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Natalie Coles, Zoology student, field trip to the Great Fish River, Eastern Cape, Africa

Natalie ColesI decided to go on the field trip as I had never been to Africa and I'm the sort of person who learns by doing. All field trips in the Faculty give you real hands on, practical experience and I have enjoyed them all. I definitely recommend that future students go on as many as possible to reinforce the subject matter and meet and bond with other students.

Compulsory field courses are free which is great. The Africa course was quite expensive but worth every penny! We definitely got value for money. The programme of activities over the 2-week period was both educational and fun. We had lectures and talks facilitated by lecturers as well as PhD students from Rhodes University on subjects such as elephants, rhinos and managing a reserve. Lectures took place at the University and also in a barn on the reserve! We gave a couple of presentations based on our experiments and research for the day but this was in a very relaxed environment.

Our project was to look at the diversity and abundance of large mammals and birds in two habitats across the reserve. We looked at mammals, birds and vegetation in detail using different techniques. We worked in small teams and shared our data at the end of the trip. We had lots of support from Leeds tutors and local rangers taught us how to identify animals. I particularly enjoyed the night drives as we saw a wide range of wildlife and the more drives I went on, the better I became at identifying animals. The social excursions were a real highlight for me. We went to Addo Elephant Park, swam at Port Albert beach and in the Great Fish River and visited Grahamstown, where we enjoyed learning about the local culture and history.

The whole experience was amazing! The work itself was really interesting and I feel like I have a better understanding of how animals are re-introduced into a habitat. In the future I'd like to pursue a career in animal welfare and maybe charity work.

Group outside farmhouseField courseField work

Student Profiles

Amy Backhouse: BSc Zoology

African Ecology Field Course, Great Fish River, Eastern Cape, Africa

amy photo
"I decided to go on the field trip as I thought it was the most amazing opportunity to meet people from other cultures and be taken to places that I would never have the chance of visiting otherwise.

The overall objective for the group was to study the effects of human influence on the diversity and abundance of animals, using the Great Fish River as a sample site. To investigate this, five groups formed and set up separate experiments looking at different aspects of this overall theme; either large or small mammals, or birds, and the effect of the house we were staying in or the man-made dam within the reserve. Each group were responsible for their project; producing hypotheses and a viable method, but the data collection for the five projects was rotated so everyone had a go at everything. 

monkeyEach individual project produced a detailed insight into the effects of human influence on a certain group of animals, so that when everybody combined their data, we could form an accurate idea of the effects of humans on the abundance and diversity of animals in general. We also had a series of lectures from guest experts in a huge range of fields such as hyena research and cheetah management, to South African biomes and the human history of the country. 

Whilst there was a lot of work to do, it was enjoyable and spread out over the fortnight so it was more active learning than strenuous work.

My favourite times were the days spent in the Great Fish River Reserve collecting data. We were just submerged in the environment, stumbling across gems of nature (and we were lucky enough to have brilliantly knowledgeable walking guidebooks and interpreters of spiked plants, piles of bones, hoof prints, smells and droppings!)  bird image

african sunsetUnlike the compulsory field trips, this one isn’t free, although it is worth it! I’d say definitely do it! It made a lot of the theory learnt in other modules relevant, which then makes the subject much easier to understand and remember. Personally, I also think it encouraged me to work harder during exams the year before because I was so desperate to go!"

At the time of writing Amy was a third year student. She graduated in 2009.