Applied Learning and Research Department Update – March 2023

Diploma and short-courses update:  

The three-year diploma in Natural Resource Management was submitted for accreditation with the Council on Higher Education in 2022. We look forward to advising more on this ground-breaking offering once accredited.  

Dr Richard Fergusson has now finalised all but one of the 2023 credit bearing short-courses, which will stand students in good stead when applying for enrolment for the diploma once accredited. These conservation management short courses include:  

  • Data Management & Technology for Conservation 
  • Introduction Biological Systems 
  • Conservation and Social Systems 
  • Holistic Development and Planning 
  • Business Administration for Conservation 
  • Environment and Resource Management 


Investec Gravelotte Research project:  

The first two data collection visits for this year have been completed for this Longitudinal study. Interestingly, in the termite study, which is also being conducted on the site, has shown positive results. Part of researching the health and quality of the soil in this project is linked to the level of termite activity.   

“Basically, a soil with active termites is a healthy soil and termites are essentially the earthworms of savanna soils. There are many different species (600+) but functionally they do what earthworms do in temperate regions. They are ecosystem engineers, moving soil from below ground into structures above and below ground. The structures aerate and cool soil and they harvest massive amounts of vegetation and take it underground, using it to cultivate fungus gardens. This then digest the cellulose in plant material, releasing nutrients underground and creating all sorts of interesting ecological interactions hence us measuring the level of termite activity at the Gravelotte site,” said Dr. Richard Fergusson. 

The other main activity at the site over the the first two months has been the setup of a research camp that will make site visits more efficient, and in the future, provide housing to students onsite. The major rains, as mentioned in the Field News section of this newsletter, delayed some activities, but the plan and initial development stages remain in place. After the rains cleared, the team was able to continue building and set up the tents. 

An app has also now been developed using the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) product, FieldMaps, which assists in finding research plots and capturing data for the ArcGIS online platform. In addition, this assists in recording and organising the information in one central area. 

Our sincere thanks is extended to Investec for their support of this project both last year and again now in 2023!

Student Exchange:  

We are waiting on final agreements and arrangements before a date can be set for the arrival of students from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Benin. This is a collaborative programme with The Regional Post-Graduate Training School on Integrated Management of Tropical Forests and Lands (ERAIFT) in Kinshasa and the College of African Wildlife Management (CAWM) in Tanzania to train the Responsible Resource Use module at these locations and to host MSc students at the SAWC.  The students have started with the development of their research proposals and regular meetings are held with the different team members. The initial outlines have been submitted for revision and further conversations on the details of the projects are in progress. We are hoping the students will arrive soon. Their projects will contribute to the longitudinal studies being conducted by the SAWC. 

Research Unit data management:  

Volunteers from the Geographic Information System Corporation (GISCorp) are planning to be back at the College at the end of April and for the first week of May. They have provided the team with great support and ideas online which provides an opportunity to fine tune what has already been implemented.  

Through the National Geographic grant, it was possible to setup an ArcGIS online environment for the collection, management, and presentation of information. The tool is being used to support the longitudinal studies being conducted. The apps that are developed and being implemented include a Quick Capture application for the rapid collection of animal positions.  

 A further data collection tool which is being developed will use ESRI’s FieldMaps app to support maintenance in the management in the SAWC’s water infrastructure. This will enable the team to see their location in relation to the pipe system using FieldMaps’ Geographic Information System (GIS) and Global Positioning System (GPS) capabilities.  

There are exciting developments in the pipeline where we are partnering with GIS students that will assist in creating the base layers that will drive these apps. With the cuts in power usage and loss of internet, it is a great time to test these apps’ offline capabilities and how they will function in areas with minimum connection compared to the training area around the College. 

Here is a preview of the Wildlife Observation App used in QuickCapture :

Critical Species Vulture Research Project:  

The Longitudinal study is slowly gaining momentum as conversations and agreements with the relevant parties are being reviewed and signed off.

FieldMaps App for Regenerative farming and Wildlife Observations: