By Eden L. Plummer

Going on a trip of a lifetime with Essex Abroad, headed by Jan Spalek to UmPhafa Private Nature Reserve was an exciting prospect and has continued to be throughout our stay. Every day we get up there’s something new to do and experience, a new adventure to explore. Every day so far has been tiring but only because we’ve put our all into each day so we can get a chance to experience everything, and if we all go to bed with a smile on our faces then we have fulfilled one of the reasons we came here.

On Monday we did a vegetation survey, recording all the different flora species in the area for part of the day. The other part was taken up by conducting an ethogram, animal behaviour survey, where we watched a group of animals for an hour and recorded what they were doing with a ranger. It was fascinating to watch the animals up close, learn about Zulu culture and experience a small part of the ranger lifestyle.

On Tuesday, the whole group split into two and did a game count, going around the reserve and counting all the animals for data collection. This was an amazing experience because we were out all day just counting every animal we saw which allowed us to develop our bush eyes. Our first full day out on the reserve found us experiencing what the reserve staff do on a weekly basis, which for me was particularly interesting since I study Biological Sciences.

Wednesday brought us back to the reality of conservation and the fact that these animals are in danger. We had a talk on anti-poaching, learning about why people poach, different methods used and how these are tackled or prevented. We then had a presentation about different tracks and the art of tracking.
In the afternoon, we had put all we learnt into practise, seeing how a snare works and doing some track identifying of our own which solidified what we learnt in theory. In the evening, we went on a night drive which allowed us to see nocturnal animals and learn about some stargazing.

Thursday was spent rock packing the fence that surrounded the border between the reserve and the rest of the land outside. This was so animals would be kept in and poachers are kept out. It was hard labour but we were proud to see our progress after we finished and how we worked as a team.

Looking back, we’ve done so much already that it feels like we’ve been here for more than two weeks, let alone just one. Learning how to track and then doing it ourselves, doing game counts and night drives. I’d never have had a chance to do these if I hadn’t come to UmPhafa. I’m looking forward to becoming closer with the rest of the volunteers, going to Nambiti to see the big five game and doing erosion control on the reserve. There’s still so much left to do, I’m sure it’ll be hard for us when we leave, we’ve had an amazing time so far but we will enjoy it whilst we can!

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