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After earning its independence from Britain in the early 1960s, Tanzania—made up of what was then Tanganyika and Zanzibar—became a united republic in 1964, and subsequently, East Africa's largest country. Its flag, issued the same year, combines yellow, blue, green, and black—colors that symbolize the sun, the Indian Ocean, the nation's naturally rich landscapes, and the native Swahili people, respectively. Heavily dependent on agriculture, which represents over 80% of the country's jobs and exports, Tanzania was a one-party state until its first democratic election in 1995. Since then, its biggest political challenges in modern history have revolved around managing relations with Zanzibar, a nearby archipelago and technically semi-autonomous extension of the nation's mainland territory.

From the sun-drenched plains of the Serengeti to the exotic beaches and spice plantations of Zanzibar, Tanzania is a wildly beautiful and culturally rich country, where expansive wilderness, and intimate interactions in small tribal villages, are equally accessible to adventurous souls. Journeys through Tanzania span from Africa's lowest point—Lake Tanganyika— to its highest point—Mount Kilimanjaro—revealing all of the country's true colors along the way. 

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Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.

Activity Level 1:

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Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 2:

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Moderately Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 3:

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Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

Activity Level 4:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.

Activity Level 5:

1 2 3 4 5


Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.

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Steven and Sylvia Go on Safari Created by Steven dos Remedios, 18-time traveler from Oakland, CA

Meet locals in a Maasai village and spot everything from giraffes to hippos during a game-viewing ride through Tarangire National Park with traveler Steven D.

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Tanzania: Month-By-Month

There are pros and cons to visiting a destination during any time of the year. Find out what you can expect during your ideal travel time, from weather and climate, to holidays, festivals, and more.

Tanzania in January-February

While the Northern Hemisphere experiences some of its coldest weather around this time of year, January and February bring heat and high humidity to Tanzania during its green season. The landscapes are lush, and many animals give birth to their offspring around this time which means it's a prime time for wildlife viewing: calving season means plenty of baby wildebeest, but also plenty of active predatory kills. Migratory birds are present and visible around this time of year, and as many animals are heading north in search of vegetation and water, you're more likely to spot them grazing. While the humidity is high in surrounding areas, the high altitude of Ngorongoro Crater makes it a cooler haven for animals and travelers alike. 

Holidays & Events

  • January: Throughout the month, the Wanyambo Festival in northern Dar es Salaam celebrates all aspects of Tanzanian culture, including dance, music, fashion, and food.
  • February: Sauti za Busara is an African music festival that takes place annually in Stone Town, Zanzibar.

Must See

Because this is calving season, baby wildebeest are filling the plains and attracting larger preditors. You may be surprised to see that wildebeest calves are born with the ability to walk, and may even begin running minutes after birth.

Watch this film to discover more about Tanzania

Travelogue: Arusha, Tanzania 1950 Produced by David Conover & Paul Villanova

Venture back 70 years to witness Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater and Maasai tribal lands in this vintage 16mm footage.

Tanzania in March-May

March begins a period of heavy rains that typically continues through May, though in recent years it's become less predictable, with May being uncharacteristically dry. With the torrential rains come floods, and even higher humidity. Due to flooding, Tanzania's roads are sometimes subject to closure, meaning certain safari camps don't operate this time of year. Depending on the year, this may mean less access to national parks, but also less tourists. Some even say it's the best time to go when there are fewer crowds and more animals taking advantage of the abundant water sources.

Holidays & Events

  • April 26: Union Day (also known as Unification Day) commemorates the 1964 joining of Tanganyika with the People's Republic of Zanzibar to form what is today known as Tanzania.

Must See

The heavy rains this time of year bring higher water levels to Ngorongoro Crater, increasing your chances of seeing huge flocks of flamingo populate the area.

Watch this film to discover more about Tanzania

Travelogue: Arusha, Tanzania 1950 Produced by David Conover & Paul Villanova

Venture back 70 years to witness Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater and Maasai tribal lands in this vintage 16mm footage.

