Alumni Spotlight: Erin Wallace


Erin Wallace is from Piscataway, New Jersey (USA) and is currently working towards a dual degree in Animal Science and Biology and hopes to attend graduate school. She enjoys hiking, going to the gym, and playing with her dogs. She volunteered with Operation Wallacea in July and August of 2013.

Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Operation Wallacea in South Africa?

Erin: I decided to participate in Operation Wallacea because I wanted to explore the concept of research in animal science, and I have always wanted to go to Africa, and this program fit exactly what I wanted to explore.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Erin: Each day in the bush would include a lecture and a bush excursion. The lectures would be on a range of South African wildlife issue or topics, ranging from elephant culling to plant life to bird identification. The information we learned in lecture was then applied to our experiences in the bush.

When out in the bush we would participate in three different scientific assessments. One was game transects, where we would ride in the back of the field vehicles recording the number and sex of the animals we saw along with their GPS coordinates.

Another assessment performed were bird point counts. A group of people would stand in a circle with binoculars and name any birds that were seen, along the direction they were flying to and from.

The last and most prevalent assessment performed was the habitat assessments. These were done to record the ecological impact elephants had on the environment.

Whenever we had bush excursions in the morning, we would be up and out by 6:30am, and when we had lectures in the morning, we would be up and ready to go be 8:00 am. In the afternoon the opposite activity would occur. In the evening, there was a mix of night drives, free time, and lectures.

When we were in Sodwana Bay, we would wake up at various times in the morning, usually be out by 7 or 8 am. Depending on whether you were already PADI certified determined your schedule for the week.

For people who were already PADI certified had one day of pool work to practice, then went out to the beach the next day to start scuba diving and getting ocean experience. Anyone who was not PADI certified spent two days learning all the pool skills, then spent the rest of the time in the ocean and on the beach. In the eveing we would also have lectures on marine life and conservation issues in the area.

What made this volunteer abroad experience unique and special?

Erin: What makes this volunteer abroad experience so unique is that all aspects of what you are volunteering with (the various bush assessments and fish surveys on the reef in Sodwana Bay) had a strong academic link. The surveys and information could not be gathered by us research assistants without some background about what was being researched.

Though many organizations allow you to volunteer, Operation Wallacea does a fantastic job of incorporating education and learning into all aspects of the program. This allows for more accurate information to be gathered, and for the students to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of what is being studied.

Tell me about one person you met.

Erin: One person I met who was a research assistant with me was a Cambridge student from Singapore who has traveled all over the world. She is passionate for conservation and definitely expanded some of my views on hot button issues surrounding ecology, conservation, and human-nature interactions. I have become a more well rounded person after spending a month with her.

Has your worldview changed as a result of your trip?

Erin: My world view has changed drastically since the conclusion of this trip. I have not only learned about the different perspectives and issues surrounding wildlife conservation, but I have also learned about the different priorities and views that people from all over the world have, which are equally as important.

I have become more open to discussion about topics surrounding culling, game reserve management, and the perspectives of people affected by the changes.