Wildlife Research ExpeditionSpend 4, 8 or 12 weeks on the Mahlahla campus as part of your journey towards becoming a field biologist.
This program, which takes place in 4, 8 or 12 week durations, is of particular relevance to students wishing to gain practical exposure and experience in the field, as well as to develop the necessary ‘on the ground’ skills in order to become a more well-rounded wildlife field researcher in the conservation industry. Alongside intensive field experiences, lectures, practical surveys, research and tracking techniques and skills are taught as a focus for the duration of the course.
It also aims to give students a holistic experience and to provide 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 and so much more. The course also offers training in fauna and flora identification, animal behaviour and fundamental field techniques to collect data. This aims to enable students to work safely and effectively in the field, while having a better understanding of species in the context of their environment.
Life on the Program
Typically the day will start early, at around 05:30. Students will usually grab a cup of coffee or tea before heading out into the bush for a morning of practical training. The course includes various modules, including scientific research, tracking, 4×4 skills, wildlife survey techniques and more. Your focus will switch weekly, depending on the local needs of the reserve and all available opportunities for you to get the most out of your training with Bushwise. On your practical sessions in the bush, consisting of either a walk or a drive, you will concentrate on specific modules and put all the theory you have learnt in the classroom into practice in the field, in order to enhance your potential as a successful field biologist in future.
After the morning activity you will be welcomed with a hearty brunch. The afternoon brings you even more fresh air as you head out for an afternoon practical or lecture session, aimed at building on your skills and knowledge gained in the morning session. All teams return for an evening meal sat around the campfire bonding and reflecting on and their experiences that day.
Bushwise is accredited by the Field Guide Association of Southern Africa (FGASA), the South Africa Qualifications Board and the Culture Art Tourism Hospitality and Sports Sector Education and Training Authority. All students are taught by experienced guides and instructors.
Through hands-on experience, game drives and lectures, students will have the opportunity to develop their bush and field biologists skills and to elevate their understanding and skills as field biologist.
This could possibly include:
1. Interpreting the environment for field safety, specifically utilising and using field survey techniques;
2. Gaining skills to set up and manage field camp;
3. Learning fundamental skills in identification of fauna and flora;
4. Learning how to interpret animal behaviour in relation to safety and scientific data collection;
5. Developing techniques and skills for studying wildlife, animal behaviour and biodiversity survey of reptiles, birds, amphibians and arthopods;
6. Gaining training and skills in 4×4 driving and learn how to communicate via VHF radios;
7. Learning fundamentals of tracking animals using tracks and signs.
Safety in the field (orientation, survival, weather & climate)
Without the help of road signs and detailed maps, getting disoriented and lost in the field is a real possibility. 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 will include:
• Basic astronomy and night orientation
• Weather & climate
• Bush orienteering – with and without a compass
• GPS use
• How to get water and bush food
• Signaling for help
• Wilderness first aid
• Identification of the more common species of snakes 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 human beings.
Camp Set-up, Management and Logistics
Camp life will have a large influence on your time in the field and consideration of access to water, shade and emergency care are all important considerations. Discussions and assessment of locations will get you thinking of this practical aspect of bush life that can make life a little easier in the field. This will also cover camp procedures so that people know an estimated time of arrival (ETA) and where you have gone.
This could include:
• Camp setup, logistics and management
• Field health and safety practices – managing risk, risk assessment and management, crisis management, leadership and Emergency Action Plans (EAP).
• Making a fire.
• Campfire cooking
Identification of fauna and flora
The interpretation of your environment will not be complete without some knowledge of the animals around you and an understanding of the grasses, plants and trees that the herbivores rely on. Wildlife conservation and management efforts cannot only be aimed at the animals alone, as the habitat that supports the animal populations is as important and has a large influence on an animal’s behaviour, habits and survival.
Therefore, alongside large mammal identification, this section of the course will include an understanding of biomes, plant classification and identification, as most students will have covered this in their studies and can put theory into practice. These skills will also be put in the context of habitat management as a methods used by wildlife managers as a tool for wildlife conservation.
By the end of the course you will be able to:
• Identify common large mammals species of the region.
• Learn how to identify individual research study mammals, including techniques such as lion whisker patterns and elephant ear notches.
• Identify the common trees and grasses using keys, and thus be able to apply these skills to carry out vegetation surveys and identify other vegetation in Southern Africa.
• Understand the concept of veld 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 field biologists 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 signals and learning how to track and to be safe around them.
