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Animal Management Degree Students Enjoy a Trip of a Lifetime

Posted on 18th July 2014 in Animal Management, HE News, Higher Education

Twenty-one excited students arrived at Hadlow College on the 29th of June eagerly awaiting their departure to South Africa.

Following a briefing from the trip manager, John Pemberton, goodbyes were said and we were on route to Heathrow airport for the 12 hour flight to Johannesburg. For some students this was their first time flying, most took advantage of the inflight entertainment and a few lucky students even managed to get some sleep. Anticipation kept most awake and after a transfer to Mankwe Wildlife Reserve students were shown their accommodation comprising of tents and cabins and given some time to freshen up and settle in before embarking on a game drive in the reserve to witness some of the wildlife for the first time.

After an early rise and a warming breakfast the following morning students attended a game management talk with Dougal MacTavish, the owner and chief warden of the reserve. Topics of discussion included the history of Mankwe, game ranching and anti-poaching, some of which was later put into action during a management drive. Despite some tiredness students ploughed on through the evening and ended the day with a game of Pictionary around the campfire.

During the first week students worked hard to get to grips with identifying species whilst out on the reserve and when completing their field course handbooks, sketching identifying features of species and creating their own field notebooks. This hard work soon paid off and numerous master spotters began to emerge within the group with sightings of black backed jackals, giraffe, mongoose, various antelope and bird species to name a few. With over 48 species of large mammals, 300 species of birds, 30 species of reptiles, 15 species of small mammals and 68 species of dung beetles in the 4750ha reserve students got to witness a variety of wildlife during every excursion on the reserve. This theoretical knowledge was to prove vital and students utilised this throughout their stay during tasks such as walked and driven large mammal transects, camera trapping and analysis, tracking and behavioural observations. In addition to animal species identification and work students also took part in veld condition assessment and tree identification.

Towards the end of week one students’ visited Sun City, a nearby tourist resort where some made the most of the sun and relaxed on the man-made beach (although being winter the water was too cold for a swim) whilst others visited the crocodile farm, shopped and walked through the gardens. After lunch we embarked on a game drive at the Pilanesburg National Park, home of the big 5, where for some the highlight was witnessing a breeding herd of elephant only a few meters away.  Others witnessed a Cape Clawed Otter going about his morning routine in the freezing cold winter water, sometimes as low as -8 degrees Celsius.

Week two remained as action packed as the first and began with students participating in a controlled fire management activity as part of the reserves burn management plan. Students were divided into groups and monitored areas of the burn under the watchful eye of reserve staff, gaining some hands on reserve management experience. Students also took part in bird observations, game drives in the Pilanesburg National Park and observed the skinning of an impala with a short anatomy & physiology tutorial from Holly and Orla.

As part of the course students completed a group project on a topic of their choice during the second week. Six projects were completed this year, all of which were the product of lots of hard work and were well received by the reserve managers. Students identified an area of interest and designed a suitable method for data collection and analysis, leading to projects investigating tick numbers on various parts of the reserve, a comparison of thorn length on trees that are browsed and those that are un-browsed, species use of a salt lick during the day and at night, invertebrate comparison between dams, bird utilisation of the camp dam and an investigation of activity at a den used by porcupine and monitor lizards.

Students ended their trip with a visit to the De Wildt Cheetah Centre on route to the airport and from day one participated extremely well in all activities. They were eager to learn and made the most of their experience, even rising before dawn despite the freezing temperatures. From campfire quizzes and Benhilda’s & Doneo’s cooking to night drives and behaviour observations students took part with enthusiasm and made the trip a true success.

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