Wildlife Research ExpeditionSpend 6,12, or 18 months on the Mahlahla campus as part of your journey towards becoming a field researcher.
What is our Wildlife Research Expedition all about?
The Wildlife Research Expedition is as unique as they come. You will spend 6, 12, or 18 months in the field doing hands on research, collecting specimens, uploading data and learning all the fundamentals to thrive in remote locations. Not only will you work alongside our very own entomologist, but you’ll be partnered with scientists in the field that focus on specialist topics.
We’ve partnered with Rhino Revolution and the Biodiversity & Development Institute (BDI) to conduct various research projects, allowing you to participate in ground-breaking biodiversity research and projects focused on rare and endangered wildlife.
The course includes in-depth lectures, practical surveys, research and training in tracking techniques on the ground. Your work alongside a specialist in the field will include carrying out surveys to help them on their projects. This work will include finding, mapping out the location of, photographing and collecting samples to support ongoing research. You’ll also learn to find, log and record species in the South African bushveld. Your focus could include any of the following target species:
- antlions and lacewings
- birds (special focus on vultures)
- butterflies and moths
- dragonflies and damselflies
- dung beetles
- freshwater fish
- mushrooms and other fungi
- scorpions and spiders
- trees and plants (special focus on orchids).
Since Bushwise Field Guides has done incredible work in field research, we have gained special access to work in protected parts of Limpopo that rarely see human activity. These could include Chimoyo Game Ranch, Gravelotte cultural land, Lekgalameetse Provincial Park, Soutpansberg Mountain range, Wolkberg wilderness area and the Blyde Canyon Biosphere Reserve. These locations are so remote that you might spend up to a week camping remotely in the wild to conduct the necessary research for that project.
On your 6-month course, if mother nature allows for it, you will embark on two big road trips to conduct specialised research in certain areas. The first will be at the start of your course, to show you the fundamentals of remote field work. Your final road trip will be at the end of the course and will be part of an ongoing project that Bushwise leads in vital biodiversity surveys in a sensitive, undisclosed location.
It’s paramount that you acquire the necessary skills for remote working. This expedition could include these foundations for field work:
- introduction to 4×4 and bush driving and safe vehicle recovery in remote locations
- dangerous animal behaviour in relation to data collection
- remote camp setup, management and logistics.
- safety in the field (orientation, survival, weather and climate).
By joining any of our Bushwise programs, you’ll be able to apply the skills and knowledge you gained all over the world. And, since all Bushwise programs offer holistic training, you’ll be ready to both live and work in any remote locations in the field.
Your experience will equip you to do everything from managing a camp to promoting safety considerations and awareness in the bush. You’ll also learn orientation, identification of fauna and flora, the use of trail cameras for photographic surveys and to use fundamental field techniques for data collection.
- Duration: 6 months
- Age: 18+. You have to be able to walk at least 2km a day and climb on and off game vehicles, a certain amount of general fitness is recommended as this is a more physically active course than guiding courses.
- Language: English and Afrikaans
- Location: Bushwise Mahlahla campus, Limpopo, South Africa
- Accommodation: Mahlahla campus and remote camping
In addition to training included in the Bushwise Wildlife Research Expedition, you have the option to qualify as a Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) Apprentice Field Guide (NQF2) over an additional period of 6 or 12 months. Read more on the FGASA add on tab.
Through a combination of hands-on experience, game drives and lectures, you’ll develop your bush and field research skills, and elevate your proficiency in field research.
The course includes several modules, including scientific research techniques, animal tracking, 4×4 knowledge, wildlife survey techniques, orientation skills, and opportunities to apply practical skills and theoretical knowledge.
During the first 6 weeks of the course, you’ll focus on the techniques and theory of scientific research. Thereafter, you’ll have the opportunity to select a focus species to specialise in. You’ll join a specialist in the field and support them with their research. You’ll carry out research, finetune your skills, provide feedback to the specialist and contribute to the success of their project.
In addition to working on your chosen species, you’ll still learn about all of the other target species during your course. You’ll also contribute to data collection efforts that are carried out according to set quarterly targets.
On the Wildlife Research Expedition, we focus on locations that have not been thoroughly surveyed yet. These could be within a day’s drive from campus or even further afield, which means we’ll need to set up a remote camping village in the bush.
Your days on campus consist of lectures, as well as practical sessions that cement the theory into your everyday life as a field researcher. Our research locations will give you the opportunity to embark on a practical adventure and further your experience in the field.
