Wildlife Research ExpeditionSpend 6,12, or 18 months on the Mahlahla campus as part of your journey towards becoming a field researcher.
Are you looking to gain important experience in the field of wildlife research, animal data collection, and knowing your way around the bush?
The Wildlife Research Expedition takes place over 6-,12-, or 18-months. It’s particularly relevant to students wishing to gain practical exposure and experience in these fields.
The course includes in-depth lectures, practical surveys, research, and practising tracking techniques on the ground. You will be trained in how to find, discover, log, and record various different species in the South African bushveld. You can apply this training all over the world.
It leaves you with a holistic experience that provides the necessary skills for living and working in a remote field location. This includes everything from managing a camp, safety considerations and awareness, orientation, 4×4 driving skills, fauna and flora identification, animal behaviour, and fundamental field techniques to collect data.
At Bushwise, we focus on areas that have not been thoroughly surveyed. That’s why we have a daily program in place for students to quickly get into the routine of a working field researcher.
Your days on campus consist of lectures, as well as practical sessions to cement the theory in your everyday life as a field researcher. In the likely event of an opportunity to conduct research in remote areas, you will embark on a practical adventure to these locations to further your experience in the field.
After the morning activity you will be nourished with a hearty brunch. The afternoon brings you out in the field for an afternoon practical or lecture session, aimed at building on the skills and knowledge you gained in the morning session. All teams return to base for an evening meal around the campfire for bonding and reflecting on the day’s experiences.
Life on the course
Through hands-on experience, game drives, and lectures, students will develop their bush and field biologist skills to elevate their understanding and skills as a field researcher.
The course includes several modules, including scientific research techniques, tracking, 4×4 driving skills, wildlife survey techniques, and in-depth knowledge and practical application of the theory. Your focus will shift according to the requirements of the research study, and the available opportunities to sharpen your techniques as part of your Bushwise training.
This could include:
- developing techniques and skills for studying wildlife, animal behaviour and biodiversity,
- learning how to survey reptiles, birds, amphibians, and arthropods,
- gaining skills to set up and manage a field camp in remote locations,
- learning the fundamental skills in identification of fauna and flora,
- learning how to interpret animal behaviour in relation to collecting scientific data safely,
- interpreting the environment for field safety, using field survey techniques,
- 4×4 driving skills and learning how to use VHF radios,
- learning the fundamentals of tracking animals using tracks and signs.
The Mahlala Bush Campus and Reserve
Students based at the Mahlahla Bush Campus will carry out their practical training on The Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve (GMPGR), a spectacular 26,000 hectares big five wilderness reserve in the Limpopo province. Featured reserves within the GMPGR where practicals are conducted include Pidwa Wilderness Reserve and Makutsi Reserve.
The Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve is situated west of the Kruger National Park. It is an ideal training ground with a variety of fauna and flora and promises intimate wildlife encounters with the big five. Other incredible species include cheetah, hyena, giraffe, zebra and kudu.
Accommodation & facilities at Mahlahla Bush Campus
Accommodation for the field guide training course is on the Bushwise Mahlahla Bush Campus, which is an 8Ha fenced lodge-style campus. The bush campus is safe from predators, so you are free to go for a walk or run anywhere on campus. We have a large variety of bird species that are regular visitors to the campus dam, and secretive species such as honey badgers and civet are seen almost every night, with the occasional visit from pangolins and leopards. You can sharpen your practical skills on bushwalks, go birding, and encounter game that roams the campus.
Students will share a chalet (rondavel) that accommodates two students. A laundry service is provided weekly for uniforms and bedding, free of charge, and students also have free access to the facilities for personal use.
The chalets, dining area, and laundry facilities are all clustered together. It’s a short walk around the dam to get to the classroom. It’s an open classroom with a roof and light shading on two sides to give that bush feel. There is a swimming pool next to the classroom that overlooks the dam for those hot summer months.
Available on the Bushwise Mahlahla Bush Campus
- Shared rondavel (with fan)
- Communal bathroom
- Free wifi
- Juice, tea and coffee available 24/7 on campus
- Basic gym area with weights for keeping in shape
- Volleyball court
- Shooting range for bow and arrow
- Gardening in the Bushwise vegetable garden
- Braai and social area
- Game vehicles
- Field guide related library
- Bushwise staff also reside on campus in the case of an emergency.