Tanzania in June-August

June begins Tanzania's dry season, attracting the largest crowds of the year. Late June is usually when there are the most safari vehicles. Decreases in both temperature and humidity make it a very comfortable time to be out on safari. June is also the mating season for migrating wildebeests. As the land becomes drier, watering holes disappear, meaning larger groups of animals congregate at whatever water sources they can find. July begins to warm up a bit and we continue to see clear skies. Still one of the driest times of the year, this is when you typically begin to see clouds of dust generating from safari vehicles. (Pro-tip: bring a scarf and sunglasses if you choose to go on safari this time of year.) By August, the dry conditions clearly have taken a toll on the thinning grasslands, making animals easier to spot from far distances. 

Holidays & Events

  • July: Zanzibar International Film Festival
  • Late July: the annual Mwaka Kogwa Festival in Zanzibar is a traditional celebration of the Shirazi or Persian new year.

Must See

As the land dries out starting in June, millions of wildebeest, antelope, and zebra head north in search of water and better grazing opportunities in what is known as the Great Migration. Individuals form groups, and those groups combine and grow into larger and larger herds as they start to relocate. While catching sight of this sought-after phenomenon is rare, you may see the herds encountering crocodiles as they struggle to make their way across the Serengeti's Grumeti River, one of the first dramatic obstacles nature throws their way. By August, many of the surviving members of the large herd will have made it into Kenya.

Watch this film to discover more about Tanzania

Travelogue: Arusha, Tanzania 1950 Produced by David Conover & Paul Villanova

Venture back 70 years to witness Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater and Maasai tribal lands in this vintage 16mm footage.

Tanzania in September-October

Dry, less humid weather continues around this time of year, and the moderate climate and reduced cloud covering make it a great time to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Because peak season is over and the animals of Ngorongoro Crater don't migrate, this is also prime time for wildlife viewing at the world's largest inactive volcanic caldera. Though most are still up north, some of the animals of the great migration may begin their journey back south from Kenya. Come October, the temperatures are back on the rise and rainfall begins a gradual increase, though it's still nowhere near that of the wet season. 

Watch this film to discover more about Tanzania

Travelogue: Arusha, Tanzania 1950 Produced by David Conover & Paul Villanova

Venture back 70 years to witness Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater and Maasai tribal lands in this vintage 16mm footage.

Tanzania in November-December

Short overnight rains in the north signal the beginning of the green season and attract animals who had previously left in search of more hospitable lands. In the southern and western regions of Tanzania, these rains may continue through May. Any of the animals who still haven't returned from the great migration typically will have come back to the Serengeti from Kenya by November. Short rains persist into December, freshening up landscapes that had become powdered with dust. 

Holidays & Events

  • December 25: Christmas
  • December: Swahili Fashion Week is an annual showcase for fashion and accessory designers from Swahili speaking countries. 

Watch this film to discover more about Tanzania

Travelogue: Arusha, Tanzania 1950 Produced by David Conover & Paul Villanova

Venture back 70 years to witness Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater and Maasai tribal lands in this vintage 16mm footage.

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Serengeti National Park

Named after a Maasai word meaning "land that runs on forever," the endless plains of the Serengeti are sure to leave a lasting impression. Founded in 1951, Serengeti National Park is Tanzania's oldest park, and its 5,700 square miles of protected plains, riverine bush, woodland, and acacia grassland, have collectively been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its ecological significance and biodiversity. With what may be the largest population of lions in all of Africa; over 500 bird species; and a host of other animals including cheetah, leopard, elephant, the rare black rhino, and more, the Serengeti's diversity of wildlife is unrivaled. This is especially evident during the great migration, a yearly phenomenon where hordes of animals—including more than a million wildebeest and 200,000 zebras—cross the plains of Tanzania into Kenya in search of new grazing lands and water.

