South Africa Field Course

Want to learn about our South Africa course?  See the course blog summary below.

South Africa Field Ecology Course:

How we spent our winter break in 2017


DAY ONE: Monday, 02 January 2017. Excitement builds as we gather at the Cleveland Airport to fly to Johannesburg, South Africa. Short flight to Atlanta, looong flight to Johannesburg.

DAY TWO: Arrive in Johannesburg too late to continue to the Wits Rural Facility near Kruger National Park. Lots of sleepy students crash at the airport hotel.

DAY THREE: Off to Hoedspruit – amazed at the rinky-dink airport! Then we depart for the Wits Rural Facility, spotting baboons and warthogs en route. Throw down our stuff, and take a look at our new surroundings – giraffes and impalas on our doorstep!

DAY FOUR:  Start setting up our projects. Giraffe decides that he’s irritated with Carey and Matt’s seed trays – flips it to see if there’s food somewhere! Meghan and Abby find that the locals think they are crazy collecting cow dung for their dung beetle project.

DAY FIVE: First day in the Kruger National Park. Can we see the Big 5? See one of them (a leopard) before we even get inside the park! See two others (buffalo and elephants) within minutes of getting there. Saw the most gorgeous little Scops Owls in Satara camp.

DAY SIX: More project time. Ruthann and Brettney put in the long hours identifying the moths they caught the night before.

DAY SEVEN: Back to the Kruger Park. No luck on the two missing Big 5 (lions and rhinos) but we see 22 African Wild Dogs – there are only about 360-odd still left in the wild in South Africa – plus a spotted hyena and her 2 cubs. Then we see another leopard! Better than seeing the Big 5!

DAY EIGHT: More work on our projects in the morning. The two projects Dr. Ward thought were “guaranteed to work” fail. There is too much rain for the small mammal project and there is too much food for the vervet monkeys to eat so they don’t have to bother with the peanuts we put out for them. No big deal – Melanie and Joe do ethograms of monkey use of habitats, while Matt and Carey do a project on vigilance in impalas. Then off to the Moholoholo wildlife rehabilitation center in the afternoon. See lots of orphaned and injured vultures, eagles, lions, hyenas, honey badgers, and wild dogs. Carey grabs some forms for the students interested in volunteering there. Prof. Wayne Twine speaks to us in the evening about socio-ecology and how to integrate the roles of local peoples in the conservation of Africa’s wildlife.

DAY NINE: More project work. Abby and Meghan go back to the local community to ask for more dung! The dung they had obtained earlier got wet, so back they went. Sydney and Dan went to the Thornybush side of the fenceline to study the effects of elephants on the plants there. Rhian Twine talks in the evening about her role in the Agincourt medical health unit of Wits University and the high levels of HIV-positive people who live nearby.

DAY TEN: Excitement as we fly to Cape Town. We put our stuff down at Cape Town Backpackers, and head off to the ritzy V&A Waterfront mall with all sorts of interesting stalls, overlooking Cape Town’s stunning harbor. Traditional Cape Malay dinner in the Bo-Kaap, with all its beautiful houses.

DAY ELEVEN: We visit one of the world’s most beautiful botanic gardens at Kirstenbosch. Dr. Nicky Allsopp gives us an enlightening talk on the work of SAEON, which is South Africa’s long-term ecological research program. Yes, there really are 18,000 plant species in the world’s most diverse biome! We then go via the gorgeous Chapman’s Peak drive (think Big Sur in California) to the Cape of Good Hope National Park to see more fynbos. We race up to the southwestern point of Africa at Cape Point, and then see a humpbacked whale carcass, some seals and a lot of cormorants in the Atlantic ocean nearby.

DAY TWELVE: We visited the Karoo Botanical Gardens near Worcester on the other side of the Hottentots-Hollands mountains to see the diverse succulent karoo collection with Werner Voigt of the South African National Biodiversity Institute. We then focused on learning about ‘heuweltjies’ (uniquely vegetated soil circles) in the Worcester Grassland Reserve with Profs. Timm Hoffman and Mike Cramer from the University of Cape Town. Mike Cramer flies his drone to show us how they take photos of the heuweltjies. We round this off with a stunning view of more fynbos up Bain’s Kloof Pass on our way back to Cape Town. A highlight is our visit to the Africa Café, where we hear a capella singers and some of us get our faces painted in a traditional way.

DAY THIRTEEN: Reality check – we visit Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were imprisoned), after a 40 minute boat ride across Table Bay in the morning. We rush back to get to the other side of Cape Town to eat fish and chips in Simon’s Town, before seeing the African penguins. Dr. Taryn Morris explains the role of the non-government organization, Birdlife International, in the protection of South Africa’s seabirds.

DAY FOURTEEN: Our last day in South Africa -  we take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain. Pity about the thick mist up there; the other days were perfect! Down to the trendy Obz Café for lunch, before flying to Johannesburg in the afternoon. Now back across the Atlantic to the U.S. in the evening.

DAY FIFTEEN: Monday, 02 January 2017. We arrive back in Cleveland after 16 hours on the airplane and six hours in Atlanta! School starts tomorrow….


POSTED: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 12:19 PM
Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2022 08:45 PM