A visit from the Dartmouth College

At ORC, our mission extends beyond our daily work in the field and our commitment to research and conservation. It includes a dedication to sharing our experiences and knowledge with the next generation, igniting the spark of curiosity and inspiring young students to pursue careers in science and conservation.

Recently, we had the privilege of hosting a group of 16 enthusiastic students from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, USA. Our goal was simple yet profound: to provide these budding scientists with a glimpse into the world of ORC, both in terms of our daily routines and lives as field researchers.

For four days, we went through a comprehensive journey, starting from data & sample collection in the field and leading into the realms of data analysis. We started with a brief introduction to ORC and an exploration of our captivating Discovery Centre.

Eager to dive into the heart of our work, we drove out to the Reserve, with the primary mission to collect samples for our bio-indicator programme and service camera traps deployed at waterholes. Little did we know that our excursion would include close encounters with a pair of thirsty elephant bulls and a pride of lions! The students were mesmerized, and who could blame them?

Unquestionably, the highlight of the students’ stay was this breathtaking morning in the field. It was a lesson not found in textbooks, a connection to the natural world that can’t be replicated in the confines of a classroom.

After the exhilarating morning in the field, our next destination was the ORC offices, where the real work began. It was time to dive into the wealth of data we had collected, primarily through our camera traps, and shed light on the lives of the wildlife on the reserve.

Our initial task was to meticulously analyse the camera trap images. With unwavering attention to detail, the students assigned keywords to each image, identifying the species captured in them. It’s a crucial part of our research, as these images provide valuable insights into the number and behaviour of the animals. The next step was to look closer at our historical cheetah images. Here, the students identified individual cheetahs, using distinctive markings and patterns to distinguish one from another. It’s an intricate puzzle that requires both patience and a keen eye for detail.

As the days went by, we presented some of our ongoing projects in more detail. We delved into our research on carnivores in Etosha and our fence ecology work. After a knowledge-packed session, the students were invited to join us in the lab, where hands-on experiences awaited with DNA extraction and PCR for quality control.

But the exploration didn’t stop there. Our students were treated to a unique lesson in plant physiology courtesy of one of our PhD students. With the LiCor machine at their disposal, they delved into the fascinating world of gas exchange and photosynthesis, using mopane trees as their subjects.

Just when we thought our days couldn’t get any more exhilarating, our evenings held yet another treasure trove of experiences for the students. As the sun dipped below the horizon, we retreated to the underground hide at the Andresson’s at Ongava camp waterhole, which offered a unique and up-close opportunity to observe animals. There, the students were introduced to the practical techniques used in monitoring animal populations. As the elephants and rhinos graced us with their presence, we engaged in meaningful discussions on the intricacies of wildlife ecology and behaviour. These moments offered a unique opportunity to witness animals’ unfiltered daily life and activity, providing insights that can’t be gleaned from textbooks alone.

Time, as it always does, flew by swiftly. Before we could fully grasp the impact of our shared experiences, it was time to say our goodbyes. The students embarked on their journey to the next destination, venturing into the captivating landscapes of Damaraland and later to Swakopmund and the Gobabeb Namib Research Institute. Each stop on their itinerary promises a wealth of knowledge and adventure.

In this immersive journey from the field to the lab and the fascinating intricacies of plant physiology, the students were exposed to a multifaceted world of research and discovery. Our aim at ORC is not only to inspire a love for nature but also to equip the next generation of conservationists with the knowledge and skills they need to protect our precious ecosystems.

As we waved goodbye, there was a palpable sense of anticipation in the air. We eagerly await the next student group in 2024 and look forward to continuing this incredible journey with the next generation of passionate scientists and stewards of our environment.