Tanzania Produced by Will Burrard-Lucas

Get a bird's eye view of the wildlife, flora, and fauna that await you in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park.

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Ngorongoro Conservation Area

With zebra and wildebeest grazing in the plains; elephant roaming the forests; and cheetah, rhino, flamingo and more coloring the landscape, it's no wonder the name Ngorongoro comes from the Maasai word for "gift of life." The conservation area's most prominent feature is the Ngorongoro Crater, the remains of a collapsed volcano the size of Mount Kilimanjaro. What now remains is the world's largest volcanic caldera, and is somewhat of a sanctuary for wild animals, nurturing a delicate ecosystem within its towering walls.

Ngorongoro Crater Produced by Stephen Fish

Uncover Ngorongoro Crater’s treasure chest of natural beauty—from elephants to zebras and lions.

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Tarangire National Park

Tarangire National Park is Tanzania's sixth largest park, well-known for its prominent baobab trees, large elephant population, and record-breaking concentration of breeding bird species. With nine distinct vegetation zones, and a diverse geological landscape, the park is home to many game animals including cheetah and lion. The Tarangire River, which runs through the park and is the region's main fresh water source, draws a wide array of wildlife during the dry season. During the rainier months certain animals seek refuge elsewhere, while birds, and animals like buffalo and eland which have different migratory patterns, take their place in abundance.

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Hadzabe and Datoga Cultural Experience

Get a true sense of tribal culture when you visit the Hadzabe and Datoga peoples. The Hadzabe tribe is made up of hunter-gatherers who have retained much of their culture, customs, social structure, and clicking-based language that date back 10,000 years to Tanzania's aboriginal population. The neighboring Datoga tribe, known for their tattoo-like scarification patterns, and thought to have originated in Ethiopia 3,000 years ago, is comprised of skilled farmers and craftsmen. While they used to be a nomadic people, a visit to their village reveals the ways in which planting maize has helped them establish more permanent roots.

Immerse yourself in Hadzabe and Datoga culture with O.A.T. on:

Maasai Village

Visit a Maasai village to experience the culture and traditions of modern-day tribe members. Historically semi-nomadic, today's Maasai people have become more sedentary, living off the land and raising cattle in villages in Tanzania as well as Kenya. Speaking with the local residents, you may learn about the tribe's history, customs (such as building bomas, or mud houses), and societal rites of passage—including the initiation ceremony for men to become warriors. This coming of age ceremony typically occurs every 15 years or so, can last up to ten days, and involves rituals such as dancing, singing, and perhaps most controversial, adult circumcision.

Visit a Maasai Village with O.A.T. on:

Featured Reading

Immerse yourself in Tanzania with this selection of articles, recipes, and more


This ancient group carries traditions with them, but faces the struggle of adapting to modernity.


Follow wildebeest and zebras as they migrate 18,640 square miles across the Serengeti—the longest migration in the world.


These awkward but lovable giraffe is a biological marvel. Discover how its body works and how this creature evolved.


Discover the hardships the Maasai women endure in their communities and the steps being taken to better their lives.

Meeting the Maasai

The people and culture of East Africa's well-known tribe

The more cattle a Maasai man has, the richer he is, the better fed his family, and the more respect he commands.

Even if you haven’t met a Maasai warrior, you’ve probably seen one. Called moran, the tall, handsome figure in his distinctive red and blue robe, standing on one foot, gazing across the savannah at his cattle, is one of the most iconic images of tribal Africa—though today, you might just as easily see this elegant figure standing in the plains with a cell phone in hand. It’s that dichotomy—an ancient semi-nomadic lifestyle butting up against encroaching modernity—that 21st century Maasai society must resolve.

Their semi-nomadic lifestyle makes it difficult to obtain an accurate census, but recent estimates suggest that there are about 900,000 Maasai people living today across Kenya and Tanzania. The Maasai originated in the lower Nile valley near Lake Turkana, and began migrating south during the 15th century.

