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  • Objectives
  • Skills you gain
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Gondwana Game Reserve

This team is based in Gondwana Game Reserve in the Western Cape which is also a Big 5 reserve. 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 herbivores. 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. In their first week, students will complete an African Wildlife Management Course. In this week 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. In the second week at Gondwana Game Reserve, the students will then continue to assist with research based around the concepts introduced in the course and further develop their survey skills and knowledge. 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.

South Africa Research Objectives

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 Somkhanda 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, and is one of the first reserves to introduce elephants back into this region. 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. 

  • Attend lectures/workshops on African conservation, ecology, archaeology and wildlife management
  • Understand the historical and modern interactions between humans and their environment
  • Learn survey methods to sample large mammals, birds and vegetation
  • Opportunity to work on foot in a Big 5 reserve

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 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
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.

Creature comforts
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. There is very little phone signal in Gondwana, and the site does not have access to wifi.


  • South Africa
  • Gondwana

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Want to get involved with this project?

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