South Africa, with its abundant and unsurpassed flora and fauna is driving the demand for both local and international Zoology students to finish their post-graduate studies out in the bush. Organisations such as Bushwise are leading the herd with their admission of a number of these students, helping to nurture the conservationists of the future.
For the past seven years the training programmes have helped to provide a deep understanding of the forces that shape the highly structured ecosystems and behaviour of which Zoology, a core biological discipline underpinning current interest and research in conservation, requires.
“Through our various FGASA training programmes we provide learners the opportunity to study animals and their habitats which are not only diverse but continually evolve and are at the core to the future of conservation not just within Southern Africa but the world,” explains Sophie Niemann, director of Bushwise.
Not only a flash-point for post-graduate students who are wanting to further their field practical experience, Bushwise’s Professional Field Guide Course offers in-depth theoretical and practical training over 23 weeks, and a 50-week programme which includes an internship at various top safari lodges and conservation organisations within South Africa.
The programmes are helping to develop and grow the conservationists of tomorrow, including Carole Cerny, a student from France. She says:
“I first came to South Africa in 2012 volunteering with GVI on their lion monitoring project, I heard about the rhino poaching crisis and decided to take action to help. The staff members at GVI amazed me with their passion and knowledge that they gained through the field guide course at Bushwise and I realised for the first time that working with wildlife and conservation in Africa could actually be more than just a dream.
I finally came back to pursue the one year training course in January 2015, with the same goal: working for rhino protection and conservation.
The first six month course was lead by amazing trainers that taught me way more than expected about the bush. Ethics and respect of the environment were highlighted in both theoretical and practical training, which was very important for me. I really enjoyed that we covered many aspects such as ecology, astrology, ethology, and tracking aptitudes to give us full awareness about our surroundings.
I did my placement at Leo, a research program that monitored lions and rhinos where I learned a lot about black and white rhino behaviour, and how to evolve in the bush in their presence. I then contacted Craig Spencer, the head warden of Balule Nature Reserve (part of the Greater Kruger area) and founder of the Black Mambas, the first nearly all female anti-poaching unit, to work with him. His passion and devotion for conservation are recognised worldwide and working for him was, for me, the best opportunity to learn and act.
I started working on his team in January of this year, and have already achieved a lot. My job is very diverse and allows me to see and do a lot for conservation. The rhino monitoring is a big part of the job, but reserve maintenance, animal tracking and darting, and grass surveys are just a few other examples of the work we do to achieve our conservation goal.
In order to better protect our rhinos, I am starting a fundraising campaign to buy camera traps to monitor our rhinos in a less intrusive way. We need camera traps at the main waterholes and game paths to cover the whole of Balule. This will allow us to deploy our anti-poaching units around these ‘hot spots’. I do hope that raising awareness is going to help not only us, but to also help people understand how important it is to protect our wildlife, our heritage, and our planet to allow the next generation to appreciate the bush as we do today.”