Their society was based entirely on cattle herding—a role that the Maasai believe was bestowed on them by a single god, whom they call Engai (or Ngai). The more cattle a man has, the richer he is, the better fed his family, and the more respect he commands. Until recently, the Maasai were notorious cattle rustlers, frequently raiding neighboring tribes to poach the precious livestock. The ensuing fights added to the Maasai’s reputation as fierce warriors, though the Maasai themselves did not view this as thievery, since they believe they are merely reclaiming their rightful legacy.

A Maasai’s coming-of-age

Of course, cattle need to graze, so the Maasai became semi-nomadic people, moving with the herds as they sought greener pastures. Families traditionally live in kraals or manyattas, which are clusters of circular huts surrounded by stockade fences, with corrals for livestock. Women build the dwellings, fetch water and firewood, feed livestock, milk cows, and cook, while the men tend to the cattle. By the age of four, a young Maasai boy may be in charge of calves or goats; by twelve he will be taking them far afield to new pastures.

It’s also about this time when the young Maasai boys begin preparation for the most important rite of passage: becoming a warrior. They will spend months at a time in the bush, living together with members of their age-set (the central social unit) in special manyatta where they undergo many trials to help overcome pride, selfishness, and egotism. They must learn to share their cattle, and make periodic visits back to the village where they are expected to provide cattle for celebrations and sacrifices. For Maasai children the endurance of pain is meant as preparation for adulthood—removal of canine teeth, ear and body piercing, tattooing, ritual body burns, and even beatings. The process culminates with emorata, or ritual circumcision, which boys must undergo without anesthesia.

Until recently most Maasai girls also underwent female circumcision, or more accurately, excision, in which the clitoris and labia were cut. For girls the ritual is longer and more painful, with more debilitating aftereffects. Still, it was considered essential preparation for marriage and childbirth, ensuring that the girl would fetch a handsome brideprice (which warriors must pay for the privilege of marrying). If a girl became pregnant prior to circumcision, she was banished for life. The practice is highly controversial, and though it is now illegal in Kenya and Tanzania, it persists in many enclaves. Recently, activists have had some success introducing a new “cutting with words” ceremony that replaces the physical mutilation with singing and dancing—while still conferring marriageable status upon the girl.

Marriage is a hugely important institution, though a far different one from here in the west. Since wealth is measured not just in cattle but in children, Maasai men were traditionally encouraged to take several wives—a practical adaptation to high infant and warrior mortality rates. By the same token, men must share their wives with any visiting member of their age-set and accept any resulting child as their own. (Women do have a say as to whose bed they will share, and their ability to produce many children is a badge of honor.)

Surviving in the modern world

To everything there is a season, and now, the Maasai must turn from their pastoral culture to new ways of living. From its peak in the mid-19th century, Maasai territories have been reduced to a fraction of their size. British and German colonialists forced them into smaller settlements; later, the governments of Kenya and Tanzania began taking more and more Maasai land for game parks, private farms and ranches, and hunting concessions. The problem of dwindling pasture land has been compounded by conservation efforts, which make it illegal for Maasai (or anyone) to kill lions and other predators that frequently attack their cattle.

It’s not the first time the Maasai have faced privation. The tribe was nearly decimated between 1887 and 1903, a period called the “Maasai Emutai,” when epidemics of rinderpest and bovine pneumonia killed off eighty percent of their herds, causing widespread famine. This was followed by a smallpox epidemic and drought. Nearly two thirds of the Maasai perished during this scourge. Ironically, the Maasai’s ability to herd and farm in desert and scrubland has recently prompted many global experts to view it as a model for adapting to climate change.

Will the Maasai prevail? Today, many have turned to farming or selling traditional medicines, crafts, and dairy products. More and more children are seeking formal education, and gravitating towards urban areas to work as security guards, store clerks, or other wage earners—occupations once scorned as undignified. Still even the most assimilated of this generation routinely visit their old villages, don Maasai robes, and celebrate the traditions of their youth. That goes for the privileged few who receive educations abroad, too. As the old Maasai proverb says, “A zebra takes its stripes wherever it goes.”

