#DispatchesDNLee: An Outdoor Afro Adventure to Africa


Danielle N. Lee is a member of the Outdoor Afro Leadership Team.  She is a Ph.D. Biologist currently in Tanzania doing a field study of African Pouched Rats.  She will be sharing her Adventures from Africa here on Outdoor Afro.  You can join her on her adventure at her blog The Urban Scientist at the Scientific American Network.

I don’t believe in coincidences. ~DNLee

Me, standing in the wake of the Uluguru Mountains, Morogoro, Tanzania at my field site

Until I was 8 years old, my mother worked for the Memphis Park Commission which overlooked maintenance of city public lands and community center recreation activities.  Every summer she was assigned to work as a supervisor at a neighborhood park; and accompanied her to work.  I lived for the summer. I played outdoors, picked flowers, and made friends.

I was also a complete zealot when it came to animals.  I rescued almost every cat I encountered. Though I was mousey, nothing stirred me to fight quicker than a kid torturing an animal, and not just the cute cuddly ones.  I probably got into more fights over toads and frogs than any other beastie. And, yes,  I religiously watched Wild Kingdom and collected Wildlife Treasury Picture Cards. I was that kid!

I didn’t know it at the time, but those experiences laid the foundation for who and what and where I am today: a Zoologist. Studying wildlife in Africa.

Field Biology may be one the most romanticized career tracks of the sciences. Images of exotic wild places, muddy boots, trekking through forests or mountains or grasslands, enduring the elements, swatting mosquitoes and other pesky insects…a scientist on an exhilarating journey exploring nature.  I’m in Tanzania studying the African Giant Pouched Rat, doing a capture-mark-recapture study to learn more about its natural habits, its mating system and social structure.

African Giant Pouched rat that I caught during my field study.

I know it doesn’t sound like the wildlife adventures I watched on television as a child; but it all is a part of the fabric of science.  And it is every bit as a dream come true to be here doing this.   Field work can be simultaneously amazing and exhausting, scary and wonderful.  I wouldn’t trade one bit of my journey.

Dispatches from Tanzania
Official #DispatchesDNLee postcard
artwork by @LalSox

And I am grateful to my parents, family, extended family, and friends who cultivated the scientist in me, even as a young child.  Maybe they knew that all of that exposure to the outdoors would lead to this. Maybe they didn’t.  But I am glad either way.  I know it was those experiences that brought me to this place, this space, this path and I love them for it.

How have your Outdoor Afro experiences cultivated your interests in the outdoors?  Has it resulted in a career in the sciences or conservation or environmental education like it has for me? Or perhaps you are encouraging younger generations.  Tell us your story.


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