On Monday, 25 October, 3 buses, 3 trailers, and the AEL’s Kia departed for the Kgalagadi in a flurry of excitement.
After reaching the park and being scanned in adhering to the Covid-19 protocols, we could finally set up camp. This was a true of teamwork and grit for the students as they erected the two 20-man army tents for the kitchens before moving on to their own tents – no easy task with 30-degree heat and a very tempting swimming pool nearby.
With all the practicalities out of the way – the students were ready for 5 days of immersing themselves in wildlife. This tour is designed to give students practical experience in the Modules that they had been studying earlier in the term, namely conservation ecology, Data collection, handling & Interpretation, Habitat Threats, Personal Development , Fieldcraft and Tracking
This tour lets our students see, first-hand, what habitat management and conservation means in the real world.
Unforgettable Animal Encounters
We started our first evening on the reserve with the first of many game drives and with the sun setting fast, we switched on the spotlight. The two-and-a-half-hour excursion was filled with wildlife sightings that required some eagle-eyed spotting in the dark. We encountered owls, springbok, gemsbok, and blue wildebeest as well as all the canines found in the park; jackal, Cape fox, and bat-eared fox. An excellent first night.
With two game drives daily, the students were able to enjoy the full splendour of the park while gaining invaluable knowledge about their surroundings. Each student was tasked with documenting their sightings scientifically and presenting them to the rest of the group in the form of a field guide. The activity was as informative as it was fun but most importantly it showed us their ability to collect, process and present their observations in the field.
As the tour went on, we experienced several unique animal and bird species on our game drives including some impressive big cats. Not only do we have close encounters with lions, cheetahs, and leopards, we even see a cheetah teaching her cubs how to hunt! Some of the smaller cat sightings include the African wildcat, genet, Cape ground squirrel, and meerkat.
We enjoyed an incredible sighting of a spotted hyena, a bucket-list sighting for one of our students. When he laid eyes on the animal for the first time, he was moved to tears, reminding us of the incredible privilege we enjoy as South African with regards to our natural heritage.
The avid and budding birdwatchers we had on board were treated to various unique bird sightings! We saw the big bird species like the ostrich, kori bustard, and the martial eagle, and delighted in the smaller bird sightings like the pygmy falcon and little weavers. Added to our list are the well-camouflaged Namaqua sandgrouse, the colourful bee-eaters, the impressive secretary bird and the yellow-billed hornbill! Bird diversity is part of our course, and we trust these sightings sparked an interest in our students.
Leadership Skills in Practice
It isn’t all fun and games for our students, though. Upon arrival at the camp, they were divided into four groups and were tasked with various kitchen and campsite duties that taught them valuable organisational skills, delegation, and the importance of teamwork and accountability. Of course, we took every opportunity to enjoy a good old-fashioned campsite braai, sharing stories around the fire – an unforgettable experience for our students.
A Lesson in Respecting Nature
Then came one of those legendary Kalahari storms. We were aware of the weather prediction for our second last day and we did everything we could to prepare. We secured the tents and dug water locks to (hopefully) keep the water out of our tents. We departed for another game drive and while out and about in the park, the storm struck. We experienced gale-force winds and torrential rain but it luckily swept past in less than an hour. As the animals took shelter from the storm in the thickets, we decided to head back to camp.
The storm had clearly decided one of the kitchen tents deserved a different spot on the campsite and several of the student tents are soaked through. A lake had formed in the middle of our campsite but, luckily, most of the tents were out of harm’s way. The students made the best of the mud pools and celebrated the calm after the storm with another classic “bosveld” braai.
Lessons learnt, memories to last a lifetime.
On our last morning, we packed up the campsite in record time, conveniently ignoring the fact that most of our gear was still wet. We arrived back at campus at 14:00 and immediately unpacked our equipment to dry of in the trusty Upington sun.
The only loss of the weekend was an unlucky trailer wheel, other than that, this year’s tour was a huge success and we all feel abundantly blessed to have had this experience.
We aimed to give our students the full Kgalagadi experience (not only as tourists but as future custodians of nature) and with countless wildlife sightings, and memorable nights under the desert stars, we’re happy to say that we achieved our goal.
This is one of two academic tours included in our Academic Gap Year programme. Read about the Richtersveld tour here.