit card payments now, wow!)

  • Going through Customs (your bags get scanned and inspected again; and my research trunks required closer inspection and inquiry), I finally made it outside. That took about an hour.

    ... I am here.

The driver was waiting a while for me since my arrival, but everything was fine. This is my 4th arrival to DAR. And my word of advice for anyone traveling from outside of East Africa to Tanzania (via DAR specifically) is to add about 30 min - 1 hr of processing time once you land. First, there are a lot of people getting off of the plane going through the same process. There are staffers there to point you in the right direction. Yes, they speak English. Second, don't rush yourself or others. Be patient through this process - both with yourself (& others). You're navigating many things at once - the sudden smack of hot humid air in your face, throngs of people, and airport security. And you're likely very tired from traveling so far and so long. Third and most importantly, be polite. Tanzania is notoriously welcoming and friendly. Personally, rude behavior and bad manners are a turn off. Despite being tired, cranky, etc, remember that folks are there to help you. If you get confused or turned around or delayed, then don't beat yourself up and no one else. This goes double for those traveling in big groups and/or bringing extra bags of equipment. (I'm the latter). It's a process. Show your paperwork and answer the questions - and have your local contact info at hand.

So, after about an hour, I was connected with my driver and he took me to the hotel to rest for the night. My host colleagues are arriving later this evening at DAR and I will meet with them later after resting and eating.

Arrived in Dar Es Salaam. Checked into my hotel. #DispatchesDNLee #TZ2018

Posted by Danielle N. Lee on Friday, May 11, 2018

Excellent! I was meaning to tell you that you could embed Facebook live videos on OE. I'm glad you figured that out, because your FB Live videos are packed with insight and deserve to be archived. Loving these.



I’m at the airport, ready to take off. I arrived extra early and was the first at the counter to check in my trunks and bags. The total flight time is about 24hrs which includes 2 layovers. I arrive in Dar Es Salaam mid day on May 11th.

I won’t have cell phone service when I first arrive and I’ll need to get phone and internet as soon as I get settled into Morogoro, Tanzania. When I get access to free WiFi I can drop some updates on social media/ and send emails to let my family, friends, & colleagues know I arrived safely.

Tanzania is GMT+3, which is 8 hrs ahead of my home time zone in the States. This means my Instagram/Twitter updates will be coming in the middle of the evening and morning for my friends and family back home.

But stay tuned and follow me on Twitter and Instagram: @DNLee5 on both platforms.

Posted by Danielle N. Lee on Thursday, May 10, 2018

Want a postcard from Tanzania?

I'm sending official greetings from the #TZ2018 #DispatchesDNLee Expedition to anyone from anywhere.

Why? Because I like postcards. I think there are the perfect souvenir. You get a picture on one side and the other side you can provide context. It's a perfect way to capture a memory for yourself OR demonstrate thoughtfulness of others.

Plus, it's how I do outreach and share science and my adventures with youth and families around the world. So if you want a postcard - for yourself, or for someone you know, then please fill out the Google Form linked below. Teachers and youth leaders often have me send a postcard to their classroom and a postcard is a special way to share a smile with someone who may be home-bound, sick-and-shut-in, away at school/camp, incarcerated or doing military service abroad.

Google form for Postcard from Tanzania


T minus 7 days

One week from today I'll be back in Tanzania. That means I need to take my malarial prophylaxis.

There are some options for prophylaxis, but despite side-effects, I continue to take Larium or Mefloquine. And here is why.

  • A) I can’t afford to get sick. I’m only in Tanzania for a a certain period of and have a lot to do. Getting sick wastes my time.
  • B) Prevention is better than treatment. Although Mefloquine can be used to treat malaria, it is not recommended to treat malaria after you get sick.
  • C) Mosquitos love me. The last thing I need are these little vectors giving me a gift of malaria. And we are talking Malaria, folks...Malaria. Like natural selection’s evolutionary response to malaria was sickle cell — and I don’t have the trait.
  • D) Malarone is an alternative that is just as effective as Mefloquine and is reported to have fewer side effects. However, I'm not great at taking daily pills. There's a risk I'll forget to take them.
  • E) Cost. Mefloquine is a once a week pill. It's not cheap and I have to take it 2 weeks before I depart, every week while I am there and for 4 weeks, after I return, it's a more affordable option. But it’s more affordable option than Malarone that you have to take daily 2 weeks before, every day while abroad and for 4 weeks upon return.

