Summer abroad in Swaziland puts LSU students up close with African wildlife
Ten LSU College of Agriculture students spent two weeks in August studying African wildlife ecology in Swaziland. The students, who are all majoring in natural resource ecology and management, spent most of the study abroad program at the Savannah Research Centre in the Mbuluzi Game Reserve.
There they studied small mammals and birds and learned about conservation management and land use in the tiny African kingdom.
Alexis Burruss a senior from Carville said studying in Africa was a life-long dream of hers.
“Once I got there, I realized I never really thought about what I expected, but it exceeded anything I could have imagined,” she said. “The people, the culture, the animals, it was amazing.”
Bret Collier, an assistant professor in the School of Renewable Natural Resources, who organized the study abroad program and traveled with the students, said the purpose of the trip was to expose them to the field of wildlife ecology in a novel setting.
“Our role as educators is to give these students experiences that will benefit them in the real world,” Collier said. “American students are inexperienced in global issues. These students now have international experience and multiple viewpoints of conservation and land management.”
The Mbuluzi Game Reserve is located next to extensive sugarcane fields so the students were able to see the differences in land management practices between conservation reserves and agriculture.
“I gained a sense of how wildlife policies vary, and how some are necessary for people’s survival,” Burruss said.
Collier stressed that this program was not a vacation, but an experience. The students were up by five most mornings and were active every day surveying birds, mammals, and native vegetation. They slept in tents, showered in open air showers and the camp site had no electricity or internet connectivity.
“It was nice to be disconnected,” said Alexandria Medine a senior from Patterson. “It was relaxing.”
The students went on night time game drives and marveled at the night sky.
“There were so many stars we couldn’t make out the constellations,” Medine said.
The Savannah Research Centre on the Mbuluzi Game Reserve was developed by Robert McCleery at the University of Florida, Ara Monadjem at the University of Swaziland, and Kim Roques with All Out Africa in Swaziland. Staffed by All Out Africa personnel, the area is used as a remote field site for university students and faculty to study wildlife ecology in Swaziland. This was the first group of LSU students to study there.
“We had a bunch of LSU students who had never heard of Swaziland,” Collier said. “They got the opportunity to work with species they had never heard of before or never dealt with before.”
The students caught jackals and genets on game cameras and ate freshly-caught impala and other local cuisine.
Collier also wanted the students to experience cultural aspects of the region. The group visited the self-sustained community at the Shewula Mountain Camp and learned about how the villagers lived.
The students described seeing young children re-mudding their homes or collecting and carrying water from a reservoir back to their village.
There they also tasted home-brewed beer made from maize, which they described as milky, grainy and sour.
The trip was Medine’s first time out of the country. She said the whole experience allowed her to try new things.
“I really ventured out of my comfort zone,” she said.
Lindsay Mullen, a senior from Baton Rouge, said she didn’t consider herself much of a traveler, but signed up for the trip to get experience outside of Louisiana. She said it left her wondering where to go next.
“We were immersed in wildlife, and there was such a richness of species,” Mullen said.
Mullen said she now wants to study ornithology in graduate school and hopes return to Mbuluzi to conduct research on passerine birds.
After studying in Swaziland for 10 days, the students went to the Lower Sabie Camp at Kruger National Park. They went on morning and evening game drives where they saw leopards lounging in trees, elephants taking mud-baths in the rivers, and rhinoceros and buffalo grazing in the grassland savannahs.
Students were also taken on a guided walk by South African Park staff personnel, where students got up close to giraffes, rhinoceros and elephants.
Collier said the students received three hours of credit for the African Wildlife Ecology class and a new outlook on wildlife policy, management and conservation.