Imagine a typical day in the life of a Wildlife Research Intern at Ocean’s Campus...
Before 8:30am, you have already scarfed down breakfast and are finishing off the last bit of toast in the passenger seat bound for Gondwana Nature Reserve. Reference book in hand, you spot Orange-breasted Sunbirds and yellow Cape Sugarbrids in the entrance to the 14,000 hectacre park. Cheetahs are the target animal for the morning however. You assist expert ranger Jo Fourie in triangulating the exact location of two collared bachelors not far from the visitors’ lodge. This requires tracking by foot and wheel as you make your way through savanna grasslands and up fynbos knolls. Inspect some scat, study a faint print in the track (rhino, you deduce), scout the raptors trolling the plains, then makeshift a pond-side camp for a lunch of your own. The afternoon consists of another game drive, this time to record the behaviors of giraffes within a predator reserve. Rays of sunshine filter through the window; you can feel them bathing down your neck and arms as you follow the patterned long necks with your binoculars. On the short ride back to campus, you chat with Jo about the day’s data, but also about the wonders of ecology, the folktales of animal behavior, and the finer details of life. Another day, another adventure. One thing is certain: Tomorrow will be entirely different.
The Wildlife Research program debuted in May, 2014 as an addition to the suite of eight other educational internships offered by Oceans Campus, in Mosssel Bay, South Africa. It sets itself apart as the only program dedicated solely to developing the skills necessary for running a terrestrial research project. Interns learn various scientific methods for compiling and analyzing professional level research on wildlife species. Projects may involve birds, insects, small animals, and/or large animals like caracals, rhinos, and elephants.
Two years in the making, the program kicked off this month with a bang. First-time intern, Alex Raposo, spent a full week camping in the African bush with senior instructor Arno Smit. There, she learned the technical as well as survival skills that would help her understand the bio-diverse environment on a profound level. When she wasn’t around the fire or procuring dinner, she was tracking animals, learning to identify their footprints by size, shape, and impact. She also studied various scat samples, practiced how to best approach animals, and even got a tutorial on how to properly defend herself in an adverse wildlife encounter.
By the end of her time in Gondwana, Alex will have composed a research proposal of her own design. She plans to return to the University of Toronto where she will be a senior this year in order to complete her degree in Biodiversity and Conservation Biology.