Running with the Rains

The great wildebeest migration

by Meredith Rommelfanger

Migration participants consist of more than 1.8 million blue wildebeest, 300,000 Burchell's zebras, and a rotating cast of other herbivores.

The opportunity to observe one of the world’s most remarkable natural spectacles, the great annual migration of wildebeest across the Serengeti, is an event that many travelers have placed high on their bucket list—nowhere else can one see such massive herds thundering through a timeless, primeval setting.

The migration, the longest and largest in the world, spans the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem—a geographical area that encompasses 18,640 square miles and includes three of Africa’s most famous wildlife sanctuaries: Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (both UNESCO World Heritage Sites), and Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. The climate, flora, and fauna here have barely changed over the past millennia.

Migration participants consist of more than 1.8 million blue wildebeest, 300,000 Burchell's zebras, and a rotating cast of other herbivores. These animals travel an impressive distance of nearly 1,800 miles in search of grass to graze and water to drink. Because the exact dates of the passage are dependent upon the rainfall each year, Mother Nature determines the precise timing of this annual event. The resulting migratory pattern however, is always the same: clockwise and circular.

A symbiotic relationship

The Serengeti ecosystem encompasses rich terrain with diverse habitats that range dramatically from riverine forests and swamps, to grasslands and acacia woodlands. The local Maasai people named the plains here “serengit,” which translates to “endless plains.”

During the height of the migration, wildebeest and zebra cover the savanna and grasslands. Despite their name, Blue wildebeest exhibit a variety of hues ranging from shades of gray, brown, and silvery, slate blue. They also boast horns, wild jet-black manes, beards, and stiff tails. One of the largest species of antelope, wildebeests’ muscular hump above their forelimbs gives them a front-heavy appearance, contorting their profile into a slope. These odd, shaggy creatures look part cow, part buffalo, part goat, and wholly bizarre.

As for the zebra, no two look exactly the same. Their bold, geographic stripes differ ever so slightly—comparable to human fingerprints. This camouflage (called disruptive coloration) distorts the apparent shape of their bodies, confusing predators by altering the perception of distance and direction.

A symbiotic relationship between the wildebeest and zebra works for a few important reasons. Unlike many of the species on the plains, these animals do not compete for food. They are able to co-exist peacefully, grazing in harmony, because each animal prefers a different part of the same grass. Zebra’s sharp teeth clip the tough blades of grass, leaving the wildebeest’s broad muzzle to graze on the newly exposed and nutritious short grass. Another reason these animals migrate together is that the zebra’s eyesight is far superior to the wildebeest’s—they’re quick to raise the alarm with their distinctive high-pitched “aha, aha,” which alerts the herd of nearby predators. From a young age, wildebeest look to the zebras for signs of alarm.

Survival of the fittest

In addition to ensuring that the population of wildebeest and zebra is sustained, the migration also plays an integral part in the Serengeti food chain. Africa teems with carnivorous game including lions, leopards, hyenas, and wild dogs—the survival of which can depend upon the migration path. A number of species, such as the big cats, do not migrate and occupy the same territory in the Serengeti year-round. These predators rely on migrating herds to feed themselves and their young. For the herds, however, predation is just one obstacle faced on a journey of this magnitude. A combination of dangers including hunger, thirst, and exhaustion contribute to the roughly 250,000 wildebeest that don’t complete the full sequence of the migration each year. Prime victims include the sick, lame, old, and young.

Technically, there is no beginning and no end to the cycle; however, November marks a milestone that celebrates the return of the short rains to the vast grass plains of the Serengeti. Female wildebeest and zebra are carrying young, which means they need the nutrients found within the new grass. They also need to replenish a reserve of fuel necessary to complete the coming months of migration. The animals travel south to the Ngorongoro Highlands and move through the Serengeti National Park. February and early March mark the animals’ short two- to three-week birthing window, within which approximately 500,000 calves are born.

