Applied Learning and Research & Development (ALRD) – Update June ’23

The ERAIFT project 

We had a group of students from the Regional Post-Graduate Training School on Integrated Management of Tropical Forests and Lands (ERAIFT) project sweating in the field over April. They have completed their fieldwork, and most are done with writing for their theses. They now have a lot to work on since they received feedback from the supervisors and need to make the necessary changes. Should you find a light on in the ALRD building late at night, the chances are that you will find a student hunched over their keyboard wrangling while putting their ideas and findings on to paper. We were so impressed with these students and all their hard work, dedication, and perseverance. Being in a foreign country, with a foreign language and then having to present the final document of your studies in this language is not an easy task, even with tools available to assist in translation. 

Although their time here with us is slowly coming to an end, we want to wish them all the best and trust that they will keep in touch. 

GVSU group from America 

We were also joined by a group from Grand Valley State University (GVSU) who visited the College for fieldwork. This was a fantastic opportunity to test some theories and methods in the field with a group of willing students. The students were given their first introduction to conservation and the importance of vultures by Peter Hamming, one of our department’s researchers who is heading up the critical species longitudinal study on vultures. They were further guided in the principles of scientific research and the importance of detailed recording.  

The students had to identify trees and measure stem circumference and height. This to better understand which trees vultures prefer to use for nesting. It had, however, been raining a lot the night before, which resulted in a flooded river. Our plan was to search for vulture nests on both sides of the river, but this was not possible because the supposedly dry riverbed was now knee-deep in water. 

The thought was to try again the next day to cross the river but unfortunately there was still too much water in it. After a delicious lunch, which was prepared by the hospitality team, a decision was made to try and cross the river now that the water had subsided enough and was only ankle deep. With their shoes off, the group began walking and it was a wonderful sight to see. We had lecturers smiling with childlike joy splashing through a river in Africa. We could see a special memory was being created which they could tell family and friends back home. It is always a bit nerve-wracking to walk in a river where crocodiles and hippos could be but nonetheless, and given that it was only ankle-deep, everyone was safe and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. 

The fieldwork and study were a success with students learning a lot about metric systems, the use of images, and the sorting of data after fieldwork. We hope to make use of the data collected to inform future studies in our training area.

Field Trip to Sterkspruit Nature Reserve 

My name is Salphina Ntombikayise Sathekge. I am a Groen Sebenza Intern in the Department of Applied Learning and Research Department at the Southern African Wildlife College. I am involved in the Sterkspruit projects for The Regional Post-Graduate Training School on Integrated Management of Tropical Forests and Lands (ERAIFT) students.  

We went for a field trip in the Sterskpruit Nature Reserve for a week, where I assisted students to collect data for the butterfly project that is taking place there. I also made sure that students were well fed every day and that the house they were staying in was clean. I helped students to collect butterfly data with Fern Bain (ALRD intern) assisting us. This was something I had never done before as my research I had done for my Honours and Masters focused mostly on water quality, pollution, cyanobacteria (cyanotoxins), toxic metals in soil, plants and irrigation water. So, this was all new to me and learnt so much! 

I now can recognise some of the butterfly species and every time I see a butterfly, I wonder what kind it is. It was interesting to learn about butterfly biodiversity and how it changes at different latitudes within the Sterkspruit Nature Reserve. We also learnt about why certain species of butterflies were discovered on one side of the mountain and not the other and this was surprising and encouraged me to think critically as a researcher and scientist. 

It was a wonderful trip which I was very grateful to be able to go on. 

A picture of the Sterkspruit group in the morning ready to go to the field for Data collection

Gravelotte Research Camp 

My name is Nathasha Rebotile Mahunye. I am an intern at the Applied Learning and Research Department. For two weeks I was at Gravelotte farm with four of the other ERAIFT students along with Peter Hamming and Cliford Nxumalo.  For the first few days, I was focused on collecting data for the termite toilet paper-roll study. I also assisted three of the students with their projects which included; water infiltration, small live mammal traps and camera traps for big mammals. I was also responsible for the housekeeping, ensuring the camping area was clean at all times, food was prepared, and the equipment were organised accordingly.  

It was my first time practically doing a camera trap for mammals, which was very interesting. In my undergraduate studies, I performed a small live mammal trap for one of my projects back then and it was very unfortunate I couldn’t trap any small mammals, however, during this research time I actually managed to catch some of the small mammals and identify them then releasing them unharmed afterwards. I was able to learn so much in my time at Gravelotte which i had never been exposed to before. I am returning home with new methods of research and techniques on how to more effectively conduct my studies which I am very excited about.