Unathi Sifanelo is the 2020 recipient of the Gondwana Conservation Foundation’s (GCF) Tertiary Education Fund bursary. The bursary is awarded to a student who shows promise and passion for nature conservation. The bursary covers the student’s third year university fees, conferences and courses as well as living costs for the duration of their one year practical internship on Gondwana Game Reserve. The internship fulfils the third year practical requirement of the student’s degree and provides invaluable hands on experience to their theoretical environmental studies.
This is Unathi’s account of her year so far:
My year as Gondwana Conservation Foundation (GCF) intern
Author: Unathi Sifanelo
Position: GCF Intern
Covid-19 has brought tons of uncertainty and fear, to a point where I thought my graduation year will be pushed to 2022 because I had already lost three months of my internship. However, even amid such thoughts, I consoled myself that at least I got to do some remarkable things before the lockdown, and I will forever be grateful to Gondwana Game Reserve and the Gondwana Conservation Foundation for this.
In the three months that I spent with the GCF I took part in the dissection of a Buffalo, was involved in herbarium management, waste management, ecological monitoring, and game management. I also visited nine schools in order to educate the children on environmental education which I really enjoyed. I took part in normal day-to-day duties which really gave me an understanding on the running of the conservation department and all the aspects associated with conservation on the greater reserve.
Unexpected Buffalo Dissection
After an extremely wet night on the 21st of January, the conservation department was informed of a dead Buffalo cow. The cause of death was not known. The initial assumption was that it could not stand the night’s cold, however it was important to get a better understanding of the cause of death so the conservation team examined the stomach contents to check if the cow had died from something that it had eaten. During the autopsy it was discovered that the cow had two abnormal ovarian cysts. The initial assumption was discarded and the death of the Buffalo right after rainfall was a coincidence, it was more likely that it had died from the cysts. I had never been so close to a buffalo and to be able to examine it in this way was an incredible experience. One I will never forget!
During my internship with the GCF I have visited nine schools where I had the opportunity to teach and present Grade 6 learners with conservation principles on how they can contribute towards making our planet a better place. We then did an activity with the children to test their understanding and ability to think outside the box. This was very insightful and the children responded positively to the activities. We proceeded to give them a short assignment to do at home and we would use that to select learners to visit Gondwana Game Reserve later in the year. Unfortunately, due to the Pandemic we were not able to invite these learners to the reserve this year, however we look forward to 2021 when they will get a chance again to participate.
I would classify about 60% of the work I did on the Reserve during this time as ecological monitoring. Work under this category would include looking for plants to add to the Reserve’s vegetation list as well as vegetation transects. During vegetation transects we would put out a 20m tape and would, at every 1m, measure the height and width of the closest plant. The data was then recorded in order to add to data forming part of greater ecological studies currently being conducted by the Gondwana Conservation Department on the reserve.
During my time with the GCF we have darted buffalo, eland, and rhino in order to treat the animals, notch them and generally asses their condition. My highlight was when we darted and treated a Buffalo who was losing condition. I was presented with the opportunity to inject the Buffalo with the treatment. This was a thrilling experience! The Buffalo was treated with “rainbow medication” which is basically a series of injections of vitamins to improve the condition.
2020 has posed many challenges due to lockdown in our country, however it has been an incredible experience being part of the Gondwana Conservation Department thanks so to the Gondwana Conservation Foundation (GCF) Tertiary Education Fund. Reflecting on how much I have achieved this year despite the pandemic, has filled me with inspiration and driven me to complete my degree no matter what challenges have come my way.
I have learnt so much and look forward to a career in conservation where inevitably my aim is to safeguard our natural heritage through environmental education.