Students majoring in wildlife sciences in the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment departed on a study abroad trip to gain hands-on experience and exposure to wildlife management and conservation issues in Southern Africa.
While on the trip, William R & Fay Ireland Distinguished Professor, Wildlife Ecology, Management, and Nutrition Stephen Ditchkoff leads the trip and will be sharing stories and photos of the student’s learning experiences and travels. See below for his daily update.
Most recent update: August 6, 2023.
July 31, 2023
Swaziland, Africa – July 31, 2023: “Hi everyone. We had a great day today. We went on a hike/birding expedition this morning that took us back to the rapids and up the ridge to where we could see down into an active nest of African Fish Eagles (picture of our birders attached). This afternoon the students set out their first set of game cameras for the predator survey we are conducting. Everyone put on a lot of miles in the bush, and there are lots of smiles. Last night sleeping was an adventure for everyone. The hippo decided to camp out in the river right in front of camp for a good part of the night, and we all spent at least a few minutes (more for most of us) awake listening to the bellows, grunts, and wheezes that are sure sounds you’re in Africa. Despite the fact we will likely have the same tunes playing tonight, I’m confident that today’s adventures will lead to deep sleep for all.
August 1, 2023:
“Hi everyone. The students had another wonderful day, and as predicted, they slept like babies. Despite expecting hippos, they didn’t show up. Instead, we were serenaded a few times during the night by bush babies…which make a hair-raising sound (yet another reminder that we aren’t in Alabama anymore). We visited a local community today where the students had the opportunity to visit a homestead and learn about life in rural Eswatini. It was incredibly educational and humbling, yet also a very enjoyable experience for all. To top off the experience, the ladies learned a few moves from a traditional Swazi dance (some pictures attached)…it was laughs for all. Right now, the group is gathered around the campfire cooking and eating smores with the Netherlands researchers that are sharing camp with us. I suspect the sugar and good company will keep them up a bit later than normal, but tomorrow it’s back to the bush to continue setting out cameras for our predator survey.
Until tomorrow, cheers from Eswatini.”
August 2, 2023:
“Hello again from Swaziland. Here’s another quick update on the adventures of our students. Today the students put out game cameras in both the morning and afternoon as part of their predator survey. It was a physically demanding day, but they all left the bush with smiles. As I write this, the students are all (minus one who is in deep conversation with a researcher from University of Swaziland) gathered around the campfire (picture attached). Tomorrow morning we will visit Hlane National Park where they will have their first opportunity to see elephants, rhinos, lions, and hippos (we’ve heard the hippos but not seen them yet). Fingers crossed that the animals cooperate tomorrow.
August 3, 2023:
“Hi everyone. Once again the students had an amazing day…if you measure their enjoyment by smiles. As you can see in the pictures, everyone is having the time of their lives. This morning we went to Hlane National Park and went on our first game drive. They saw lions, elephants, white rhino, and quite a few other species. But what made it memorable was how active the animals were. We had male lions stalking and stealing food from female lions, elephants trumpeting, and more. The students have lots of pictures and stories to share. They had a free afternoon, and most elected to walk to the rapids again. It is an incredibly beautiful spot, and there is a huge diversity of birds in the area. We topped off our day with a drive up the ridge where we could sit and watch the sun set. As I write this (8:00 PM), a few are sitting around the fire, and some have already retired to their tents. Tomorrow is another early day full of adventure, and so they are doing everything they can to get their rest.
August 4, 2023:
“Hello again. Today the students had another enjoyable day. We began the morning by visiting a bird hide (blind) overlooking a waterhole, where we spent about 2.5 hours identifying and photographing a considerable assemblage of birds. We were fortunate to see some rare visitors to the property, so it was a wonderful start to the morning. We then drove off the property and looked at the sugarcane plantation that abuts the reserve, and discussed issues that arise when the wildlife leaves the reserve. We then did some driving through the reserve looking at wildlife, and went on a late afternoon hike where we discussed wildlife feeding strategies and the ways in which the plants and animals in this ecosystem have evolved together. Once again, the smiles tell the story. A few minutes ago, the students loaded into the high-rack truck once again and set out for a night game drive. I’m sure they will share stories of what they see. It’s my understanding that after the drive they have their sights set on smores around the campfire. Tomorrow morning we have a mountain hike to start the day. I will be sure and share pictures.
“Hi again everyone. Our students got a workout today. We began our morning in neighboring Mlawula Reserve, where we hiked up to Kobani Cave. The cave is about a 500 foot climb, but the rock is pretty steep (picture attached). Once to the cave, they had the opportunity to explore the entrance where we found the remains of decades of owl pellets, and other rather gross things that interest wildlifers. One of our students even found a porcupine quill. I’ve attached a few pictures from the cave entrance. After the hike down, everyone’s legs were pretty weary, and so we took a short break after lunch before retrieving the game cameras that we set out the day after we arrived. They’re all fairly proficient in the bush now, and so what took them 2.5-3.5 hours 5 days ago, only took 1.0-1.5 hours today. They are definitely developing some great field skills. Tomorrow we have more cameras to pick up, and who knows what other activities we will come up with.
FYI. In many of the pictures you will see Phumlile and Mdu. They are the head staff at the Savannah Research Center, where we are staying. They are our guides, drivers, and all-around hosts. They have both been working with the Auburn crew since our first trip here in 2017, and they have grown over the years to be my African family. Your loved ones are in wonderful hands.
“Hi again. We had another busy day. We began our day with a short hike where we stopped frequently to identify the birds we saw. We also stopped at a small bird hide where we had some giraffe walk by in front of us (picture attached). The students are all getting quite good with their birding skills. In addition, a few of them may have a future in photography. I have been quite impressed with their birding and photography skills. To free up time in the afternoon, the students elected to try and retrieve all of their remaining game cameras before lunch. They were mostly successful, but didn’t get back to camp for lunch until close to 2:00. The purpose of the marathon camera retrieval was to be able to go back to the bird hide. We went at 4:00, saw some great birds, and even saw a few water bucks come in for water late in the evening. Tomorrow morning we will drive to Manzini where they will be able to shop at the market. I suspect those of you receiving this email will get some sort of souvenir from the market tomorrow. Good night from Eswatini.