(Transcribed from Dr. T's Tuesday Lecture at Ecopolitan in February 2010).
Tanzania is an immense country - more than 1 million square kilometers in size - most of which is totally undeveloped wild bush, making it a very attractive destination for nature lovers. As I traveled east to west from Daresalam to Ruaha National Park, and then flew south to north between Ruaha and Arusha, I witnessed a sizable portion of Tanzania's terrain, most of which is high plateau covered with semi-arid grass and bush land, as well as savannah, thicket, and small patches of rainforest.
Early on, large tracts of land were dedicated to conservation or sequestered as national parks, like the Serengeti, Ruaha, Ngorongoro, and quite a few others, some of which have become game reserves. Many of the huge national parks are connected via corridors of uncharted wilderness, allowing the wild animals to roam freely from one park to the next in seemingly unlimited space.
Animal Behavior & Survival Mechanisms
On safari, I saw hundreds of gigantic elephants walking majestically in the open savannah, trumpeting with excitement at our vehicle and frolicking in the water after the rainy season. Elephants will sometimes charge when alarmed, and just when you feel they are getting too close, they will simply turn around and walk sideways as if they really didn't mean it or as if they were just practicing to see if they could scare you. One of the major destructive forces to forests, elephants tend to trample everything in their paths, except for one tree: the baobab. An extremely sturdy and large tree, the baobab serves as a source of nourishment for the elephants, who are often seen peeling off layers of its bark and lapping up the water inside.
I also spotted many antelopes, including the dik-dik, the impala, and the eland. When running from a predator, large groups of impala can be seen jumping over obstacles in complete unison. Although their incredible pace and the impala in front of them obstruct the view of obstacles in their path ahead, they receive "directions" from pheromones secreted by the "fate-luck" scent glands (contained in black tufts above the rear hooves) of the impalas in front, who have jumped just a fraction of a second before them.
The "fate-luck" scent gland of the impala is just one example of the myriad of fascinating survival mechanisms animals have developed over the years. Many birds belonging to a particular species (the name of which I cannot recall) build their nests on the very delicate end branches of the acacia tree, where predators cannot climb to steal their eggs.
Hippos have learned how to best survive by bathing in rivers and streams during the dry heat of the day, saving their energy until it cools down in the evening, when they walk many miles in search of grassland to feed on. It is during their night journey that they may kill humans in their path who unwittingly startle them when visibility is low. Despite being completely vegan, hippos kill more humans this way than all other large mammals combined - wandering through the wild savannah in the middle of the night is not wise!
Another animal that can inadvertently kill humans is the wild buffalo, which is completely different than the domesticated version in the U.S. - even the ones that are considered "free range." Wild buffalo travel in massive groups and can easily trample an unsuspecting person or other animal to death.
Although larger animals are generally regarded with greater trepidation than small ones, size does not necessarily correspond with lethality. Much more commonly, a small dose will kill you. Mosquitoes infected with malaria, for instance, are the most common killers of humans in Tanzania (but they are easy to avoid). African Killer Bees are extremely lethal as well. Pheromones secreted from the stinger of a Killer Bee attracts its fellow bees to persistently sting within the same area, until the poison overcomes the victim's detoxification capability. I had my own encounter with Killer Bees after coming too close to a hive nested in a baobab tree I was observing. Luckily, I managed to escape from the group swarming toward me, but I had to endure several localized electric shocks to denature the proteins in the poison one bee managed to inject into my finger. I will never allow myself or others to exit the four wheeler and approach a bee swarm again.
Survival is key in the wild of Tanzania, for humans and other animals alike. Unlike parks in South Africa or Kenya, there is no human intervention or management on behalf of animal populations. Population control is entirely dependent on Nature, and what happens in Nature is what happens in the Tanzania parks - unadulterated in all its gory and glory.
Predation is just one of Nature's ways of controlling populations. Since lions are at the top of the food chain, it is very common to witness them preying upon other animals. Oftentimes they will attack the babies of other large animals, such as baby elephants. In rare instances, a pride of lions will attack an adult elephant, continually biting at its tender spots until it collapses from blood loss and exhaustion. Again, this is rare and occurs only in the absence of more easily attainable food sources like giraffes.
Although they are very large and can theoretically kill a lion with a few kicks of their hind legs, giraffes easily succumb to lions when chased. Hasty running will eventually cause a giraffe to stumble upon a rock or small tree - and since its head is roughly six meters above ground, it easily becomes disoriented and dizzy with the quick change in pressure and blood availability to the brain that occur as its head is jolted downward during a fall. In this way, fully-grown giraffes can become easy prey for feeding lions. Baby giraffes are often targeted by lions as well. When a giraffe gives birth, the baby falls three meters to the ground where lurking lions can quickly snatch it up. Although larger animals are less susceptible to predation than most, no animals are totally safe in the wild. Even a lion can get trampled to death by a stampede of buffalo.
