The first week of this expedition will be spent at one of our terrestrial research sites – Dinokeng Reserve or Balule Reserve. At both sites students will assist local experts in long-term monitoring of the reserve flora and fauna. The second week of the expedition will be based at our marine site – Sodwana Bay – where students can either learn to dive or take part in a Reef Ecology training course.
One week in Dinokeng Reserve, a high veld Big 5 reserve followed by a week dive training, or diving if already qualified, at Sodwana Bay.
One week in Balule Reserve, a low veld Big 5 reserve followed by a week dive training, or diving if already qualified, at Sodwana Bay.
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 in both reserves include helping with the following:
The students taking the joint terrestrial and marine option will spend their second week in Sodwana Bay in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa and will complete one of three options:
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 Balule and Dinokeng, and days are usually sunny and warm with temperatures up to 18-22 degrees. Gondwana regularly sees wind and rain alongside the sun, and so warm, waterproof clothes are essential. The temperatures are generally warmer at night in Sodwana, and the sun can be quite fierce when out all day at the beach.
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.
In Dinokeng and Balule, you will be staying in shared dorms within a large house while at Sodwana accommodation is in shared tents and you will need to bring a roll mat to sleep on. All sites have hot running showers, flushing toilets and access to electricity for large portions of the day. There is very little phone signal in Balule, but decent signal in Sodwana and Dinokeng. No sites have access to wifi.