• Overview
  • Objectives
  • Skills you gain
  • Costs to Consider
  • Site Conditions

Gondwana Game Reserve is a fenced reserve situated in the hyper-diverse Cape Floral Kingdom, which is dominated by fynbos and renosterveld. Many large mammals, including elephant, rhino and buffalo, have been reintroduced to the reserve and the income that results from tourists coming to see these species allows the reserve to continue its protection of the area. However, while fynbos and renosterveld are highly diverse and include endangered plant communities, they offer very little nutritional browse for large herbivore species. The reserve management must therefore carefully balance the desire to protect this amazing floral diversity with the need to maintain healthy megafauna. By assessing the movement and habitat preferences of large mammals, Opwall and its partners hope to assist the reserve in future management decisions. To do this, regular large mammal surveys are conducted in which all visual encounters with the herbivores are recorded. The GPS location of the animal, the species, condition score, number of individuals, age-sex class of each individual and habitat type are also noted. Students will also assist with detailed vegetation surveys, in which the level of physical impact on the plants from key herbivores is recorded.

Extended Dissertation Summary

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 diversity 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 densely populated areas such as around Dinokeng Game Reserve, human-wildlife interactions are still common. Here, our research teams are looking at the extent of these interactions with a special focus on large mammal species. Large mammal distributions are monitored regularly through game transects, and 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 the drivers behind large mammal movement and any potentially disruptive behaviours they exhibit. The use of roads in the reserve is also monitored through camera traps and behavioural observations to quantify how roads and vehicles affect animal movement, survival, and behaviour.
The restriction of natural movement caused by fences can also lead to potentially unsustainable levels of vegetation impact when mammal populations are high. Elephants, for example, are keystone species and high feeding pressures can lead to excessive impact to the vegetation. By directly monitoring 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 to manage their elephant populations to maintain a healthy and diverse ecosystem. This monitoring is especially important in Gondwana Game Reserve, which is situated in the florally diverse fynbos region. While the vegetation here is highly valued for its diversity, it holds little browsing or grazing value for many of the game species commonly found in tourist reserves. The management here have therefore asked us to monitor how the large, enigmatic game species are utilising the various vegetation types found within the reserve.

  • Develop an independent research project and write a formal proposal
  • Learn how to organise and analyse large data sets
  • Attend lectures/workshops on African conservation and wildlife management
  • Collect data monitoring the effects of large mammals on fynbos vegetation
  • Develop bush tracking skills
  • Opwall fee
  • Cost of international flights into and out of Cape Town
  • Cost of internal travel to and from the start and end point of the expedition, plus any hotels you might require. This costs around £121 or $175. Extra nights’ accommodation in Cape Town costs from around £30 or $44.
  • Park entrance fees – £40 or $58
  • Vaccinations and prophylactic medicines – cost can vary depending on your healthcare provider.
  • All prices in GBP or USD unless specified

Our expeditions run during the southern 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.

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 patchy phone signal, no wifi and electricity is provided by generator for a few hours each day.


  • South Africa
  • Gondwana

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Want to get involved with this project?

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