News - June 30, 2016

Charged by a lone buffalo

Who? Tim Leeuwis, MSc student of Biology
What? Thesis research on interactions on the savannah
Where? Nelspruit and game reserves around the Kruger Park in South Africa

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‘I stayed in South Africa for a total of four months. I spend three months on my research and one month travelling around with my girlfriend. Both the research and the travels afterwards were a very special experience. The only problem was that my visa expired after three months, so it was a bit hairy at times when we were travelling. Luckily I didn’t get caught. But because I outstayed my visa I can’t go back to South Africa for five years now. That’s annoying, particularly when I was invited to a conference on ecology in the Kruger Park. It meant I couldn’t go.

During my research I stayed in a kind of comfortable outhouse in my supervisor’s garden in Nelspruit. I studied the interactions between grazers, trees and grass. I looked at elephants as well because they are an unusual species in terms of interactions. Elephants can have a big impact on trees. My research entailed modelling and inputting of data, as well as field work. During the field work was walked transects identifying the vegetation. We also looked at the game that was present at each place.

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There were a few tense moments during the field work. One was when we were charged by a lone buffalo. We all shinned up a tree as fast as we could. I’ve never seen a 63-year-old man climb a tree so fast. Another time we skipped a transect because there was a lion sleeping under a tree that we had to tie a string to. Happily, the worst injuries we incurred were scratches from the bushes we had to walk through to plot the transects.’