After the morning activity, which is either a lecture or a field excursion, you’ll enjoy a hearty brunch. The afternoon takes you out into the field for a practical session or a lecture that’s aimed at building on the skills and knowledge you gained that morning. All teams return to base for an evening meal around the campfire, which allows for bonding and reflecting on the day’s experiences.
The focus of your research will shift according to the opportunities available at the time of your program, and you may have the chance to work on multiple projects. This will allow you to experience different kinds of wildlife research, and to sharpen your techniques during your Bushwise training.
- how to interpret animal behaviour so that scientific data can be collected safely
- how to setup and manage a field camp in remote locations
- how to use field surveying techniques to assess the environment for field safety
- methods for surveying reptiles, birds, amphibians and arthropods
- techniques and skills for studying wildlife, animal behaviour and biodiversity
- the fundamentals of tracking animals using tracks and signs
- the fundamental skills needed to identify fauna and flora
- 4×4 recovery skills, and how to use very high frequency (VHF) two way communication radios.
FGASA add ons
The following courses can be added to the end of your 6-month Wildlife Research Expedition. The optional add on will teach you the necessary skills and qualifications to create a guided experience for safari guests. Your wildlife research experience, accompanied by a FGASA Apprentice Field Guide (NQF2) qualification, will enhance your opportunities for a permanent position in the wildlife industry.
FGASA Apprentice Field Guide (NQF2) course (6 months)
This course has been designed to develop highly skilled professionals in the field guiding industry through the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) curriculum. The course ensures a well-rounded and specialised educational experience, and was specifically developed to provide the vocational skills and qualifications required by employers in Southern Africa.
By pairing this qualification with your Wildlife Research Expedition, you’ll pair experience in wildlife research with specialised FGASA training. This means you’ll be able to secure a permanent position as a reserve manager, game ranger or conservationist anywhere around the globe.
The academic curriculum at Bushwise is accredited by FGASA; the South Africa Qualifications Board; and the Culture, Art, Tourism, Hospitality, and Sports Sector Education and Training Authority (CATHSSETA). All students are taught by professional guides and instructors, some of whom have been trained through Bushwise themselves. All additional qualifications are also attained through accredited training providers.
FGASA Apprentice Field Guide (NQF2) and internship placement (12 months)
This program is made up of the FGASA Apprentice Field Guide (NQF2) course (6 months) and an internship placement (6 months). After completing and passing the FGASA Apprentice Field Guide course, students will embark on a work placement with a selection of prestigious lodges and game reserves in South Africa – like Moholoholo, Kapama, Africa on Foot, Siyafunda, Karongwe, and Motswari.
Our graduates have also been able to turn their placements into permanent positions and found work at organisations in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Patagonia, Rwanda, Tanzania, the United States of America (USA) and Zambia. Opportunities for a dream job in conservation are wide open for those who combine the FGASA Apprentice Field Guide qualification with a work placement, and 6 months of extensive wildlife research experience through the Wildlife Research Expedition.
Read about the Bushwise FGASA Professional Field Guide to learn more about why you should choose Bushwise.
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 to navigate yourself back to an area of familiarity when you are lost, is a vital skill for any field worker. This aspect of the course will focus on equipping you to interpret the environment around you for orientation, and will teach you about dangerous animals in the field. You’ll also learn first aid, and be introduced to field health and safety practices.
Training may include:
- basic astronomy and night orientation
- bush orienteering – with and without a compass
- global positioning system (GPS) use
- how to get water and forage for food in the bush
- how to signal for help when out in the field
- identification of common snake species, as well as the potentially lethal species of snakes
- recognition of the venomous insects and arachnids in South Africa
- understanding weather and climate
- wilderness first aid.
Camp setup, management and logistics
Camp life will have a large influence on your time in the field. Access to water, shade and emergency care are all important considerations in the bush. As you assess locations, you’ll discuss these practical aspects of bush life that make it a little easier to live and work in the field. This part of the course will also cover camp procedures such as sharing your estimated time of arrival (ETA) and notifying your team about where you have gone.
The skills you’ll learn could include:
- campfire cooking
- camp setup, logistics and management
- field health and safety practices – including risk assessment and management, crisis management, and Emergency Action Plans (EAPs)
- safely making a fire.
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 plant life in the environment where you are conducting research.
That’s because wildlife conservation and management efforts aren’t just about the large animals. The habitat and biodiversity that supports animal populations is just as important because of its influence on a particular animal’s behaviour, habits and survival. Our ongoing research on the biodiversity of various areas aids in understanding these intricate relationships, and helps us understand and conserve our environments better.
Alongside species identification, this section of the course will include an understanding of biomes, ecology and interspecies relationships. These skills will also be studied in the context of conservation management – as methods used by wildlife managers for wildlife conservation.
