On the Expedition
Help improve the odds for brown hyaenas and other carnivores in spectacular Pilanesberg National Park and surrounding areas
Your team will explore protected and unprotected lands in search of wildlife, particularly brown hyaenas and other scavengers, species that are critically important to any ecosystem. Depending on the research site, you’ll conduct wildlife surveys on foot or from vehicles, looking not only for the hyaenas and jackals themselves but also for their tracks, droppings, feeding sites, dens, and other signs. You’ll help to camera trap to discover what carnivores live in different habitats and help to discover how they can survive with humans. You’ll help trap and identify different species of the industrious dung beetle, some of the region’s most beautiful insects, ranging in color from the metallic iridescence that’s earned some of them the name “scarab beetles” to patterns that help them blend into their surroundings to inky black. You’ll also conduct predator population counts at night, including conducting spotlight transects where you may also encounter lions, leopards, and other carnivores. (Many past volunteers report that this activity is one of the most thrilling field research experiences they’ve had.)
Much of the work will take place within and in areas surrounding Pilanesberg National Park, which offers dramatic scenery in the remains of an extinct volcano. During your expedition you may also see zebras, impalas, white rhinos, elephants, wildebeest, lions, and leopards. In your recreational time, you may enjoy game drives, sundown drinks on the kopje (rock outcrop), and local cultural events such as braais (South African barbecues).
Earthwatch Team Facilitator
An Earthwatch Teen Team Facilitator will join your team to provide additional guidance, supervision, and activity organization for the expedition. Your facilitator will be there to help from the time you step off the plane for the team rendezvous to the end of the expedition. He or she will encourage team spirit by planning events such as team building exercises, presentations, and recreational and cultural activities. If you have any questions or problems during your expedition, such as issues with another student volunteer, homesickness, or an emergency back at home, you should feel comfortable talking to your facilitator. You should also follow the advice and expectations set by your facilitator regarding safety and personal conduct. All Teen Team Facilitators have experience teaching and leading groups of teenagers and are familiar with the team dynamics necessary to make each expedition a success. Remember, your facilitator is there for you! (Teen: Facilitator ratio: ~6:1)
Meals and Accommodations
You will be based at a field camp in the heart of Mankwe Wildlife Reserve, a classic bushveld landscape just east of the Pilanesberg massif. The reserve is home to white rhinos and a range of other endangered wildlife. You’ll sleep in either a small field station or a walk-in safari tent, each with its own shower and flush toilet. The camp has a generator, solar-powered lights, and wood-heated water. Team members will share meals in a group dining area, with a local chef preparing international and local cuisine, including poitjiekos (game stew) and braai.
About the Research Area
The project’s main study sites are all located within 30 miles of the Pilanesberg massif, northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa. The landscape is part of the Southern African bushveld, a classic African savannah of mixed grasses spotted with trees. This savannah area covers the southeast corner of Botswana, southern Zimbabwe, and northern South Africa.
Pilanesberg National Park was created in 1979 in the remains of an extinct volcano, providing a dramatically scenic park. The area covers approximately 50,000 hectares and is surrounded by an electric fence that prevents large mammals from entering or leaving the park. Here you will find mixed acacia trees and broad-leaved bushveld, ranging from thickets to open grassland patches. There is a large dam (artificial lake) in the center of the park and several smaller permanent water areas scattered about.
Since the park’s creation, over 6,000 individual animals have been reintroduced into the area. This includes all species that were thought to exist here before European settlers arrived, with the exception of the spotted hyaena. Many large herbivores are seen regularly, including zebras, impalas, white rhinos, elephants, and wildebeest. The park’s reintroduced predators include about 40 lions, 20 cheetahs, and a pack of wild dogs. Populations of leopards and brown hyaenas were already present when the park fence was constructed, and both populations are now thriving.