This expedition starts with a week of advanced wilderness training at Masebe Nature Reserve, which forms part of the UNESCO Waterberg Biosphere. Students will then spend their second week assisting local experts in long-term monitoring of the reserve flora and fauna in Dinokeng Game Reserve.
In their first week, students will gain valuable bushcraft skills through our practical African Origins Wilderness Survival Course. The programme follows the outline of a real-life survival situation where students progress through the standard survival guidelines:
Assess: Orientation to the reserve with qualified field guides
Water: Learn basic survival skills such as how to find water and how to start a fire without modern tools
Food: Learn how to harvest food from the environment and prepare a healthy meal
Shelter/Acclimatise: Learn how to prepare a shelter from the surrounding bush and interpret the tracks and signs around them
Navigate/Explore: Navigation through the bush is taught, along with how to make tools from the natural resources available
It further consists of a series of lectures on archaeology and ecology, and a chance to meet learn about the cultural heritage of the area from a local cultural leader.
The students will complete two part days of bush skills training and four part days helping with biodiversity research in the reserve. The other part of each day will be in camp completing the African Wildlife Management course. The research activities include helping with the following:
Elephant impact on vegetation: This is assessed using the Walker scale of damage within ha plots selected randomly from within 3 bands of distance from water sources.
Estimating large mammal populations: Completing distance based large mammal surveys from vehicles to estimate abundance of the target species.
Bird surveys: Completing foot-based point counts and transects to determine bird diversity.
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.
The costs of a school group expedition can be highly variable. There is a standard fee paid to Opwall for all expeditions but the location you are flying from, the size of your group, and how you wish to pay all impact the overall cost. You can choose to book the expedition as a package (which includes your international flights) or you can organise your travel yourself and just pay us for the expedition related elements. If you are booking your expedition as a package, you also have the option of being invoiced as a group, or on an individual basis.
Our expeditions run during the South African winter, so temperatures at all terrestrial sites regularly drop below 5 degrees at night. It is dry season in the north, however, so the chances of rain are slim in both Masebe and Dinokeng, and days are usually sunny and warm with temperatures up to 18-22 degrees.
Fitness level required
Moderate. The wilderness training activities can involve long hikes as the reserve does not have dangerous game. However, the research activities take place in or close to the game-viewer vehicles for safety.
At both sites you will be staying in shared dorm rooms, with electricity available for charging. Hot running water is available for showers, and toilets are long drop or western-style at Masebe and Dinokeng, respectively. There is very little phone signal in Masebe, but decent signal in Dinokeng and neither site has access to wifi.