African Savannah Biology – BIOL 497
BIOL 497: African Savannah Biology in Kenya
Travels during Winter Break
Prerequisite: Any applicable life-science, environmental, ANSC, or ANTH course and consent of instructor
A course that embraces multiple components of biology and allows students to integrate much of what they have learned in their previous courses, all while discovering the beauty and majesty of the Maasai Mara National Reserve in southern Kenya. This class focuses on field ecology, integrates components of biology, and shows how students can present their work to peers and the general public. The field study involves basic practice such as collecting ecological data and analyzing it with respect to a question. Students will become familiar with components of outreach, interact with local Maasai villages and learn how to capture images, take videos and use these media approaches to illustrate a concept and produce a short film.
The course describes the biology of the African Savannahs, the ecology of species interactions, and the adaptations and the selective pressures that shape community structure. The class describes processes that cross boundaries of scale from the details of pathogen-host interactions all the way through to large-scale ecological processes that, for example, shape tree response to (and recovery from) fires and browsing. The course is geared towards being in the field where students are shown what they have been taught, then undertake behavioral and ecological research projects with this knowledge. Students discuss the scientific method in detail, learn about hypothesis formulation, and collect and analyze data. Science outreach will be emphasized as students are taught how to compose and take photographs with digital cameras and take video that can have an impact.
Check out what students experience in Kenya - in 360° video:
Immersive 4K videos from BIOL 497: African Savannah Biology
BIOL 497 students are eligible to apply for the following scholarships (among many other financial opportunities), some depending on students' individual circumstances:
- Embedded Programs Scholarship ($1,000) from the Penn State Office of Global Programs
- Science Global Experiences Scholarship ($250-$1,000+) from the Office of Science Engagement
- Global Student Access & Success Scholarships ($500-$2,000) from the Office of Global Programs
- Student Engagement Network Grant ($2,000) from the Student Engagement Network
- Schreyer Ambassador Travel Grant (variable amount) for students in the Schreyer Honors College
Apply through the BIOL 497 Qualtrics application here
Next offered over Winter Break 2023-24
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- When does the course run?
This 3-credit course starts in early November with a series of evening meetings and preparation activities at University Park before we travel to Kenya. Students will leave on December 26th 2023 and we must all meet in a hotel (TBA) in Nairobi on December 27th. We will return to Nairobi on January 7th 2024 and we will fly out that evening with overnight flights back to the USA. There will be some follow-up meetings during the following Spring semester in which people will make presentations and get feedback on their final projects.
- When will I be able to apply for the course?
Applications will be considered until September 15.
- What is the cost of the course?
Approximately $5000 which covers the cost of everything. The cost of flights is highly variable but we plan to make selection as early as possible so you can book flights early.
- What is the application process?
Complete an application form online that will be available in early September. These will be assessed and accepted candidates will be selected continuously throughout the application period until 12 students are accepted and the roster is full (e.g. rolling admission). We seek individuals keen on natural history, seeking field experience, and those interested in relevant fieldwork research careers. Some candidates will be interviewed.
- What prerequisite courses do I need to have taken?
We would prefer students to have taken either an introductory Ecology course (such as BIOL 220W), an anthropology course or an Animal science course. Other introductory life science courses (i.e. BIOL 110) will also be considered.
Important Info Regarding the Field Course in Kenya
- Will I need a visa and passport?
You will need a valid passport with more than 6 months left on it before its expiration. Make sure your passport is not damaged. You can apply online for an evisa after acceptance into the course; we strongly recommend you to do this and not wait until arrival. Do not take the added insurance they offer and we shall provide you with the website address. Be warned there are many agents offering visas and these may have add-on costs.
- What vaccines and medicines do I need to consider?
We follow CDC guidelines as recommendations on their website:
You must be COVID vaccinated, Measles, hep A and hep B, Typhoid are recommended. Yellow Fever is now optional. Rabies is your choice but not necessary although we strongly recommend that you do not touch or pick up mammals such as bats. Malaria prevention pills are at your discretion, and we recommend you follow the advice of your personal physician. We will be in a remote camp away from human habitation where there could be some mosquitoes and you should actively cover up with long sleeves and pants and shoes (no sandals) in the evening to mitigate risk. Take particular care when overnighting in Nairobi and use mosquito nets and insect repellant as supplied. You should be up to date with Tetanus.
- What can I expect living in the African bush? Living in the African bush is very exciting and at night you will hear hyaenas call, hear elephants grazing, hippos will pass your tent and you can often hear the roar of lions. You will have a Maasai guard (Askari) allocated to your tent who will sit outside all night and prevent animals from getting too close and ensure you are safe. You must not leave your tent when it is dark without being accompanied by your guard and he will take you to the main tent at dawn and return you after dinner. He will be always close by during the night so you can call him at any time and in an (extremely unlikely) emergency you will have a whistle or bell in your tent. Of course there are mosquitoes, snakes and bugs but it is highly unlikely you will see one or have an encounter. Nevertheless every tent is sealed with strong zips and you should ensure all zips are kept closed at all times. You must not wear shoes in the tent but you will have a porch area where you can sit and take off your shoes – but keep the shoes in the tent with you. This is all just sensible bush craft and the camp staff and your tutors will give orientation and can answer any questions.
- Do I need to be physically fit and how much walking is there?
There is very little walking and you don’t need to be fit – but you must be prepared to sit in vehicles for periods of up to 6 hours at a time
- Can I come if I am disabled?
Yes, we have one tent laid out for disabled people. You must be happy sitting in an aircraft for 9 plus hours and be able to sit in a vehicle driving across rough terrain; we’re often thrown about in the vehicle when they go over pot holes although the drivers are very experienced and capable, and we have drivers experienced with working with disabled people. We have travelled with disabled people before and this has been highly rewarding for all. We can even put you in touch with one of these people if you wish to discuss it with them. Please feel free to discuss this with Dr. Peter Hudson: email@example.com
Dr. Peter Hudson, Willaman Professor of Biology
Dr. Derek Lee, Associate Research Professor of Biology