Food Availability & Indigenous Diets in Modern Tanzania
Food availability is another one of Nature's ways of controlling animal populations. The dry savannah of Ruaha National Park can easily sustain tens of thousands of elephants on a more than adequate food supply. During the rainy period, previously arid land produces a large amount of fresh biomass, and the Serengeti is the most fruitful producer of biomass on earth. This is partially due to the richness of the soil, which is comprised of fertile volcanic ash from eruptions that occurred historically in the Syrian-African rift valley. For these reasons, the Serengeti serves as a magnificent source of food for the hundreds of thousands of wildebeest that migrate south during the rainy season.
It is important to note that food availability in Tanzania is drastically altered from what it was 200,000 years ago when our ancestors were inhabiting the tropics prior to forming the "cradle of civilization." Once-lush rainforests have been trampled by herds of large animals - especially elephants - and decimated by more recent human activity. Due to the regular practice of "slash and burn" agriculture, the excessive erosion of the topsoil prevents many wild plants from surviving in their natural habitat.
Agriculture, as practiced by indigenous tribes of the arid Tanzanian plateau, is more aptly described as monoculture, wherein only three to four main starchy staples are grown and consumed: maize, beans, and cassava root. Occasionally consumed are the leafy greens of beans and cassava, the latter having to be pulverized and heavily cooked to eliminate its cyanide content. Fresh fruit is also eaten, but very rarely due to limited availability. Because it is hardy and invasive, Chinese white rice is a main staple for tribes living in the wetlands, where tropical fruits are easily available. Unfortunately, this precludes the cultivation of more wholesome indigenous varieties of rice.
Although the agrarian diet in Tanzania does not promote optimal health due to its high cooked-starch content and limited variety, it is still relatively wholesome and unrefined, low on animal flesh content, and thus healthier than the average Western diet. The overall percentage of calories coming from protein is between ten to twenty percent, of which approximately only five to ten percent is flesh derived. Nutrition "experts" in the United States often recommend that protein comprise thirty percent of caloric intake. The typical American consumes at least this much protein, and in many cases much more. As extensive research has revealed, the more animal-derived protein consumed, the higher the incidence of chronic degenerative disease and premature death in any given society.
The fact that the average lifespan in Tanzania is lower than it is in Westernized countries is not an indication of adult health, but rather a reflection of a high infant mortality rate due to infections, malnutrition, and lack of obstetrics and infant medical care in remote areas. A typical 35 year-old agrarian Tanzanian native will appear younger and stronger, and live a healthier, longer life than an American of the same age, who consumes a diet rich in both animal protein and processed, refined foods.
Probably the closest approximation of what people consumed thousands of years ago (before agriculture) in Eastern African plateaus is represented by the Hadzas, a relatively small tribe of hunter-gatherers residing in the arid parts of the savannah. The majority of their diet is plant-based, comprised of whatever the women can gather seasonally, such as the baobab fruit and various types of roots. The Hadzas gather hundreds of varieties of edible plants, whereas agrarian tribes rely heavily on only three or four different foods. Although the men hunt occasionally and seasonally, the percentage of flesh consumed is very low due to limited availability.
Since they gather their food only four to six hours per day and do not settle land, the Hadzas have a very minimal environmental footprint relative to agrarian tribes. One detrimental outcome of mono-agriculture is increased population density and a concomitant increase in infectious disease. Because their environment is not overpopulated, the Hadzas enjoy a low incidence of disease and live in relative peace without wars or animosity.
Due to situational and climatic differences, even the Hadza tribe's diet is not necessarily an accurate representation of the hunter-gatherers' diet 20,000 to 30,000 years ago, nor does their diet bear any resemblance to that of humans 200,000 years ago, who lived in tropical jungles and enjoyed year-round access to abundant fruits and greens. Although healthier than that of agrarian tribes, the hunter gatherer diet does not represent optimal nutrition; it merely shows how the Hadza people have managed to survive until today.
Kilimanjaro Hike & Nutritional Approach to Altitude Sickness
Upon completing my study of indigenous diets, I flew from Ruaha National Park to Arusha, where I began my climb up Mount Kilimanjaro. While it is standard to take at least six or seven days to acclimate to the 19,340 foot ascent (plus two days to return), I had only a total of three days left in Tanzania before my departure to Israel, and I was curious to see what I could accomplish in that short time period. Primarily, I wanted to test my new drug-free nutritional approach to combating altitude sickness.
