In February 2018, I joined the African Impact team for two weeks in the breathtaking South Africa, focusing on community outreach and conservation research. While making lasting connections with volunteers, staff, and community members, I also made meaningful connections with the flora and fauna, reaffirming my passion for conservation education.
After School Reading Club
In some parts of South Africa, students learn in their native language until a certain age, and then curriculum abruptly changes to English. During this quick transition, it's very easy for students to fall behind, and, in some cases, never quite catch up. To ensure children can flourish in their learning environment, we held Reading Club every week. Here, we would read a book to the entire group, then spend one-on-one time with each child as they read a short book to us, and then play high-energy, exciting games we designed to promote further learning. It's an indescribable feeling to see a child get so excited about reading and learning.
Wildlife Data Collection
With the Big 5 disappearing as quickly as it is, data collection is essential to the conservation of these incredible animals. On each game drive at several different reserves, we recorded information such as GPS location, body condition, specific activities/behaviors, time of day, weather, and other statistics for each rhino, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and lion we came across. In most cases, we were able to make ID kits for each animal, so we knew exactly which individual we were observing. We also collected data via camera traps, and took side data on other species that don't belong to the Big 5, such as giraffes, antelope, aardvarks, hyena, and more.
South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. To create jobs and build relationships with community members, African Impact has created and managed several vegetable gardens. This has employed community members and also allowed them to hone in on their skills, opening up many opportunities for their futures. Each week, would would work with the community at the gardens, digging trenches for irrigation, leveling out land, and more, all while learning about each unique crop from the residents. At the end of each work day, we would purchase veggies from the community. A truly gratifying experience for all!
Hostile Species Removal
While it is native, so it can't be called invasive, the river thorn plant has become incredibly destructive to surrounding flora. It's vine-like and fast growing, and wraps around neighboring trees and shrubs, suffocating them until they die. As many of these plants are a food source for wildlife, river thorn is depleting an important resource. This paired with habitat loss from human development creates a huge problem. Each week we'd head into the forest armed with gardening tools (machetes included!) and do our best to remove as much river thorn as possible. A couple cuts and scrapes were worth it to see the major difference just a couple hours made!