Parks and People: Tanzania, Udzungwa Mountains

Conservation of Nature and Community at Udzungwa Mountains National Park: Mang’ula, Tanzania. Udzungwa Mountains National Park lies in south-central Tanzania, about 200 miles west of the coastal city of Dar es Salaam. Containing some of the highest biological diversity in Africa, it also borders human settlement where villagers struggle every day to meet their basic needs for food, fuel and clean water. One of the greatest challenges faced by the park is conserving nature while accommodating local human populations as well.

Early in the 21st century, our planet faces challenges of an enormous magnitude as nearly 6.8 billion people striving to meet the demands for survival exact a terrible toll on the natural environment. Designers and planners must constantly be developing new tools to reconcile the most pressing needs of human development and environmental conservation, and must constantly educate new generations of students motivated to use their knowledge to confront the most pressing challenges ever faced by humankind.

At the fence

The interface between national parks and adjoining human populations brings the competing demands of people and natural ecosystems into focus. On both sides of this divide, humans and other species seek to meet basic needs. In our school of design and planning, we educate students to be able to understand and resolve competing demands of nature and human development in the places where those issues are most pressing. At Udzungwa Mountains National Park in Tanzania, we have a unique opportunity to develop these skills in the context of rural villages adjacent to a protected part of the Eastern Arc Mountains, an area known as the Galapagos Islands of Africa because of the remarkable biological diversity it contains.

The interdisciplinary Penn State Study Abroad Program at Udzungwa Mountains National Park focuses on local communities near the park with an aim to creating plans and designs that incorporate village activities as well as biodiversity conservation. Led by faculty conducting research in and around the park, the program also involves partners from Tanzanian universities and government agencies and international non-government organizations, exposing students to inter-disciplinary and inter-organizational expertise.

Students from all backgrounds gain hands-on experience in the study of environmental design and land use planning and will take field trips into Udzungwa and other parks to observe and document land use and biodiversity.

For more information, go to the Parks and People: Tanzania website, or contact Larry Gorenflo (ljg11@psu.edu) or Brian Orland (boo1@psu.edu).

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