Overview

26th July – 22nd August 2020

UPDATE: only 1 place remains for the 2020 course. We will also be registering early interest for Summer 2021 if you can’t make next year.

The Programme

Students being taught DNA sampling methods.

This is a comprehensive four-week Field Course designed for students looking to develop their practical skills in Field Biology. Supervised by acclaimed Field Academic Dr. Gregory Rasmussen and his team in Zimbabwe, the course follows on from a successful first year (2019) hosting 7 dedicated international students from University of Plymouth, Exeter, Greenwich, Royal Institute of Technology (Denmark), and Dallas (USA).

Dr. Gregory Rasmussen is an African canid specialist who has over 20 years experiences mentoring local and international undergraduate, Masters and Doctoral students. Greg as your full-time supervisor gives close mentorship and scientific supervision throughout the 4 weeks. The programme has been carefully thought through to give real experience working on an ongoing Painted Dog research project, and to teach real practical skills for working in the field. These skills are truly valuable for all field biologists. The teaching is personal considering the size of the group (just 7) and classes are “in practice” on the real research challenges/tasks encountered as a field biologist. There are also a series of informational lectures from Greg and local researchers.

Setting one of the many camera traps!

By the end of the programme you will have gained knowledge of African ecology, developed & tried out the key methods for biological data collection in the field, with a focus on camera trapping for biodiversity monitoring, as well as DNA data collection. Last year’s course made incredible new discoveries, including a new population of cheetah in the area, as well as gaining new insights into the Painted Dog pack territories and movements, this new information led to one dog being radio collared.

It is important for each student to also understand how to integrate field projects with local communities, so a week is designated for designing your own local conservation initiative.

 

Incredible new cheetah population recorded.

Over the course of the month, you will have spent 7 nights camping out in a remote field site (on 2 field trips), home to the Big 5 game and of course the African Painted Dogs, which is Greg’s ongoing research project focus. The time working remotely in the field with Dr. Greg and his team (including his tracker MK) is a true privilege – learning first-hand off of decades of experience, whilst having unique scientific access to a field site with high biodiversity and abundance of African fauna.

Super excited just after a lion spotting in the early morning (Land Rover Defender team 1!)

Location

Rondavel Accommodation – Simple but homey!

Students are based at The Painted Dog Research field station in Sizinda, a 30 minute drive outside Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Student accommodation is in traditional rondavel huts with individual private rooms. We like to describe this as a homestay style of accommodation – this is the location where Greg, his field team and visiting researchers all stay and this is their “home”. All students and the team eat together at the end of the day around the outdoor fire (listening for any nearby Hyaena calls!). There is a family feel on site and this is all part of the experience.

The remote field sites are around the base in Sizinda, the Matetsi Safari Area and Hwange National Park, where all the Big Five animals are present (Elephants, Lions, Leopards, Buffalo, Rhino). When on overnight field trips, you will be sleeping in your own swags provided.

Map of the field study area.

Weekend Activities

The first 2 weekends are set aside for “tourist” activities, staying in Victoria Falls on the Saturday nights in dorm style accommodation with the group. On the first weekend you will go on a Zambezi safari river cruise, where you will spot Hippos and other game. The second weekend is a trip across the border to Botswana to nearby Chobe National Park, where you will go on 2 game drives. So don’t worry we have organised for you to get a taste of the tourist style of animal spotting on safari too!

About Dr. Gregory Rasmussen   

Dr Gregory Rasmussen with Jack Randall.

Dr. Gregory Rasmussen has been exclusively working with Painted Dogs since 1989, working in the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. He is the founder of Painted Dog Conservation and is currently the head of Painted Dog Research Trust (PRDT) in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (www.painteddogresearch.org). Greg single-handedly put Painted Dogs on the map as a flagship species and his data on the Painted Dog pack relationships in Zimbabwe and the surrounding areas has been invaluable for TV and Research into this unique species. For Greg, conservation must always work for the animals, the scientists and, importantly, the local people. The PDRT base at Sizinda is a pioneering project in both community conservation and science.

Greg uses data and research as the guiding tool to conservation. He mentors overseas and Zimbabwean students with the intention of creating a generation of motivated, field competent, and passionate conservation biologists.

