By: I. Weber & B. Zogbi
This June, I had the opportunity to, with the help of Operation Wallacea, visit South Africa, one of the best places in the world to study ecology and conservation. Accompanied by a group of 4 friends (all of whom take IB Biology) and Dr. Hartmann, we spent one week at Balule National Park, a low veld reserve, followed by another week snorkeling at Sodwana Bay.
Balule is a small game reserve insidethe Greater Kruger National Park. The communal area between both reserves is not contained by fence boundaries of any sort, creating a continuous zone of animal movement. Balule supports over 500 different species of birds, almost 150 species of mammals (including all of the infamous Big Five), over 100 types of reptiles and almost 2000 plant species, including Acacia and Grewia, of which we were researching for our IB Biology Internal Assessment, worth 20% of our final grade. The data I collected also serves as an opportunity for future analysis: it can be used to detect trends and patterns, as well as to monitor the health of an ecosystem.
During our time in Balule, we completed an African Wildlife Management course that had direct relevance to our Biology IB course. The course consisted of several lectures, workshops, and hands-on investigations including bird-count points, herbivore-damage surveys, and large mammal game transects.We learned a lot about different biomes, ecological succession, characteristics of ecosystems (abiotic/biotic factors), relationships based on feeding relationships (mutualism, commensalism, parasitism), animal behaviour, population densities, and many other ecology-related topics. Beyond that, we saw a variety of different animals with our own bare eyes, including giraffes, zebras, baboons, impalas, nyalas, and elephants & hippos (which we could see from our campsite’s balcony!)
At Sodwana Bay, we snorkeled and completed an Indian Ocean reef ecology course, which also covered a range of topics of the biology syllabus through a mixture of lectures, and both in-water and land-based practical activities. One of the highlights of the whole trip was the fact we were the only group who saw whales, turtles, and dolphins during the second week. Nevertheless, staff were always cautious, during both weeks, to keep us a safe distance away from any animal nearby, and to reinforce safety measures at all times.
The trip was definitely an experience of a lifetime. We acquired close friends from all over the world – from Singapore to Sweden to Croatia and Romania, you name it! – and constructed our own individual bonds with fauna and flora. We learned a lot during the duration of the expedition, and it’s safe to say we all came back bearing a different perspective on hunting, extinction, and conservation. Oh – and we also know how to identify about 20 different African birds by both sight and sound. Sounds pretty remarkable, right?