Student Adventures Around The World

taplin, south africa

South Africa Map

Taplin was one of 18 college students selected nationwide to research environmental issues in Washington, D.C. and in Africa. The students attended an international environmental summit in Washington and traveled to South Africa in August for a two-week research expedition. The Environmental Leadership Program was developed by Nissan North America and World Wildlife Fund.

A senior majoring in electrical engineering, Taplin is a native of San Benito, TX.

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August 23, 2006

Porcupine Rescue and Farewell to South Africa

On our last evening of research we ran across a porcupine at the game reserve of a nearby platinum mine. The porcupine didnít move out of the road and we discovered that it had been hit by a truck. We took our jackets and sweaters off and lifted the porcupine into the back of our SUV. We met the other research team that was in the reserve with us to let them know we were going back to Mankwe with the porcupine. Moments before we arrived they had seen a newly born white rhino. We called the mine manager to tell him about the porcupine and the rhino baby and he told us that we had to name the rhino since our group had seen it first; we eventually decided to name the baby rhino Pancake. The porcupine was recovering well when I left for Dallas on the 13th.

Game Reserve Management | August 7th and 11th

On August 7th we burned one quarter of the reserve after receiving an explanation of controlled burning techniques and learning about how regular burns improve the nutrition of grazers and foragers in the bush. On August 11th we learned about anti-poaching measures on the reserve and spent an entire morning looking for game snares. We found an antelope that had been shot by a poacher but luckily did not find any snare activity.

Dougal, the game reserve manager, also told us about how he manages the antelope populations on the reserve through the culling and selling of animals. Each night we ate a different type of antelope from the reserve. The food was excellent.

Researching and Den Searches | August 6th Ė 12th

After training we began our study of the Brown Hyena population. Dawn, the head researcher from the University of Brighton, split our group into teams of four. My team spotted a brown hyena during the first night of our call-ins. Our team went on to spot six of the seven hyenas observed during the week and we also found an active brownís den with cubs during our second den search. The mother hyena watched us the entire time we were in the vicinity of the den and we got incredible daytime views of the nocturnal carnivore.

We encountered a lot of large game in Pilanesburg Nationanl Park. Our team had a sub adult male elephant charge us and we encountered a breeding herd of elephants during a game drive. We watched in amazement as a mother elephant flared her ears and trumpeted at a Kudu as she defended her baby. One night after a call-in we saw two young male lions asleep on the side of the road. We stopped to get pictures and they never lifted their heads. Iím sure if we had gotten out of the vehicle they would have perked up. We also saw hippo, baboons, rhinos, a female lion and many giraffe in the national park during our research.

Training at Mankwe | August 4th and 5th

During the first two days at Mankwe camp I received training in distance and angle estimation, hyena scat identification, and the many means of assessing animal populations. The group received instructions on how to conduct hyena night call-ins with pig squeals, how to spotlight for carnivores during the night, and how to record and verify a hyena latrine site. We went on our first game drives in the reserve and helped to set camera and DNA traps around the camp to observe the hyenas. The DNA traps attempt to collect hair from a hyena.

Arrival in Johannesburg and trip to Soweto | August 1st Ė 3rd

We arrived to a very cold morning in Johannesburg which had just received its first snowfall in over 20 years. That afternoon we visited a market where we all received first hand experience in bartering.

The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel with Nissan South Africa and WWF South Africa. After breakfast we met with children and teenagers in Soweto who are working with WWF to improve the water resources in their city. They took us on tours of their homes and we exchanged stories about school and our homes.

Later in the afternoon our group visited the Hector Pieterson memorial unveiled by President Mandela in memory of the young boy who was killed by police during protest of apartheid.

July 31, 2006

Here's the itinerary for the two weeks in Africa. I won't have access to the internet or electricity during the trip but I'll post pictures and notes from each day upon my return.

August 2: Arrival in Johannesburg

August 3: Breakfast meeting with WWF South Africa and Nissan South Africa

Tour of Soweto

  • View Nelson Mandela's residence prior to his 1964 imprisonment
  • View Archbishop Desmond Tutu's residence
  • View Hector Peterson Memorial and Apartheid Museum
  • Observation of Mayibuye Wetland Project

Departure to Mankwe Wildlife Reserve

August 4: Orientation, field training and instructions on how to identify signs of carnivores

August 5-6: Mankwe surveys - assessing signs of carnivores, night drives to observe hyenas

August 7-9: Pilanesberg surveys - observation and night drives

August 10: Kgaswane Mountain Reserve surveys - observation and night drives

August 11: Kgaswane Mountain Reserve - same as above

August 12: Return to Mankwe to assemble data

August 13: Photography safari in Pilanesburg, evening drumming session

August 14: Depart Johannesburg for Dulles Airport

July 11, 2006

Itís not easy being green
Applying to the program was like reapplying to college. I had to submit two letters of recommendation, an essay, personal statements, and an official transcript to complete my application.

Off to the summit
The four-day summit provided a broad overview of environmental initiatives and introduced current environmental leaders in Washington, DC. These leaders provided valuable insight as they described their accomplishments in addressing environmental challenges. The speakers included officials from the South African Embassy, the EPA, Nissan, the World Wildlife Fund, Congress, the World Bank, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. I also learned a lot about leadership from the other students participating in the program and gained a great amount of knowledge from their experiences.

In to Africa
We will fly into Johannesburg and spend the first days visiting the surrounding area, including stops at museums and historical sites. We will spend the last ten days of the trip in Pilanesberg National Park studying brown hyenas and other carnivores in the park. I had several immunizations and booster shots in preparation for the trip. In terms of gear: I've heard if you go to South Africa without a pair of binoculars it's like leaving an eyeball at home so I acquired a pair of those. I'm also borrowing a digital SLR camera.

Hopes and dreams
I hope to develop a deeper understanding of environmental leadership and leave the program with a strong network of leaders. I'm very excited to travel to South Africa and am grateful for the tremendous generosity of Nissan and the World Wildlife Fund.