The intern programme on UmPhafa, Private Nature Reserve, offers a unique and exciting opportunity to get involved with the day-to-day activities of a working reserve in South Africa. Not only does the programme offer the chance to live in the beautiful South African bush, but students will also leave knowing that they have contributed to actual conservation work.

In 2022, UmPhafa has so far hosted two groups of interns from East Coast College with many more booked. The first group stayed for the first three months of the year. They were the first group of interns to come to UmPhafa since 2019, as the programme had to be closed due to the Covid pandemic.

These were a group of individuals all from different backgrounds who arrived on the reserve to learn and lend a hand. They loved gaining experience in the bush, learning about the different animals, meeting different people (some of whom will be friends for life), experiencing different cultures and learning Zulu.

Once they said their goodbyes and left for home, the first of our university groups arrived for their shorter two-week visit. The nine students studying animal care at East Coast College were enthusiastic to be in Africa and enjoyed a fast paced experience of everything UmPhafa has to offer.

One of the students gave feedback that the most rewarding part of the programme was “having my main responsibility in life being to wake up and work on a conservation project”

Living on a game reserve can present unpredictable challenges, like dealing with the exceptional amount of rainfall Kwa-Zulu Natal has received in the first three months of the year, but also wonderful rewards. You get to wake up each morning to a melody of bird song and receive almost daily visits to the accommodation garden by a family of warthogs, kudu, and other animals. Drives around the reserve in the open-topped game drive vehicles are also always an opportunity for a possible leopard sighting. The first group of interns were particularly good spotters and saw six leopards in the three months they were here!

These activities could include game counts, bird surveys, night drives, frogging, or insect surveys, which record important data and provide evidence for the abundance of biodiversity that can be found on UmPhafa. The activities also ensure the reserve species lists are up to date. Camera traps are another important reserve activity and are set up for the same purpose. They are especially important to record the more elusive and nocturnal species that can be found living on the reserve such as leopard, porcupine, serval, or hyena that mostly come out at night.

The information collected on the animals is used to make informed decisions on how to manage the animal populations of the reserve. General vegetation surveys, grass and tree surveys are other important reserve activities that interns might be involved with in their time here.

In conjunction with the data collected on the animal populations, the vegetation data is used to work out reserve carrying capacities, or in layman’s terms, the number of animals that can be supported by the vegetation growing across the landscape. This is important for the Reserve Managers to decide to move off or release more animals onto the reserve.

Maintenance is another ongoing reserve activity that the interns will be exposed to and gain experience in. Activities could include anything from fixing roads, managing erosion, reducing bush encroachment or alien plant control. While these are some of the more physically demanding activities, they are also some of the most important for the management of the reserve. Without drivable roads, we wouldn’t be able to do any of the work that needs to be done or see all the animals.

Feedback from the students of 2022 has been really positive. They loved driving around the reserve and learning about all the different animals. Activities such as the reserve-wide game counts made them really feel like they were a part of actual reserve activities, and they enjoyed doing such important work. Leopard sightings and joining the Field Rangers on patrol to experience the important work they do were also both highlights of the programme.

The team here at UmPhafa have thoroughly enjoyed meeting all the interns of 2022 who have made their mark on the reserve. We are looking forward to seeing how the UmPhafa Intern programme will make a difference in the world of conservation and look forward to welcoming future interns to our little slice of bush paradise.

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