Safety in the field (orientation, survival, weather and climate)
Having the skills and knowledge to avoid getting lost, or, once lost, navigate yourself back to an area of familiarity, is a vital skill for any field biologist. This aspect of the course will focus on interpreting the environment around you for orientation, educating you about dangerous animals in the field, first aid, and introducing you to field health and safety practices.
Techniques may include:
- basic astronomy and night orientation,
- weather and climate,
- bush orienteering – with and without a compass,
- GPS use,
- how to get water and forage for food in the bush,
- signalling for help,
- wilderness first aid,
- identification of common snake species as well as the potentially lethal species of snakes,
- recognition of the venomous insects and arachnids in South Africa, which are of medical importance to people.
Camp Set-up, Management and Logistics
Camp life will have a large influence on your time in the field, so access to water, shade, and emergency care are all important considerations. As you assess locations, you’ll discuss these s practical aspects of bush life that make it a little easier in the field. This will also cover camp procedures such as sharing estimated times of arrival (ETA) and where you have gone.
The skills you’ll learn could include:
- camp set-up, logistics and management,
- field health and safety practices – risk assessment and management, crisis management, leadership, and Emergency Action Plans (EAP),
- making a fire,
- campfire cooking.
Identification of fauna and flora
When interpreting your environment, you need to know about the animals in the area, and have an understanding of the grasses, plants and trees in your area of research.
Wildlife conservation and management efforts aren’t just about the animals. The habitat that supports animal populations is just as important because of its large influence on an animal’s behaviour, habits and survival.
Alongside large mammal identification, this section of the course will include an understanding of biomes, and plant identification and classification. These skills will also be studied in the context of habitat management, as methods used by wildlife managers for wildlife conservation.
By the end of the course you’ll be able to:
- identify common mammal species of the region,
- understand the concept of veld (field) management as a tool for wildlife conservation,
- be familiar with the different biomes in South Africa.
Animal behaviour in relation to safety and data collection
Many students may have research interests focused on wildlife species and their behaviour, but learning about animal behaviour and how to interpret it is important for anyone conducting work in the wilderness. This aspect of the course will focus on animal behaviour, their warning signals, and learning how to track, identify by tracks, and to be safe around them.
By the end of this module, students will be able to:
- study animal behaviour in the natural habitat (Ethology),
- understand the concept of “animal comfort zones”
- understand the various types of defensive animal behaviour,
- explain the differences between animal home-ranges and territories,
- identify and interpret animal signs and sounds,
- understand the warning signals of dangerous animals including large mammals and snakes,
- have sufficient knowledge to avoid, and if necessary, defuse dangerous situations with wildlife.
Field research techniques
Students will be introduced to the fundamentals of data collection techniques during this module. Data collection techniques will be acquired in conjunction with monitoring techniques and practices used in wildlife management. This will highlight the importance of applied research and grazing results for wildlife managers to make informed and effective wildlife management decisions.
Students will get the opportunity to put their knowledge into practice while out in the field, as well as for their research projects.
Data collection techniques covered include:
- mammal behaviour and monitoring techniques,
- ageing and sexing large African mammals,
- use of trail cameras for data collection,
- biodiversity monitoring,
- bird surveys and small mammal trapping,
- arthropod biodiversity surveys,
- data collection techniques, and
- reptile and amphibian surveys.
4×4 and bush driving
Most fieldwork in Africa will require field biologists to drive a 4×4 on and off-road in remote areas. This can be very challenging if you don’t know the fundamentals, even more so in a remote location. Safety and awareness will be at the forefront of this course. Skills covered during this course will be the basics of 4×4 off-road driving, changing a wheel, fixing a tyre, and recovery, which are common challenges in the field.
The course may cover:
- vehicle driver terrain,
- vehicle 4×4 usability,
- suspension, tyres and chassis,
- safe vehicle recovery,
- safe driving manoeuvres,
- safe driving techniques,
- basic vehicle checks and troubleshooting.
Animal tracking in the field
It is never set in stone that you will find your subject in the bush, and while trail cameras are useful they can also lead to dead ends. Animals are always giving us information through their spoor (tracks). Learning how to interpret this data, and some of the collection techniques associated with it, gives us vital information about some of the more elusive species, and important information on how to be safe in the field.