And so far so good, I haven't gotten sick from my previous visits to Tanzania or other parts of the world where Malaria is prevalent.

Here I am taking my dose of medicine


Making lists and shopping

Have you ever noticed how travel plans require a lot of shopping? I'm visiting the store nearly everyday now, purchasing sundry supplies - for field research and temporary settling. I stay in a rest house for extended stays and I need to get comfortable as soon as possible so that I can get started on work.

My lists includes Personal items and Research items.

I'm just trying to get it all done AND close my semester down and maintain some sanity.


Packing and preparing

My days have been filled with packing for the trip. Packing my toiletries, medicines and personal care items - enough for the 2 month visit. I prefer to have my necessities on hand. Searching for items to purchase can take time away from your expedition. Plus, if you have special items for care, it's best to bring them with you. You can't risk not being able to find what you need - due to lack of availability or more likely, inability to translate - when you need it. Bring it with you.


Personal care

  • Toothpaste
  • Soap
  • Facial cleanser
  • Hair products
  • Deodorant - this one I'm picky about because I like dry solids. During my first visit I ran out and I could not find any at all. I was a stinky billy goat my last few days. LOL
  • Feminine products - tampons can be hard to come by in some developing nations
  • Prescription medicines - including anti-malarial pills & CIPRO, just in case

Research related

  • Research electronics: cameras, laptop computer, Boroscope
  • Clamp lights and light bulbs
  • Walkie-talkies
  • Flags and flagging tape
  • Permethrin-treated Field clothes, boots, & gear


  • Scrubs - I wear scrubs as field clothes
  • Shoes - daily shoes, water-ready, sandals (as dress shoes), flip-flops (shower), sneakers
  • Skirts, simple dresses, linen pants - serves as dress clothes for meetings or travel to city or holiday
  • T-shirts, long shorts, cargo capris - day to day clothes


Leading up to these last days, I make sure that I have everything together

  • Visit the health clinic and make sure my boosters are current
  • Getting an Rx and beginning my anti-malarial prophylaxis in time. (You have to begin taking anti-malarial pills up to 2 weeks before departure).
  • Completing all paperwork with my university
  • Getting cash to pay for services while in transit and for Visa upon arrival. There's no ATM machine at Customs at the Dar Es Salaam airport.
  • Arranging for transport to the the airport - departure from US
  • Arranging for transport from the airport - arrival to TZ
  • Arranging for accommodations in TZ
  • Making sure I have all research and personal items needed for the trip.

Research Mission for #TZ2018

This will be my 4th trip to Tanzania, East Africa.

Building off of my previous expeditions to Tanzania, I will continue exploring the natural history, ecology and behavior of Southern giant pouched rats, Cricetomys ansorgei, that live in Morogoro - my Expedition home base.

What's different this time? I have a different role. I am a PI, which means Principal Investigator. I have a new title -- Assistant Professor of Biology; and I have a new professional affiliation - Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

This trip is as much about rekindling connections with Tanzanian colleagues and friends, as well it is examining pouched rat behavior. As a new PI, I need to (re)establish my professional footprint in Tanzania and I want to distinguish my newwork - beginning this year - from the previous work I did when I was a post-doctoral researcher with a different institution.

As a PI, I direct my own research program. And I'd like the pouched rat research to be in line with the research I do domestically - examining the ecology and behavior of rodents across urban gradients. My last visit (2015) I was itching to explore several routes of inquiry, but I didn't have the time to pilot those ideas. Thanks to funding I received as a 2017 National Geographic Emerging Explorer I am able to revisit Tanzania and kick start my research.

Plus, I want to research options for bringing students from my institution, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville to my host institution Sokoine University of Agriculture for study abroad and field research opportunities. I am excited (and thankful for the funds) to make this exploratory trip to set many plans - research, teaching, and collaboration in motion.

Expedition Background

Returning to Tanzania

It's been a long time, but Dispatches of DNLee is back.

I am returning to Morogoro,Tanzania - East Africa, to continue studying the natural history, ecology, and behavior of Southern giant pouched rats, Cricetomys ansorgei.

Expedition dates: Departure: May 10, 2018 Return: July 10, 2018


  • Re-connect with colleagues and friends
  • Revisit field research sites and locate new trapping locations
  • Research facilities options for future visits with undergraduate students from the States.
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Yes! So excited to follow along!

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