News - September 25, 2014

‘We were allowed absolutely everywhere’

Who? Daan Bomhoff, MSc Biology en MSc Plant Sciences
What? Thesis research into the competition between two grass species
Where? The Welgevonden Game Reserve near the village of Vaalwater (South Africa)

‘After completing my BSc in Biology in Nijmegen, I came to Wageningen for my Master’s programme. Here, to my joy, I heard it was possible to do thesis research in Africa. I immediately set about making it happen and a few months later I left for Welgevonden. I spent three months there researching the competition between bunch-forming grass and lawn-forming grass. The lawn-forming grass is richer is nutrients, so advantageous for grazers. 

What struck me was that everything was much less organized than in the Netherlands. When I arrived, for example, my supervisors hadn’t yet read my proposal. And there weren’t any of the special bags I needed to create my test set-ups for grass species. When they finally arrived, they weren’t the right size. All this meant lost time and my time was pretty tight to start with. 

For the rest, the trip was a unique experience. Africa is completely unlike anything I was used to. It was also remarkable that we were allowed to go everywhere in the reserve, unlike the tourists. That way you really see a lot of animals. Of the big five the leopard is the only one we didn’t see. Sometimes you even come across more animals than you’d like to. For example, one time we couldn’t get into our hut because a male elephant was standing in front of it. Another time, an elephant was standing in the middle of the road at a place where we couldn’t drive away in reverse. 

Now and then you find yourself in a surreal scene. For example, the park warden once swooped down by helicopter. He landed in our settlement, got out, ran over to his wife who gave him a rifle and quickly flew off in the helicopter. Looking for the poachers whose presence had just been reported. You don’t see something like that every day in Wageningen.’