Wildlife Sciences to offer students study abroad experience in Africa



img_1651Next summer, the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences will for the first time in its history offer wildlife ecology and management and wildlife pre-vet majors an opportunity to gain exposure to wildlife management and conservation issues in southern Africa.

During the 15-day trip scheduled for early August 2017, eligible wildlife students will tour four parks/preserves in Swaziland and will spend two days in Kruger National Park in South Africa. The home base for most of the trip will be within the Mbuluzi Game Reserve located on the banks of the Mlawula River in Swaziland, where they will be conducting daily field activities in this conservation area.

Historical and cultural issues in the region, combined with an extremely unique assemblage of large mammals and other wildlife communities, have created a scenario where many large mammal species are threatened or even critically endangered.  The highly publicized conflict between conservation of wildlife and the value on the black market of body parts of some of these species is one example of the challenges that wildlife managers face in the region.

What is less highly publicized is the issue of land conversion for agriculture and development and the few natural areas that are suitable for populations of large mammals that require considerable space for their existence. SFWS students will be exposed to these management and conservation issues during the trip, which will help them to gain an appreciation for and understanding of the importance of working within economic, social, and cultural constraints when managing wildlife.

Additionally, students will gain considerable hands-on experience. As part of new research projects on impala and guinea fowl, they will have the opportunity to capture, handle, and radio-collar these species. They will also work with game cameras to conduct large mammal surveys in some of the conservation preserves in which they visit. These activities will allow the students to develop an understanding of the unique ecology of African large mammals and their environment.

“Students will trap large mammals, go on birding tours, and have the opportunity to view numerous species of large mammals in their natural environment,” said Wildlife Professor Stephen Ditchkoff, who toured the area this summer and will lead the group. He added that students can expect to see lion, leopard, hyena, giraffe, wildebeest, impala, kudu, bushbuck, nyala, zebra, hippo, warthog, crocodile, baboons, and a large variety of unique bird species.

South Africa’s breadth of wildlife and expansive wilderness areas provide a unique environment where it is possible to observe natural behaviors associated with migration, feeding and social dynamics, free of human controls or influence. “This type of experience cannot be replicated in a classroom, zoo, or even on film,” said Ditchkoff.

The experiential knowledge gained through study abroad is widely known to offer students a host of benefits that contribute to personal growth, improved skills, and enhanced academic learning and performance. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, international experiences are pivotal for broadening a student’s aptitude for cross-cultural communications, understanding global challenges, and developing leadership skills that will equate to advanced career opportunities.

Rising wildlife juniors and seniors from Auburn and Louisiana State University have been issued an invitation to participate. Deposits for the next trip will be required by early spring 2017. Fees will include all airfare, lodging, park passes, supplies, food, and ground transportation. For more information about this opportunity, contact Stephen Ditchkoff at ditchss@auburn.edu.



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