Alumni Spotlight: Jessica Newton


Jessica Newton is from Canberra, Australia. She is 33 years old and attended Charles Sturt University, and is currently working as a Cartographer for the Australian Bureau of Statistics. She is an enthusiastic horse rider, rugby supporter and is now dealing with her new found obsession with lions and porcupines.

Highlights: One of the biggest highlights of my trip to South Africa was when we were out late at night about 9pm trying to catch and identify frogs. After a few falls in the water, and not many frogs, we turned back down the trail facing a 1 hour hike out of the forest. As we crested a hill we were surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands of fireflies. Flashing their blue lights all around us and the trees, landing on our hands and clothing. It was pitch black and just these beautiful flashing lights. Words can’t describe how magical it was. We sat for about an hour and watched them until they eventually faded into the forest. We tried to photograph or film the moment but it didn’t work, however it will always be etched in my memory.

When I wasn’t in the mountains I was back on Karongwe Game Reserve going on our twice daily drives trying to find our focus animals lions, cheetahs, elephants, hyenas and leopards. On an early morning drive with just one other staff member we had spent two hours tracking our pride male lion Zero using his radio frequency and listening out for his contact calls. We finally found Zero doing a fence patrol. We parked on the side of the track as he approached us he walked right beside our Hilux, he was within touching distance when he turned his head and looked at us with his big golden eyes pinning us with a stare of the supreme predator. And then he moved on, there are no words to describe the feeling of looking a male lion in the eyes and knowing he could have you at any moment but that he choose to walk on.

Morning: I was the Mountain Intern during my project, which meant spending 4 weeks out of every 5 up on the Mariepskop Mountain of South Africa assisting in the leadership of the volunteers. A typical morning was getting up at about 6 am; making sure everyone had breakfast, that all the mammal trapping supplies where ready and that the truck was loaded. We would then head up the mountain checking several trap lines. This would involve some hiking through alpine rainforest and high montane grasslands. We caught species such as Four Striped Mice and Forest Shrews. If we caught mammals we would weigh, sex, measure, mark and release the animals and reset the trap lines. I would instruct the volunteers and interns on how to identify species, how to make up our tasty peanut butter/raspberry cordial bait and how to set up successful trap lines. We would also take notes and GPS readings on any other mammals spotted during the morning.

Afternoon: In the afternoon we would have free time until we had to repeat the process of checking the traps and resetting them again. We would go on hikes around base as there were several trails that lead up the mountain or to look outs. As interns we would often go frogging to identify species in the mountain streams and waterfalls of South Africa. Reptiling was also a popular pass time; trying to catch lizards or at least photograph them so we could identify them. We would also go on hikes to places like the Klaserie waterfalls or spend the afternoon swimming in the Blyde River, swinging on the rope swing and lazing on rocks. Birding and catching butterflies was also a favourite amongst volunteers.

Evening: At night we would watch the sun set over the Drakensburg Mountains and the Blyde River Canyon. Cooking our dinners by candle light, singing songs (badly), dancing competitions and we indulged in some light art using long exposure on our cameras. We would also again go frogging at night time and this was a great chance to hear the nocturnal animals of the rainforest. Hours were spent sitting and watching the millions of stars go past and seeing how many satellites we could spot. Nights often ended early in the mountains as we had fairly physical days but falling asleep listening to the owls and insects and straining our ears to try and hear the local leopards passing by definitely helped. Fierce storms would often occur at night and listening to the thunder and lightning right over your roof was amazing.