GPS collaring a painted dog (August 2019).

A fascinating story on Greg: In 2003, while tracking a rhino, Rasmussen survived a plane crash which left him severely injured and alone in the African bush. He endured 36 hours of horror which left him paralyzed, both legs crushed, in extreme pain and no water, fighting off lions and hyenas. He was eventually rescued and almost lost his feet but doctors saved them. He is 3 inches shorter today and is known for his amazing research, excellent storytelling, and energetic spirit. The story of his survival is featured in season one of “I Shouldn’t Be Alive”, a documentary series broadcast on the Discovery Channel in an episode entitled “Jaws of Death”.

About Made in the Wild & Jack Randall

Made in the Wild’s mission is to spotlight creature and habitat diversity. Run by Jack Randall, he was supervised by Dr. Greg Rasmussen for his own field work in Zimbabwe! 10 years on, they designed this field course, understanding what a true learning experience it is working with Greg! As well as hosting the course, Jack and Made in the Wild produce wildlife films. You can check out Jack’s adventures on his National Geographic WILD television series “Out There with Jack Randall”.

Course Itinerary

WEEK 1 – INTRODUCTION TO AFRICAN ECOLOGY & SAMPLING METHODS

Arriving on Sunday 26th August at Victoria Falls, you will be picked up by Dr. Rasmussen and the Painted Dog Research Field team and go to Sizinda, your base for the month. The first week covers an overview of the ecology of the surrounding area, introduction to data collection, with practical workshops on vegetation sampling around the surrounding area. Greg is supported this week by guest lecturer/supervisor Dr. Edward Mufandaedza.

*1st Saturday night in Victoria Falls, Rest Camp*

Included “tourist activities” are a visit to the Vulture Feeding at Safari Lodge and a Sunset Cruise Safari on the Zambezi River.

WEEK 2 – FIELD SURVEYING & DATA *Field Mission* 

This week introduces you to working in the field, with 2 nights camping in the Matetsi safari area field site. Workshops cover required bush skills & tracking from in-house tracker MK.  You will work on camera trapping data collection & other fieldwork (DNA collection from faecal samples etc). On return to base, Greg will introduce his historical data from the Painted Dog Research Programme (including picture IDs and satellite locations), and begin to analyse the camera trap data.

*2nd Saturday night in Victoria Falls, Rest Camp* 

Included “tourist activities” is a trip to Chobe National Park across the border in Botswana (no visa required) on a traditional African safari.

WEEK 3 – DESIGNING COMMUNITY CONSERVATION INITIATIVES

In this week, you will learn how to design & implement community conservation initiatives. You will visit the local communities on a proactive conservation initiative, as well as work directly with Zulu (in-house PDRT Education Officer) to develop a Kids education & skills swap programme.

*3rd weekend not free, as you will be preparing for the field mission, leaving on Sunday*

WEEK 4 – HWANGE NATIONAL PARK FIELD MISSION *Field Mission*  

The final week you will spend 5 nights on an expedition. The mission is to collect data from the sample sites, as well as observing/searching for Painted Dogs for photography and observational data – depending on the project needs at the time this may include a “collaring mission”. You will gain an in-depth knowledge from Greg and his field team, with daily practical workshops on the ecology of the area.

You will be dropped off at Victoria Falls airport on Saturday 22nd August.

Fees

UPDATE: only 1 place remains for the 2020 course. We will also be registering early interest for Summer 2021 if you can’t make next year.

£2,600 per student*

Places are limited to just 7 students. Exclusively open to Undergraduate and Master’s students.

The fee includes food, accommodation, staff supervision, overnight field trips, weekend accommodation in Victoria Falls and the extra-curricular safaris/activities specified. Students must cover cost of their own food/drinks on the first 2 weekends.

*Fee does not include 50 USD visa entry or travel insurance (proof of your insurance is required).

Payment Schedule

  • A £300 deposit is required per person to secure your place
  • 31st March 2020 – £1,150
  • 30th June 2020 – £1,150

If you are interested in enrolling for the 2020 course, please let us know via email ([email protected]) and we will send an Application Form for you to complete and also set up a Skype call to answer any specific questions you may have to make sure the course is right for you.