Parks and Peoples: Dilemmas of Protected Area Conservation in East Africa

Embark on a 12-day expedition through Tanzania to investigate the pressing issues of conservation.


The world-famous landscapes of East Africa, including Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and the Rift Valley lakes of Tanzania form the backdrop for this special course on protected area conservation and its impacts on local people. The course is designed to explore the pros and cons of parks and protected areas as they affect flora, fauna, and human inhabitants, and to address the dilemma of how to achieve conservation in a manner that creates local community benefits and promotes social justice. We will use a case study approach to ask: (1) What approach to protected area (PA) conservation has been taken in each case? Who are the key proponents and what are their main social and ecological objectives? (2) How successful has the protected area been at achieving its conservation goals? (3) What are the benefits of the PA to people and who receives them? (4) What are the costs of the PA to people and who pays them? (5) Where benefits are not commensurate to costs, what, if anything, is being done to address the imbalance? How well is it working? (6) Are there alternative conservation models that would make the interests of parks and people more compatible, and reduce the tradeoffs between them?  What is needed to operationalize these alternative models, and how do they incentivize conservation behavior among local residents?

This course includes an intensive 12-day expedition to Tanzania to observe firsthand the dilemmas of parks and peoples we have discussed in class. We are scheduled to visit Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Mt. Meru, and Serengeti National Parks, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and nearby Maasai villages. Both on campus and in Tanzania, the course emphasizes student contributions and presentations. Students are required to read one or two books a month over the summer, and to come to campus in the fall well-prepared to discuss each one, including co-leading the discussion of one of the readings. Students are also expected to carry out literature research on a particular conservation dilemma in East Africa that is of interest to them for the final assignment of the seminar, a 6- to 8-page paper, and to present the main findings of that paper during an evening seminar as we travel in East Africa.

Note: Students will arrive on campus and will be housed at Stanford until we leave for the travel portion of the course on Sunday 9/6/2020.  A group of 20-some Stanford alumni will join us for the last 2 days on campus and for the full travel portion of the course. The trip does not return from Tanzania until Saturday, 9/19/2020.

This course uses interviews as part of the application process--keep an eye on your email after the deadline passes.

COVID-19 and Travel Courses?

If international travel is not allowed, Professors Durham and Charnley will convert the course into an on-campus SoCo. If an update is available before the application deadline, we will post it here.

Meet the Instructor(s)

William Durham

Bing Professor in Human Biology, Emeritus

Prof. Bill Durham and friend.

Bill Durham received his Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Michigan before joining the Stanford faculty in Human Biology and Anthropology. His current research focuses on ways to promote sustainability in and around national parks and protected areas.  Winner of the MacArthur Prize and other awards for research and teaching, Bill’s publications include Coevolution: Genes, Culture and Human Diversity, Ecotourism and Conservation in the Americas (co-editor), Exuberant Life: An Evolutionary Approach to Conservation in Galápagos (In press, Oxford), and “Anthropology and Environmental Policy: Joint Solutions for Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods” co-authored with Susan Charnley. He served 16 years as editor of the Annual Review of Anthropology and was Co-founder and Co-director of the Center for Responsible Travel for a decade. He is currently Co-Director of the Osa and Golfito Initiative (INOGO) in Costa Rica for the Woods Institute at Stanford.

Susan Charnley

Susan Charnely

Susan Charnley received her PhD in Anthropology from Stanford in 1994, with a dissertation on livestock herding and rangeland management in Tanzania. Since then, she has returned to Tanzania to do research on ecotourism and community-based forest management. Since 2002 Susan has worked as a Research Social Scientist with the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Portland, OR. Her research interests lie in how to sustain rural, natural-resource based livelihoods in ways that are compatible with conservation, and in community-based natural resource management. Most of her research takes place in the western U.S. and in Africa. Susan has led other trips to Africa with Stanford Travel-Study, and has been Co-Instructor with Bill Durham in the previous 2011, 2014, and 2017 Tanzania Field Seminars.