South Africa: my Opwall experience

Tuesday, June 13, 2017 Rocío N. 0 Comments

Fig. 1. Study of the Olifants river from the Struwig Eco Reserve

I should have started writing this post shortly after the topical events occurred. However almost a year later, my lethargic ways continued to engulf my once-motivated spirit, so fully, that I completely forgot I even had this blog. Sorry for the delay.

As a pat on the back for having graduated high school (and frankly because I would have wasted my time in a gap year), I volunteered for a two-week biological excursion with Operation Wallacea in South Africa. This would be my first time in the continent (excluding a family trip to the Canary Islands more than a decade prior) and I was beyond exhilarated – and the fact that my best friends would be present added even more to my adrenaline-pumped packing party with Toto's Africa, the full Rodriguez discography, and soundtracks from Disney movies Tarzan and the Lion King making up my playlist. I was more than ready to spend one week in the bush, and another by the ocean. 

Our Opwall group was stationed in Kruger National Park for the first week. Crucial activities we had to do for Opwall's environmental research projects included bird point counts, habitat assessments, game transects, I could go on. If you follow mine and my best friend Kata's amateur travel Instagram, you might have already seen a few pictures from our trip, which I will post again here:

Fig. 2. The Olifants river, where an array of animals would gather every morning

Fig. 3. Game drive sunset

Fig. 4. We spotted this impala carcass during a tracks and signs lecture. Nearby plotted like seeds on the ground were several balls of hair, presumably from the dead animal. These two signs suggested this was the dinner of a leopard, who are known to remove the hair of their prey and carry them up a tree so they may feast undisturbed.

Fig. 5. Difficult to spot, but here stood a male buffalo. Usually solitary animals, buffalos are one of Africa's Big Five, also including lions, leopards, elephants, and the mighty rhinoceros (currently endangered).

Fig. 6. My experiences with giraffes were almost transcendent...their gigantic eyes and fixated glare brought me to question my existence as a human being. The grace these animals have is indescribable.
Fig. 7. "30/06/2016 – We were lucky enough to see a herd of elephants while on foot. 'The perfect spotting', our guide called it. We were able to observe them without them noticing us."

Fig. 8. Junior Martial eagle

Fig. 9. Baboon family on the run – I grabbed my camera too late and was only able to snap the last of the group
Fig. 10. "On our last walk, our guide brought us along the Olifants river to show us two hippo carcasses; one rather small, one very large, both dead due to starvation."

Fig. 11. The most curious (and the only) mongooses I had ever seen in my life. Their level of cuteness makes it unbelievable how feisty they can be. (Clue: they fight snakes!)

Fig. 12. The picture I am most proud of: an African wild dog at full stride, two of which we spotted hunting. Incredibly mobile and fast, I was lucky enough to capture the rare animal in perfect motion. There are only around 320 left in the South Africa.
Fig. 13. Antelopes in the Balule Game Reserve, Fig. 14. Antelope studies (impala and bush buck)

Even while my pictures and captions describe roughly what we did, our first week in South Africa entailed so much more. Lectures about wildlife preservation and entomology only cover the tip of the iceberg when it comes to other activities Opwall had scheduled for us. More information can be found here. If you are a student interested in biological sciences (with a keenness toward ecology especially), Opwall offers great programmes and volunteer expeditions that are worth every penny. Not only is it a wonderful opportunity, it is very much a life-changing experience. Even students that do not care for the subject field will love it – I guarantee it.

Rocio x