Towards the end of last year eight students from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban and Pietermaritzburg) stepped into a minibus to go all the way to Limpopo Province to assist Georgette Lagendijk, a PhD student from the same university, with the sampling of vegetation transects.
The main study area was in privately owned 2,000 hectare reserve within Balule Private Nature Reserve, which is open to the Kruger National Park.
For 12 days the students rose bright and excited before the sun was up, to work in the field and brave the hot lowveld sun. Two to four transects were sampled each day to monitor all woody plants present, and record any browsing damage by any herbivore.
The property, which formerly bred buffalo for hunting purposes, recently dropped its fences, but has maintained a double-strand elephant fence to protect the trees from these giants. This created a nice opportunity to compare the woodland structure and browsing intensity of this farm with the neighbouring properties. This field work fits in well with Georgette's PhD research on how woodland regeneration is affected by elephants and other browsing herbivores.
Besides looking for trees, of which they recorded several thousand specimens (some of them harder to identify than others…) the students spend a lot of time enjoying one of their favourite activities: flipping rocks in search of scorpions, snakes and other lovely creepy crawlies. At the end of the day, despite of being tired, they admired the stars and the clear night sky …a rare commodity for those living in the city.