Published on 20 November 2012
20 November 2012
A University of the Sunshine Coast student who witnessed the aftermath of a cheetah kill, heard the resonating roars of a lion attack and helped test rhinos for tuberculosis has returned home after an adrenalin-filled work placement in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
Third-year Environmental Science student Caroline Berkeley, 48, of Delaneys Creek said the wilds of South Africa provided an exciting backdrop for her recent month-long stint with the Skukuza Indigenous Plant Nursery.
“I have travelled the world and this was truly the most amazing and exhilarating trip I have experienced so far,” she said.
“On my first day of fieldwork, we were unable to collect data because of a cheetah kill at one of the data collection starting points. There were also elephants, impalas, giraffes and zebras grazing in the surrounding savannah.”
Ms Berkeley said she was involved in field work which required her to travel up to 6km a day on foot accompanied by two armed field rangers.
She assisted with several projects including one which examined the decline of the Marula (Sclerocarrya birrea) tree in the Kruger National Park.
“The purpose of the Marula Population Dynamic Project is to assess whether climate change, human impact or elephants are the primary cause of the species demise,” Ms Berkeley said.
“We went out and examined the damage to these trees and took tree trunk samples. We measured the height of the trunks and checked their gender to see if the elephants were favouring female or male trees.”
“At this stage, scientists do not know if elephants are primarily responsible for the demise of the Marula. However, if they are, a management strategy will have to be put in place.”
Dr Sheila Peake of USC International said the opportunity for students to travel to South Africa was made possible through funding from the University’s Global Opportunities (GO) Program.
She said the University's strong links with South African National Parks (SANParks) also helped enable USC students and staff to work, study and conduct research in exciting flora and fauna conservation areas of South Africa.
Ms Berkeley, a former marketing and public relations executive, said she was now looking forward to utilising her Environmental Science degree and putting into practice some of the skills she has learnt in South Africa.
— Michelle Widdicombe