By the end of this module, students will be able to:
• Have gained skills to study animal behaviour in the natural habitat (Ethology)
• Understand the concept of ‘comfort zones’.
• Have an understanding of the various types of animal defensive behaviour.
• Be able to explain the differences between animal home-ranges and territories.
• Be able to identify and interpret animal signs and sounds.
• Understand the warning signals of dangerous animals including large mammals and snakes.
• Have sufficient knowledge to avoid or defuse dangerous situations in and around wildlife.
Field Research Techniques
This module will introduce students to some of the fundamental data collection techniques they can use to answer their research questions.
These techniques will be learned in conjunction with monitoring techniques and management practises used in wildlife management, thus highlighting the importance of applied research and feeding results to wildlife managers to make informed and effective wildlife management decisions.
Students will get the opportunity to put their knowledge into practice whilst out in the field, as well as for their research project.
Data collection techniques covered:
• Large mammal behaviour and monitoring techniques:
• Ageing and sexing large African mammals
• Focal scans and ethograms
• Use of trail cameras for data collection
• Biodiversity monitoring
• Bird surveys o Small mammal trapping
• Arthropod biodiversity surveys
• Data collection techniques
• Reptile and amphibian surveys
• Research techniques to monitor ecological change in natural areas as a result of elephant and fire impact.
4×4 and Bush Driving
Most field work in Africa will require field biologists to drive 4×4’s and driving on and off road in remote areas can be very challenging. Driving in a remote location even more so, and as ever safety will be at the forefront of this aspect of the course. Skills that will be covered during a course covering the basics of 4×4 off road driving and importantly cover changing a wheel, fixing a tyre and getting unstuck, all common challenges in the field.
The course may cover:
• Vehicle driver terrain
• Vehicle 4×4 Systems
• Suspension, tyres & chassis
• Safe vehicle recovery
• Safe driving manoeuvres
• Safe driving techniques
• Basic vehicle checks and troubleshooting
Tracking in the field
Whilst we all like to see our study animals, this is not always possible and whilst trail cameras are useful in some aspects, animals are giving us information through their spoor all the time. 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 as well as 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
• Tracking techniques
• Be able to identify some of the tracks of the larger species of animals in the area
• Interpret animal gaits and movements
• What data can be collected from spoor
• The study of animal behaviour and signs
What’s Not Included
• Additional drinks and gratuities
• Extra local excursions
• International and domestic airport taxes
• Laundry, food and transport during weeks off
• Medical and travel insurance
• Personal kit
• Police or background check (where necessary)
• Recommended reference books
• Transport costs to placement
• Visa costs
Weekends provide you with some well earned free time (although it’s recommended that students use this time for personal study and preparation for the upcoming lectures, in order to stay on top of their game). Once a month on the course, you will get a few days off, and are encouraged to leave campus, travel and explore the local area, providing a more well-rounded African experience for your duration in the country.
Some highlights which could possibly be enjoyed:
- Blyde River Canyon: boat trips, kloofing, whitewater rafting, paintball, hot air ballooning and camping to name just but a few.
- Kruger National Park: Orpen and Phalaborwa Gates are just an hour and a half’s drive from the campus. Day Trips/overnight camping available as well.
- Moholoholo Rehab Centre: endangered species rehabilitation, a fascinating adventure for those interested in the conservation field.
- Panorama Route: Bourke’s Luck potholes, God’s Window and waterfalls are just some of what you can see, easily completed in a single day.
- Giant Baobab/Upside Down Restaurant: get up close with huge baobab trees, and don’t forget to try the great pancakes.
- Debengeni Falls, Tzaneen: stunning waterfall, picnic area and hiking trails. Talk to one of our trainers to learn more about this.
Please note that if you plan a trip away in your time off, you may need to hire a car, as public transport is limited in the Hoedspruit area. The estimate cost for hiring a car is R450 per day, including insurance and unlimited mileage, though costs could vary according to car size. The more friends you take with you the cheaper it makes it too, so be sure to explore the option of a group outing too.
Many students also travel further afield to places such as Mozambique (Tofo area), Cape Town, Durban and St Lucia World Heritage Sight during their off weeks, and students are encouraged to plan these trips ahead of time in conjunction with communication with the Bushwise team.
Upcoming Course Start Dates
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|8 weeks||3 415||6 395||58 055||6 490||6 830||4 530|
|12 weeks||4 435||8 495||75 395||8 430||8 870||6 030|
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”