It's been a while since I've posted any stories, and for that I apologize. But I am pleased to announce that my absence was because of a study abroad trip to South Africa, where I was filming a documentary about animal conservation.
My fellow travelers and student filmmakers can tell you that the trip was incredible and very eye-opening. We were privileged to spend three weeks traveling around SA with our hosts from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, who were kind enough to share the wonders of wildlife with us.
The conservation documentary, which has yet to be named, focused around four different species that inhabit the land and waters of South Africa: the African savanna elephant, the black rhino, the African penguin and the great white shark. These species are all critically endangered in their own way, and all of their declining numbers have come from human intervention.
During our trip we traveled to Addo Elephant National Park, where we drove around observing the species of South Africa in their natural habitats. Among our finds were Vervet monkeys, warthogs, zebra, elephants, jackals, cape buffalo, kudu, red hartebeest, springbok and a little yellow mongoose. By talking with the rangers we learned that education is incredibly important to species conservation, because by spreading the word we become more aware of our global impact.
At NMMU we spoke with Distinguished Professor Graham Kerley, who has spent many years researching the elephant of Addo and both white and black rhino species. From him we heard that elephants are not only having a good impact on insect species like dung beetles, but lions actually benefit greatly from the presence of these gentle giants.
According to Kerley, when elephants travel through thick bush, they naturally convert it to a less dense area (through both eating and squashing the plants). While this doesn't always bode well for plant species, it creates more access to prey in the bush, so lions are able to hunt other animals that wouldn't normally be accessible.
By visiting both the South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre (SAMREC) and the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), we learned about the rapidly declining numbers of African penguins. These penguins have been the victims of guano and egg thievery, both of which have hurt generations of birds. Today overfishing and oil spills threaten to deplete the remaining 25,000 penguins, which are critically endangered. But the good news is that rehabilitation centers not only save these birds but also serve as a way for the global community to get involved.
Both SAMREC and SANCCOB take in oiled, injured and abandoned birds and rehabilitate them into the wild. While their main focus is on the African penguin, they take in other birds who have been hurt by predation or human intervention. We were fortunate to tour both facilities and see the work they do. We even watched penguin chicks being fed!
As for great white sharks, we organized a shark cage dive for a few students. While I personally did not attend, my peers came back with a great appreciation for the role sharks play in the ocean's ecosystem, and for the beauty of these great hunters. Sharks have been under attack for years, not just because of their portrayal in the media, but also for their fins. In many Eastern countries, shark fin soup is a delicacy, and thousands of sharks die an agonizing death each year after being captured and having their find severed. By cage diving we were able to connect with experts in the field and learn more about this amazing species.
Overall, the trip to South Africa was a great success, and every one of us are more conscientious about our global environmental impact. While we had a lot of fun on this trip, we returned with the means and desire to create a documentary that teaches about the survival of these animals in South Africa, and how Americans play a large role in their success or decline.
So be on the lookout for more posts about our trip and the animals we encountered, and when the time comes for our documentary's release, you'll be the first to know!
Kerry Skiff is a conservation advocate and recent journalism graduate of Northern Kentucky University. She follows the ivory trade around the world, and uses her voice to educate Americans about their role in animal conservation.