This remarkably synchronized calving event is one of the world’s greatest mysteries—it has been said that wildebeest and zebra mothers can delay birth up to a month’s time until weather conditions become more favorable. This adaptability is not only the reason these species survive the migration, but also why they’re considered the most resilient animals within the boundaries of the Serengeti. It is imperative that this event is coordinated between both wildebeest and zebra—and the chance of survival for the few calves born ahead of time is slim.

Throughout the migration, animals tend to branch out and cover a wide territory. Pregnant cows, however, instinctually group together for safety. Unlike many animals who seek shelter and solitude while calving, wildebeest and zebra choose a communal environment, giving birth in the middle of the herd right on the exposed open plains. During this vulnerable period, they rely on safety in numbers, and a large number of eyes watching for predators to deter attacks.

The never-ending cycle

The animals will stay in the Masai Mara until late October. These lush plains provide a restful break and the much-needed chance to refuel with food, water, and energy for the balance of their trek. When the dry period hits, the savanna loses its nutrient-rich allure, once again driving the animals hundreds of miles south towards the Serengeti.

And so, the cycle begins anew. This epic migration, this never-ending pilgrimage, is a triumph not only of miles, but also of evolution. Through their unique symbiotic relationship, the wildebeest and zebra are constantly spinning a story of life and survival—as we follow them through challenges, perils, and victories along the way.

Amazing Adaptation

The unique evolution of the giraffe

by Laura Chavanne, from Dispatches

When the ancient Romans first encountered the giraffe, they interpreted it as a composite creature—a fantastical hybrid between a camel and a leopard. An early description reads, “… a creature combining, though with infinitely more grace, yet some of the height and even the proportions of a camel, with the spotted skin of the pard.” Until the 19th century, the giraffe was known as camelopard—which survives today as its species name, camelopardalis.

In reality, the earliest known ancestors of the giraffe lived during the Miocene and Pliocene eras. Those deer- and horse-like creatures probably looked no more like their modern descendant than the giraffe’s only living relative does today: the okapi, which rather resembles a zebra, and reaches nowhere near a giraffe’s 16 to 20 feet in height.

Indeed, to call the giraffe singular would be an understatement. On the African savanna, no animal creates such a striking silhouette as a group of them—collectively called a “tower”—craning their necks toward the acacia treetops that no other herbivore can reach. But while the neck of a giraffe was once commonly believed to have evolved out of competition for food, naturalists now believe that it may be more about sexual selection: In competition between males, which involves the rather brutal swinging and battering of necks, the longer and stronger competitor prevails.

Regardless of the driving evolutionary force behind this one-of-a-kind feature, numerous other physiological traits have evolved to accommodate it. Giraffes have twice the blood pressure of a human and a heart rate of about 170 beats per minute, both of which are necessary to get blood to the brain. As a result, the hard-working heart of a giraffe can weigh more than 25 pounds and reach two feet in length. A series of one-way valves in the neck facilitate blood flow even further.

With so much blood being rapidly propelled upwards at all times, what happens if suddenly the giraffe drops its head below its heart—like when it bends down to drink? While they don’t need to drink often, preferring instead to obtain most of their water from vegetation, giraffes will do so when given the opportunity—despite the fact that by all appearances, they really weren’t designed for it. A giraffe’s grace abandons it once it bends to reach the water, splaying its forelegs awkwardly to the side. In this case, the neck isn’t quite long enough to get the job done.

Awkwardness aside, the giraffe happens to be perfectly equipped to counteract sudden rushes of blood to the head, which would otherwise cause it to lose consciousness. A mechanism called the rete mirabile—a complex network of veins and arteries that also regulates heat in birds and oxygen in fish—regulates pressure on the brain by restricting excess blood flow.