Since excess nitrogen in the body is a major cause of altitude sickness, I avoided eating all nitrogen-rich foods (i.e. beans, nuts, seeds) three days prior to and during the climb. Instead, I consumed only starchy foods, vegetables, and fruit in order to maintain a low nitrogen surplus in my interstitial fluid and inside my cells. To help transport oxygen to the tissue, I consumed oxygen-enriching supplements and kept my inhalation diaphragmatic, allowing the greatest amount of air to exchange with the blood in the alveoli of the lungs. I also took a powdered, electrolyte-rich supplement, which optimizes energy production by balancing magnesium and glucose levels. Using this approach, I managed to climb Kilimanjaro in a record time of 41 hours without the assistance of oxygen or altitude sickness drugs.
Accompanied by my government-required guide, we were driven to the trailhead (elevation 6,000 feet), and I began the climb by running up the first 30 kilometers, gaining approximately 7,000 feet in elevation in just 6 hours. When I arrived at the campground, I immediately headed to a bungalow, hoping to catch a good night's sleep before embarking on the next portion of the climb. Unfortunately, I discovered I had to share my sleeping space in tight quarters with an extremely ill, flu-ridden man, whose coughing and sneezing kept me awake part of the night. In an effort to avoid getting sick, I inhaled pure plant-derived bioactive molecules (now known as Bioactive Plant Fraction™ products), which are proven extremely effective anti-viral and anti-bacterial agents. It was impossible, however, to keep inhaling these molecules when I finally fell asleep.
Needless to say, when I arrived at the base camp (4,700 meters, 15,700 feet) at around 2 PM the next day, I was exhausted from lack of sleep and the exertion of the climb up to that point. The combination of dehydration (from hiking in the high desert), exhaustion, and exposure to my roommate's illness culminated in the beginning of a nasty head cold accompanied by copious nasal discharge, which ruined my attempt to rest before the final ascent to the summit.
After a short, fitful sleep filled with nightmarish dreams, I dragged myself out of my warm sleeping bag at around midnight and began my final ascent in snow and wind. With only my headlamp to light the way, I climbed very slowly and painstakingly, step by step in the pitch black darkness. At this point, the ascent was unrelentingly steep, and I was suffering from the peak of my cold and from frostbite (I had not prepared well for this 3-day excursion, neglecting to bring sufficiently warm clothing for this alpine zone). Every 20 to 30 steps I stopped climbing, fell asleep, and dreamed I was back in the warmth of my sleeping bag.
Finally I reached Gilman's point (approximately 5,600 meters, 18,500 feet), from which the summit is only a small climb of about 250 vertical meters spread over a much longer horizontal distance. Unwilling to hike the few more hours to the top while suffering from a debilitating cold, I decided to turn around and descend. At around 5 in the morning, I reached the base camp, crawled into my sleeping bag, and began vigorously inhaling theBioactive Plant Fraction™ products before falling asleep. To my astonishment, I awoke three hours later without even a trace of my head cold, as if I had never been sick at all. I realized then that I had found the cure to the common cold! Ecstatic to be feeling so well, I ran the entire way down to the bottom of the mountain and spoke with the trekking agency representatives and guides the following day. Everyone I spoke with was amazed that I had managed to reach Gilman's point in only 41 hours without altitude sickness drugs, oxygen, time to acclimate, or sufficient preparation for the trip. Usually, well-prepared climbers take 5 to 7 days to reach the summit, yet many of them don't reach it due to altitude sickness - despite taking toxic drugs to prevent this condition. This indicates that my system for preventing altitude sickness actually works!
Although climbing up Kilimanjaro in such a limited amount of time was one of the most painful and arduous experiences I have ever endured, it was well worth it to have met the challenge and affirmed the effectiveness of my nutritional approach to altitude sickness. However, I would like to reach the summit without this degree of suffering and without climbing up in the middle of the night, disturbing circadian rhythms. Therefore:
In October 2010, I will be taking a group for a much more leisurely, eight-day climb up Kilimanjaro, allowing for plenty of time to acclimate and rest each day. Also, instead of making the final ascent in the middle of the night, we will climb it during the day and then do something unique: sleep in a tent camp in the crater atop Kilimanjaro. In the cloudless morning, we will wake up refreshed and climb an easy and short 200 meters out of the crater to the summit. From here, we will have plenty of time to behold one of the most stunning views in the world, including Mount Meru and the entire expanse 5,000 meters below.