Canterbury College students' life-changing trip to South Africa

Thirty-seven Canterbury College students recently embarked on an eleven-day trip to South Africa expanding their experience and furthering their studies. The students from HND Applied Animal Science (AAS) and BSc (Hons) Biology and Wildlife Conservation (BWC) visited Kruger National Park, Somkhanda Game Reserve and Kosi Bay.

Kruger National Park is nearly two million hectares, making it roughly the size of Wales, it offers more species of wildlife than any other African game sanctuary and is part of plans to create a Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park between South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The students took part in this section of the trip to gain insight into the current management aims and challenges of one of Africa’s largest wildlife areas, and to evaluate the roles of public and private conservation areas. The students also took part in a two-day game drive, observed cattle dipping and gained information on the Zulu nation.

Stewart Pears, AAS student, said: “The trip was definitely a life changing experience. It was a complete break from what life is like in the UK.”

Robert Standen, student, said: “The trip changed my perspective on most things. After involving myself with the community I now appreciate what we have from an educational perspective. It was a really enriching experience.”

Somkhanda Game Reserve is run by both African Insight and Wildlands Conservation Trust ­– the third largest non-governmental organisation in South Africa that aims to provide sustainability. The land is owned by the Gumbi tribe as a result of a series of successful land claims. As this land supports the community, develops partnerships with stakeholders and holds value in its biodiversity the students were able to gain a lot from this part of the trip, including information on how wildlife can be a channel for economic development and social uplift. Students were given a demonstration on the use and importance of camera traps, how to track game and basic Bushveld ecology.

Maureen Collins, Programme Leader HE Animal Sciences, said: "They discovered how the hard – and often harsh – realities of conservation differed from their idealistic views held before the journey. Conservation is a hard-fought battleground of compromise between resources and hope.  It was sometimes a rude but mostly an amazing awakening."

The final part of the trip included a visit to Kosi Bay. Situated close to the border of Mozambique, the bay is in fact a complex estuarine ecosystem containing four lakes fed by the Siyadla and Nswamanzi Rivers. The best bird watching opportunities in Southern Africa can also be found here. The students were able to take part in a turtle nesting night tour, a boat cruise on Lake Jozini, to explore the estuary by boat and to inspect ancient fish traps, which all furthered their knowledge of South African ecology.

Jane Whittington, BWC student, said: “It was incredible. I would recommend this trip to anyone. It has given me a new love for birds, we learnt loads about tracking and trees and the importance of responsible tourism was highlighted to us.”

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