Ah, it had to be done! That first little boastful gushing post after a trip that was so enlightening and mind-blowing you just want to share your experience with everyone.
Yesterday I touched down in London after 6 weeks of gathering data for my dissertation on savannah ecology in South Africa. We were based in a reserve in the Waterberg region around 4 hours north of Johannesburg, called Welgevonden, a private game reserve known for it’s extravagant lodges and ‘Big 5’ wildlife. The Waterberg is so called for its year-round abundance of waterholes, despite the dry season between April and August, allowing for an interesting spatial ecology throughout the 37,500 hectare area, however the nutritional quality of the bushveld is generally poor, limiting wildlife numbers.
My dissertation intends to investigate the impacts of the large elephant population on the quality of the ecosystem using winter bird abundance and biodiversity as an indicator of this variable. Elephants are so called ‘ecosystem engineers’ due to the extent of the damage they cause the habitat through feeding and movement. This data was collected via bird point counts in the early hours, habitat assessments, game count transects and GPS tracking of two herd matriarchs to be collated and compared using statistics and GIS. I am only using winter bird population data as I have access to several years of back data through the May-August period and plan to focus on certain areas of the reserve and track the impact of elephant damage (pre- and post-) on bird populations, comparing different feeding guilds, such as frugivorous and granivorous, for variation in response.
So there you are! My 6 weeks of zoology in a nutshell(ish) but of course the social side, collecting firewood for giant winter bonfires, cooking my lemon drizzle cake for 26, spying on cheetah cubs, darting and crating a 3 tonne white rhino, movie nights, lion wake-up calls, drinking games, marshmallows, jogging along the dirt tracks, watching the sunset, being up for the sunrise, being chased by elephants, it was all just a life experience I’l never forget.
Thankfully I wrote a diary in the last few weeks so I will gradually post up my travelling experiences!