At the end of this course students will:
- have an understanding of the principles of tracking,
- be confident in tracking techniques,
- be able to identify tracks of the larger species of animals in the area,
- interpret animal gaits and movements,
- be able to collect data from spoor (tracks),
- understand the study of animal behaviour and signs.
Saturday afternoons and Sundays are free time for students, although it’s recommended that students use this time for personal study and preparation for the upcoming lectures. After every fourth week, students also get a full week off and are encouraged to leave campus, travel, and explore the local area.
Here are some of the highlights:
- Head out to the Blyde River Canyon for boat trips, kloofing, whitewater rafting, hiking, hot air ballooning and camping.
- The Kruger National Park gates are only a 90-minute drive from campus. Day trips or overnight camping trips are available within the park.
- Moholoholo Animal Rehabilitation Centre is 60-minute drive from campus. Spend some time exploring the rehabilitation of endangered species.
- Spend one day on the Panorama Route and see Bourke’s Luck Potholes, God’s Window, and many waterfalls with swimming spots.
- The Giant Baobab (formerly known as the Upside Down Restaurant) is only a 50-minute drive from campus. They are rumoured to sell the best pancakes in Limpopo. Be sure to try them.
- Debengeni Falls in the town of Tzaneen is a stunning waterfall accessible to anyone. It offers picnic areas and hiking trails.
Dates and costs
|South African Citizens|
|2021||6 months||R115,945 (incl VAT)|
|2021||6 months + 6 months FGASA NQF2||R281,945 (incl VAT)|
|2021||6 months + 6 months FGASA NQF2 + 6 month internship||R303,945 (incl VAT)*|
|*18 Month combo discount of R9450,00 applied|
A payment plan may also be arranged for South African citizens. Conditions apply, please get in touch for full details.
|2021||6 months||GBP £6,945.00 / USD $12,445.00 / EUR €9,295.00 / 13,095 AUD|
|2021||6 months + 6 months FGASA NQF2||GBP £19,440.00 / USD $29,540.00 / EUR €23,640.00 / 36,590 AUD|
|2021||6 months + 6 months FGASA NQF2 + 6 month internship||GBP £20,540.00 / USD $31,190.00 / EUR €26,040.00 / 39,350 AUD*|
|*18 Month combo discount applied|
*Bushwise is recognised by most major South African banks including FNB and Standard Bank, South African citizens can apply in-branch for student loans to assist with payment of course fees!
Course Start Dates
|All programs||7 January 2021|
|All programs||8 July 2021|
Personal costs – You can expect to spend approx. R750/GBP40/USD 65 per month depending on your personal habits. During weeks off you are welcome to stay at the campus, and just cover your own food costs. You will need to budget extra if you plan to travel in these breaks.
Our passion for nature, conservation thereof, and the education of prospective field guides are evident in all our on-campus programs. Our professional trainers deliver with utmost dedication to achieve outstanding results through all our courses. Let’s hear what the alumni have to say.
Kaitlin Craceiro-Dias, Canada, 2019
I was an intern on the Wildlife Research Expedition and it’s really been awesome. Working with Vaughan is just fantastic, he is so knowledgable and knows everything there is to know about bugs. I would definitely recommend this program if you are looking to work in the field and be hands-on with your research.
Taylor Headland, Australia, 2019
Getting to go out and do research with an entomologist such as Vaughan is just fascinating. I highly recommend this course to anyone looking to go into field research, or anyone just vaguely interested in working in this direction. It’s first of all incredible amounts of fun, but you also learn how to go about field research in the right way, the work that is required to do research in the right way, and the distribution of the data that you collected, I definitely recommend this course.
General manager Camp Jabulani, Relais & Châteaux
“Bushwise is a professional organisation, committed to the welfare of its students and to ensuring that they enter the safari industry with the correct qualifications, a high level of knowledge and strong guiding ethics.”
former Bushwise student, now GVI SANParks Internship Coordinator
“Signing up and completing Bushwise has changed the course of not only my career but my entire life. I now get to wake up every morning to the sounds of baboons and hyenas and end each day with the setting African sun; none of this would have been possible without undergoing the Bushwise course”