Students at the UmPhafa nature reserve in South Africa.
Eight students have had a trip-of-a-lifetime to South Africa as part of a special collaboration between the University and Colchester Zoo.
The students had the opportunity to volunteer in South Africa at UmPhafa, a private nature reserve run by Action For The Wild, the charity arm of Colchester Zoo. The 6,000-hectare reserve is dedicated to wildlife research and species conservation.
All the students selected for the trip had an interest in animal welfare and conservation and come from a range of departments including Biological Sciences, History and Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies.
Jan Spalek, Short-Term Programmes Manager at Essex Abroad, said: ''This was an excellent opportunity for Essex students to experience the conservation and research work that Colchester Zoo and UmPhafa reserve do in South Africa. For two weeks the students were immersed in variety of activities including night drives, setting camera traps, reserve patrols and anti-poaching walks, game counts, data entry and much more. Although the work was hard, the rewards were priceless - seeing animals in the wild, being able to understand how the reserve operates, debate issues around rhino poaching and, more importantly, learning and developing knowledge and skills that will help them in the future.''
Rebecca Moore, Director of Conservation, Education and Research at Colchester Zoo said: “Colchester Zoo is excited to have teamed up with the University of Essex to welcome the students onto our UmPhafa private nature reserve to learn about our conservation work and pass on practical conservation and research skills.”
English Literature student Siril Grini, who has written out her UmPhafa experience in her blog, said: ''I have learned so much from this experience, being more aware of the issues of poaching to learning that giraffes can actually hide! This was an adventure of a lifetime and exceeded my expectations. I am hoping that the insight into conservation and the charitable work of UmPhafa and Colchester Zoo will help me go into the non-profit sector. I also want to make a difference by educating people about poaching and conservation.''
Fellow English Literature student Alexandra Chappell, who has made a YouTube blog about the trip, added: “UmPhafa reserve in South Africa has been an once-in-a-lifetime experience that has helped me to decide what career I want to go into. I met amazing people and made memories that I will remember for the rest of my life.''
Biological Sciences student Eden Plummer, who has also written a blog about her experience, said: ''The UmPhafa experience was absolutely brilliant! It has been tiring yet you get so much out of it. Every day is different and so interesting and also relevant to my degree.''
To fund the trip, the students took part in crowd funding. This involved using Click, a successful way to fundraise, supervised by the University, which aims to help students fundraise while also meeting them half way if they reach their financial target.
James Martin, Regular and Planned Giving Officer, who organises Click, said: “We’re delighted that so many students have benefitted from our partnership with Essex Abroad, in particular those that went to UmPhafa reserve in South Africa.
“It’s great to see so many students have benefitted from this opportunity to crowd fund, and to make their aspirations a reality. The students were all natural crowd funders, using innovative digital marketing techniques to not only promote their own campaigns, but to help each other’s to. Between them, they raised £13,217 through Click in five weeks, a truly staggering achievement.”
Aby Spanton and Neil Bone, the Project Co-ordinators of UmPhafa, said: “It has been an amazing two weeks with the Essex students. With most of them never having been to South Africa before, they have all acclimatised well. It’s so rewarding to see such a positive change in people during their stay with us and to see the confidence growing in them. A lot of people have their own preconceptions about South Africa (sometimes not all good) but to be able to show them this beautiful country, the wildlife and people has to be the best part of our job. We’re really looking forward to having students from Essex Abroad come out again!”
Check out more photos from the trip on the University’s flickr website.