NMU 'Zambassadors' Return

Thirteen NMU students and two professors have returned from a field studies course in Zambia. They are eager to qualiify the experience as a science class, not a travel tour.

The students conducted hands-on research of their own design in a rugged outdoor environment.

“The students did not do exercises written for them—they did the scientific process themselves and they spent eight weeks preparing for this,” said Alec Lindsay (Biology), who led the group with colleague Jackie Bird. “Some of their studies might be publishable or at least useful to other researchers. For instance, we coordinated our crane census with the International Crane Foundation, which is in need of more data from Zambia."

Lindsay packed global positioning system (GPS) units and parabolic audio recording equipment for use in Zambia. The latter assisted in student research on bird songs and hippo vocalizations. Other studies ranged from primates to elephant social-group behavior to the effects of ticks on livestock. The NMU group also met up with a researcher from the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia who specializes in freshwater mollusks, which was especially relevant to one of the students who is interested in that area of study.

The NMU "Zambassadors," as students called their group, camped in national parks to learn about the country’s ecology from local naturalists and visited a burial site of Scottish missionary and explorer Sir David Livingstone. Lindsay said Livingstone wrote a lot about the region during his efforts to seek out the source of the Nile. His heart is buried in the Zambian bush.

The group was guided to the burial site by Chief Chitumbo, the great-great-grandson of the man who was chief when Livingstone died in their tribal lands.

"We gave the chief some small gifts and then he came out and met all the students," wrote Lindsay in a blog entry during the trip. "He asked for a picture, which we took with him, then loaded him into our vehicles and headed off on the 25km trek through his chiefdom to the monument site (pictured above). On the way, we asked him lots of questions about his people, his role as chief and the general state of affairs for his villages in modern Zambia. It was an eye-opening experience for all. He has 300,000 people in his chiefdom. He spends three months a year checking each village, traveling by bicycle on dirt roads with his entourage of bodyguards and advisors. He holds court every Friday (almost exclusively to try and to punish people accused of witchcraft)."

The remainder of Livingstone's body is buried in Westminster Abbey near Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton and the kings of England. Students visited the landmark during a four-day London stopover before continuing on to Zambia. They also received a private tour of the Royal Geographic Society’s collection of Livingstone artifacts. These include his journals from Zambia and his sextant – a navigational instrument used to determine longitude and latitude.


The NMU Zambassadors started the blog shortly before their May 17 departure. They posted pictures, thoughts and discoveries so friends and relatives could track their journey. Student Julian Dupuis reflected on the experience after the group returned to the United States on June 9 and wrote, "Zambia was amazing in every aspect, and personally I know the trip surpassed all of my expectations."

The students and professors will prepare their data analyses and plan a "Zamposium" for the early fall semester to share their experiences with the campus community.


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Updated: June 14, 2007

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