Find out what life is really like at Durham University

InternationalStudent experienceUndergraduate

My Field Trip to Mankwe Wildlife Reserve

Who can go?

Level 3 Biology students have the opportunity to take part in a field course module as part of their degree programme. As well as a marine biology expedition in Scotland, there is also an option to participate in the field trip to South Africa. Based in Mankwe Wildlife Reserve, the South Africa field course gives students the opportunity to get first-hand experience in the management and conservation of animals on a private reserve, as well as learn about some of the challenges involved in the conservation of South Africa’s savannah species.

The Wildlife Reserve

Mankwe Wildlife Reserve was founded by Dougal McTavish, he currently manages the reserve along with his daughter Lynne and their small team. The reserve began as a buffer zone around an explosives factory where wildlife continued to persist. Dougal created a healthy ecosystem in this area by introducing new species and constructing roads, dams and camps. The reserve has over 48 species of large mammal and 380 species of bird as well as a range of reptiles and small mammals.

Activities, learning, and free time!

The field course consisted of six days of rotating activities as well as two days to conduct our own research project in small groups, and of course, time to enjoy games drives around the reserve and visit Pilanesberg National Park.

After arriving in the evening, we went straight out on a game drive to see the sorts of animals we would encounter during our stay. Seeing the numerous antelope species and grazers was amazing but stopping to watch a large bull white rhino by the van was a phenomenal experience. During the course of our trip we were lucky enough to see three of the ‘Big 5’, leopard, elephant and buffalo, which also includes lion and black rhinoceros. It was fantastic to see these species in their natural environment!

As well as learning how to carry out different methods of data collection in the field, we learned about wildlife conservation and how the team on the reserve track the animals. Dougal’s

talk on conservation and reserve management was truly eye-opening and inspiring, the passion he and Lynne have for their reserve and all the animals in it was evident. It was amazing to speak to people with personal experience in the field and it was interesting to hear about techniques and conservation issues that I hadn’t even thought of, particularly in regard to the conservation of rhinos.

All rhinos at Mankwe Game Reserve are dehorned to deter poachers from killing them for their horn. The illegal poaching of rhinos for their horn is a huge issue in South Africa, it has resulted in the deaths of over 15 rhino in Pilanesberg National Park so far this year, including pregnant females and those with dependent calves. The work that the reserve does is crucial in the conservation and protection of these endangered species.


While it is difficult to choose my favourite experience from the trip, one of my the best moments while at Mankwe Game Reserve was seeing three rhinoceros grazing by the front of the campsite! Having the opportunity to walk by a herd of giraffe browsing was fantastic, even though we were there to study their droppings! Even watching the elephants play in the water from the hide at Pilanesberg National Park was amazing, to say the least!

I had an amazing time while at Mankwe Game Reserve, it has given me a new outlook on the conservation and management of wild animals and I hope that they can continue to carry out their important work conserving these animals.

Sophie Johnson

Sign up to our Mailing List