By the end of the course you’ll be able to:
- identify the common species of the region
- understand the concept of field management as a tool for wildlife conservation
- understand the difference between 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, animal warning signals, learning how to track animals, how to identify animals by tracks, and how to stay safe around wild animals.
By the end of this module, students will be able to:
- avoid, and if necessary, defuse dangerous situations with wildlife
- explain the differences between animal home-ranges and animal territories
- identify and interpret animal signs and sounds
- study animal behaviour in their natural habitat (also known as ethology)
- understand the concept of “animal comfort zones”
- understand the various types of defensive animal behaviours
- understand the warning signals of dangerous animals including large mammals and snakes.
Field research techniques
Students will be introduced to the fundamentals of data collection techniques during this module. Data collection techniques will be learnt alongside monitoring techniques and other practices used in field research. This highlights the importance of biodiversity field research and species observation for conservation management. They are then able to make informed and effective science based decisions to safeguard the biodiversity of an area.
Students will get the opportunity to put their knowledge into practise while out in the field, as well as for their research projects.
Data collection techniques covered include:
- rare and endangered mammal research
- arthropod biodiversity surveys
- biodiversity monitoring
- bird surveys and small mammal mapping
- data collection techniques
- mammal behaviour and monitoring techniques
- reptile and amphibian surveys
- use of trail cameras for data collection.
4×4 and bush driving
Most fieldwork in Africa will require you to drive a 4×4 on and off-road in remote areas. This can be very challenging if you don’t know the fundamentals, and even more so when driving in a remote location. Safety and awareness will be at the forefront of this part of the course. Skills covered will include the basics of 4×4 off-road driving, changing a wheel, fixing a tyre, and vehicle recovery in theory and demonstrations – all of which are common challenges in the field.
The module may cover:
- basic vehicle checks and troubleshooting
- safe driving manoeuvres
- safe driving techniques
- safe vehicle recover
- suspension, tyres and chassis
- vehicle driver terrain
- vehicle 4×4 usability.
Animal tracking in the field
You can never guarantee that you’ll find your research subject in the bush. And, while trail cameras are useful, they can also lead to dead ends. But, animals are always leaving us information through their spoor (tracks). Learning how to interpret this data, and using some of the collection techniques associated with it, gives us vital information about some of the more elusive species. It also provides us with important information on how to be safe in the field.
At the end of this course students will:
- be confident in tracking techniques
- be able to identify tracks of animals and invertebrates in the area
- be able to interpret animal gaits and movements
- be able to collect data from spoor (tracks)
- have an understanding of the principles of tracking
- 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
A truly life changing program! To be in the field of the African bush trying to find and document all the species you can find, it’s a dream. With the focus being on smaller animals, the work that is done on this program is so important. All of the documented species that we found were compiled onto species lists, which then get sent into a national database to keep track of their distributions. We learned and practiced many different techniques while on course also. From using camera traps to flipping rocks, it’s truly the best of both worlds. Also to work alongside such knowledgeable trainers is a true privilege! If you have a passion for research and being in the field, this is certainly for you. I would recommend this program to anyone passionate about wildlife conservation, because as we know: it’s the ‘little guys’ that keep our ecosystems in balance, and without them there would be no ‘big guys’.
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.
Tom Collier, United Kingdom, 2019
I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the Wildlife Research Expedition, it has given me far more than I could ever have imagined, from the scientific side of things such as learning data collection techniques, creating species lists, recording data and learning about animals and their habitats from some of the most knowledgeable people I have ever met. It’s also an incredibly immersive experience as you are usually on foot and really get the sense of becoming one with the environment, you get to view South Africa’s incredible wildlife and landscapes in a way that you could never achieve in a vehicle. I couldn’t recommend this course any more highly.
Chané Doman, 2020
I started my Bushwise journey in January this year! I did the 6-month FGASA course and then the 6-month Research course! I learned my fundamentals on the FGASA course but gained all my in-depth knowledge on the research course! I choose Lepidoptera as my speciality, more specifically butterflies! The butterfly known as Table Mountain beauty ( Aeropetes tulbaghia ) is my current favourite. My favourite keeps changing as I learn more about each species. I loved the fact that I could choose my favourite topic but I am still able to learn about everything else! Learning from Vaughan and Megan has been an exciting adventure. Megan is a very caring person with a safety-first mindset. Vaughan is a jokester with incredible knowledge. It’s been a privilege learning from them. The activity I enjoyed the most was frogging. Learning about species relationships has taught me how important the little critters are. I support the #SMALL5000 and everything this course has to offer!
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”