Conversely, the giraffe also runs the risk of blood pooling in the lower legs due to enormous pressure from above. To counteract this, its skin is extremely thick and tight—maintaining extravascular pressure much like a pilot’s anti-gravity suit inflates at high altitudes to direct blood to the heart and brain. In fact, NASA has looked to giraffe skin while researching ways to help astronauts’ circulatory systems readjust to gravity upon returning to Earth.

It’s little wonder that the ancient Romans believed the giraffe was a fantastical creature, given its unique appearance—but the science behind its complex inner workings is even more amazing. So the next time you’re lucky enough to see a “tower” of giraffe traversing the savanna, think about what makes them tick … and remember that the 25-pound heart is just the beginning.

The unique evolution of the giraffe

Women of the Maasai Tribe

Trials and tradition in the modern age

by Rachel Fox, from Dispatches

The women of the pastoral, semi-nomadic Maasai tribe of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania are recognized by their hand-beaded collars, jewelry, and vibrantly colored robes, called shuka. They’re also recognized as care-givers, taking on traditional roles to support the well-being of their family and community. These responsibilities include building the family’s boma (a hut made from mud, grass, sticks, and cow dung), tending to cattle, collecting water and firewood, taking care of their children, and cooking for the family. The women of the tribe are also tasked with warmly greeting visitors to their village with traditional dance, song, and tea ceremonies.

What is omitted from many guidebooks—but is nonetheless a fact of life—is the social and familial subordination Maasai women face throughout their lives. As early as age 11, a Maasai girl can be entered into an arranged polygamist marriage by her parents in exchange for cattle and a small dowry. Before this occurs, the girl first typically undergoes female genital mutilation (FGM), or circumcision, which is seen as a rite of passage into adulthood within the tribe. Though many in western cultures view FGM as a human rights violation, the procedure is often the only way a Maasai man will accept a wife. While some Maasai are changing their stance on the necessity of female circumcision, the majority view the refusal of this practice as an act of cowardice, and a disgrace to both the girl and her family.

Lack of education is seen as a major contributing factor to the Maasai tribe’s health and economic standing as a whole. Women and girls, in particular, are often denied the right to attend school in favor of marriage—or due to their family’s belief that the cost of obtaining an education outweighs the benefits. Though primary school is free, the required uniforms are often unaffordable for families, and walking to schools usually takes several hours each way. In addition, rural day schools in the region can have a student-teacher ratio of about 100 to 1, and are inadequate to prepare students for national standardized tests—factors that result in a very small percentage of girls graduating to secondary school, and hinder their pursuit of educational and economic empowerment.

Fortunately, the women of the Maasai tribe are not standing alone in their struggles. Though a metamorphosis such as this takes time and matures slowly, there are several organizations dedicated to advocate on their behalf. The Maasai Girls Education Fund (MGEF) is a non-profit organization working to educate Maasai women and their community on the issues of health (HIV/AIDS and FGM), economic wellbeing, and literacy. Through donor support, MGEF provides scholarships, workshops, and supplies needed to facilitate knowledge and independence throughout the tribe. The Maasai Women Development Organization (MWEDO) started as a grassroots non-governmental group that now consists of over 5,000 women members from the Arusha and Manyara regions of Tanzania. MWEDO currently provides support to more than 400 Maasai girls through literacy programs, boarding, transportation, and medical coverage—and they opened up their own secondary school in 2011.

In addition to finding educational support, Maasai women have taken steps to put their entrepreneurial spirit and crafting talents to good use. Organizations like the Ethical Fashion Program—along with Spanish shoe company, Pikolinos—have partnered with Maasai women to employ bead workers and artisans to make elaborate shoes, clothing, and jewelry. These fair-trade products directly benefit the Maasai community and contribute to the economic independence of its women.

With all of the inequalities and hardships Maasai women seem to face, the fact remains that they are strong, integral parts of their communities. Though outside non-profit organizations can make great strides in their advancement, change amongst these deeply traditional and noble people must come from within the tribe.

Trials and tradition in the modern age

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