Staff Spotlight: Donovan Tye

Field Director - OTS South Africa


Donovan Tye is a savanna ecologist on the OTS South Africa programme, based in Kruger National Park. His research interests include invasion biology bioacoustics and the application of emerging technologies in biodiversity research.

What is your favorite travel memory?

During my graduate studies, I took a few months off to volunteer on a protected area mapping project which, at the time, aimed to compile the available spatial information on Africa’s protected area network into a single Google earth layer.

I was fortunate enough to join a small group of friends and conservation enthusiasts on the West Africa leg of the project, where we traveled across several countries including Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Ghana, and Burkina Faso. Being able to visit some of the remaining wild areas in these countries and see the iconic wildlife which they support was nothing short of a childhood dream for me. The trip also provided us with plenty of opportunities to engage with a wide range of people living and working alongside these areas, which provided me with some much-needed perspective of the role and consequences of natural resource management.

Having seen first-hand many of the conservation challenges faced by Africa’s forests and savannas, I was enthused to continue with my graduate studies in savanna ecology and pursue a career as an environmental scientist.

How does your role have a positive impact on the experience of international students on your program?

In South Africa, OTS focuses much of its research and education initiatives in the Kruger National Park – a world-renown nature reserve situated in the semi-arid savanna region of northern South Africa. The rest camp of Skukuza serves as the scientific headquarters for the park, and it is here that OTS, in collaboration with South African National Parks and a locally based education and outreach organization, has established a biological field station.

Through my role as resident lecturer and field station manager in Skukuza, I have the opportunity to engage with both international and local students visiting the station. This has provided a great networking opportunity that has broadened my research interests and fuelled my enthusiasm for sharing our experiences in working and conducting research in OTS field sites.

What do you enjoy most about working with international students?

In addition to the experiential learning opportunities that our study abroad programmes offer, the OTS programmes also provide an excellent networking opportunity for all our participants, including OTS staff and external researchers who we invite to teach on our courses.

Introducing international students to some of the native ecosystems of South Africa continues to be a rewarding experience for me, as it has for many OTS staff members before me. Not only has it kept me inspired and excited about the wild places in which we work, but it also provided me a range of new perspectives to observe and interpret these ecosystems.

What makes your program a great place to study abroad?

South Africa is well known for its cultural and ecological diversity, and the OTS African Ecology and Conservation Field Programme endeavours to expose participants to as much of this diversity as possible while travelling across the country to a variety of field sites across a range of ecosystems. The sites visited by the programme are selected based on their proximity to ecologically and culturally significant locations, where participants have the opportunity to engage with local experts and participate in field-based research projects.

What makes Kruger National Park a great place to study abroad?

Kruger’s sheer size – over 2 million hectares – and history of management, monitoring and research over the past century make it one of the most interesting places to study the connections between science, policy and protected area management in the world. The park is one of the world’s leading stewards of biological diversity and is home to many of Africa’s charismatic megafauna, attracting tourists and researchers from across the globe each year. Kruger’s megafauna, including some of the largest wild populations of African Elephant, White Rhino, and Cape Buffalo, continue to play a fundamental role in the functioning of the park’s ecosystems. This, together with the regular occurrence of veld fires across a geologically diverse landscape, provides an ideal location to study the effects of top-down controls on ecosystem form and function.

From the wooded hills in the south to open plains in the north, Kruger supports that wealth of spectacular vistas and an impressive collection of wild animals, including some 500 bird species, 118 reptile species 35 amphibian species and 148 mammal species. For the botanists out there, be prepared to encounter 2000 or so unique plant species!

On the OTS semester programme, we aim to expose students to Kruger’s diverse landscapes and alluring wild creatures. We collaborate closely with resident park scientists and provide students with a platform to contribute to long-term research initiatives aimed at informing current and future park management actions.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in creating an excellent experience for study abroad students?

Exposure and transformative experiences are key principles we keep in mind when designing our study abroad experiences. By providing students the opportunity to interact with local community members, conservation practitioners and local academics across South Africa’s diverse ecosystems, we aim to provide our students with a holistic learning experience that benefits human capital development in South Africa.