This expedition is based in Gondwana Game Reserve in the Western Cape. Here, reserve managers are trying to balance the conservation of large mammal species that have been reintroduced to the area, with protection of the hyper-diverse fynbos habitat within the reserve. These two objectives are potentially at odds given the low nutritional value of fynbos for browsing herbivores. The reserve therefore needs to maintain a balance between managing for fynbos biodiversity and more nutritional grassland areas for herbivore. The reserve is using a number of active management strategies, including regular burning, to find this balance and Opwall teams are working to monitor the success or otherwise of these techniques. You will be based in a fenced tented camp inside the reserve and will spend time each day in camp completing an advanced wildlife conservation and management course, specialised in fynbos ecology. When in the field you will be involved in assessing vegetation usage by monitoring floral diversity and browsing pressure at exclosure plots set up in each of the main habitat types in the reserve. You will also perform bird point counts at each of these sites and assist with vehicle based large mammal distribution surveys that run throughout the reserve.
Operation Wallacea and our partners, Wildlife and Ecological Investments (WEI), coordinate large-scale research programmes to provide an empirical backbone for key conservation projects in South Africa. Our main aim is to assist conservation managers with pressing large-scale issues that they do not necessarily have the resources to address themselves. The South Africa research programme covers a series of reserves across the country, each using slightly different management strategies to conserve wildlife in their reserves. Big game areas in South Africa are fenced to avoid the spread of disease and conflicts between communities and dangerous animals. However, in reserves surrounded by densely populated areas such as Dinokeng Game Reserve, human-wildlife conflict can be a major challenge. Here, our research teams are looking at the extent of this conflict with a special focus on large mammal species. Large mammal distributions are monitored regularly through game transects, and nocturnal mammal distributions are assessed using a matrix of camera traps set up throughout the reserve. By combining this information with our knowledge of areas of dense human activity, we can begin to understand how human disturbance can alter large mammal movement and behaviour.
The restriction of natural movement caused by fences can also lead to locally dense mammal populations with high levels of vegetation impact. Elephants, for example, are ecosystem engineers and their impact can alter vegetation structure and composition. By directly monitoring both fire and feeding impact on vegetation and its knock-on effects to other taxa, such as birds, our teams can assist the reserve managers to better understand how elephants can affect long-term change in the ecosystem. Monitoring of this type is also highly important in Gondwana Game Reserve, which is situated in the biodiversity hotspot of the Cape Floral Kingdom in the Western Cape. This Big-5 reserve has converted agricultural land to conservation, with the large mammals feeding on old agricultural grasslands as fynbos vegetation holds little nutritional value for large herbivores. Reserve management here have therefore asked us to monitor how the large, enigmatic game species are utilising the various vegetation types found within the reserve, to conserve the diversity of critically endangered vegetation types while supporting Big-5 tourism and conservation of the area.
Most of our volunteers fundraise for their expedition costs. Find out more.
Our expeditions run during the South African winter, so rain and wind are regular at this site. Temperatures can get up to 18-20 degrees during the day, but will regularly drop below 5 degrees at night. The wind-chill can make this feel very cold, so warm and waterproof clothes are essential.
Fitness level required
Low. There are some short hikes over rough terrain, but most of the work is in or close to the game-viewer vehicles.
You will be staying in large safari-style tents with bunk beds. Hot running showers and flushing toilets are provided in a separate block, with large, structured tents used for the kitchen and communal areas. Phone signal is very patchy, but there is wifi for work/research. Electricity is provided mainly by solar panels and then generator for a few hours each day.