A network of over 30 camera traps has been running since 2018 in Dinokeng Game Reserve, collecting continuous data evenly across the human-influenced central portion of this 21,000 ha reserve. As well as picking up elusive and rare species, this network allows data collection of animal visitation across large spatial and temporal scales. The camera trap network has been placed on a grid system to monitor mammal occupancy through a highly varied environment. Of particular interest is how carnivore species and assemblages are influenced by landscape fragmentation and prey distribution. As well as the large predators (e.g. lions and cheetah), the reserve has healthy populations of meso-carnivores such as black-blacked jackal, caracal and brown hyena. The camera traps give a unique insight into the movements and distributions of these animals, as well as the many various prey species found in the reserve. The presence of roads, properties and vegetation type are all potential factors affecting mammal distribution. Data on all these factors will be collected as the relationship between them animal populations are key for management decisions in a complex reserve such as Dinokeng.
If you would like to do a dissertation or thesis with us but your university hasn’t started dissertation planning or the project selection process, that’s no problem. You can cancel your expedition with zero cancellation charges up until the 15th of April of if you provide documentation from your university saying that they won’t support completing a dissertation project with us.
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.
Our expeditions run during the South African winter, so in Dinokeng temperatures can drop as low as 0-2 degrees at night. It is also dry season, however, so the chances of rain are slim here and days are usually sunny and warm with temperatures up to 18-22 degrees.
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.
Accommodation is in shared tents, each with two beds, some storage space and charging points. Hot running showers and flushing toilets are provided in a separate block and large, structured tents are used for the kitchen and communal areas. There is reasonable phone signal in Dinokeng and wifi available for work/research.