African Ecology & Conservation Field Program in South Africa

Video and Photos

Family of Elephants
Family of Elephants
White Rhino in the plains of South Africa
White Rhino in the plains of South Africa
Leopard in tree
Leopard in tree
Student selfie in Kruger National Park, South Africa
Student selfie in Kruger National Park, South Africa
Kruger NP
Kruger NP
Homestay in HaMakuya through Organization for Tropical Studies.
Homestay in HaMakuya through Organization for Tropical Studies.
Smiling students on a hike up Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa.
Smiling students on a hike up Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa.
Student and an open-mouth elephant in South Africa
Student and an open-mouth elephant in South Africa

About

Immerse yourself in the Savannas of South Africa! This program travels through national parks and reserves and visits historical sites from the far north of the country, all the way to the Cape in the south. Students spend much of the semester in Kruger National Park, one of the largest conservation areas in Africa and home to healthy populations of megafauna like elephants, rhinos and lions.

Students are mentored by local and international academics, conservation managers, and others in ecology and conservation. By designing research projects with their professors, students will contribute meaningful scientific data to issues faced by South African National Parks. A highlight of the course is a three-night homestay in a rural community; students leave touched by their time shared with the community and gain a deeper sense of cultural and social awareness. Open to all undergraduate students, transcripts provided by the University of Connecticut (UConn).

Highlights
  • Live and conduct meaningful independent research in Kruger National Park, South Africa's oldest and largest national park.
  • Immerse yourself in South African culture during a 3-night homestay in HaMakuya, experiencing many of the challenges and joys of rural life many South African's face every day.
  • Visit various important field-sites throughout South Africa, including the Cape Region, Cederberg, West Coast National Park, Fynbos, Marine & Freshwater Ecosystems, and numerous sites within Kruger National Park.
  • Gain valuable field experience through the mentorship of world-class researchers and faculty via ongoing long-term research, and an independent capstone research project.
  • Develop advanced understanding of South African history, culture, politics and conservation issues through lectures and field trips to historical sites like Robben Island, Mapungubwe, Thulamela & Cape Town.

OTS Scholarships Available

OTS manages a scholarship endowment and is looking for qualified recipients. Complete your application to be eligible for an OTS Scholarship. Go to the program page for more information on this and other popular scholarships. The application deadline for the Fall 2020 semester is April 1st, 2020.

Questions & Answers

Reviews

100%
based on 8 reviews
  • Academics 8.9
  • Support 9.4
  • Fun 10
  • Housing 9.1
  • Safety 9.4
Showing 1 - 8 of 8
Default avatar
Laura
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Geek Out on Science

If you have a spirit of adventure and are passionate about conservation, if you want to get gritty in the field and think deeply about issues, and if you want an academic challenge--I definitely recommend this program! OTS is an incredible experience. The staff are all extremely knowledgeable and it's a privilege to learn from them. I was afraid that traveling so much around South Africa would make it hard to acclimate to any one place or get to know people, but OTS got the balance just right (although I would have liked to stay at any place longer). We really got to experience it all: from long days in the field to days in the lab. We learned constantly and still had the agency to devise our own projects for our capstones. I know my science writing skills in particular are drastically improved! The food was amazing and I always had options, even as a vegan. The program was really well organized and conceived to leave us with maximum impact, and then of course for fall break in Cape Town we were free to do whatever we wanted.

Just as a fair warning, OTS will keep you busy and there's very little free time. The good news is that what you learn is extremely interesting and includes game drives to appreciate the incredible animal diversity in Kruger (and beyond). There is a lot of stress that can come from high academic rigor and the unique situation of being inside a national park with the "Big 5"--and I think this is important to consider. This program can be tough due to compact group size (which is also one of its charms) and rural sites which make some amenities hard to reach. The focus on this program is also overwhelmingly science based!

Still, I honestly cannot imagine a better semester abroad and I'm so glad I chose this program! Now it's your turn :)

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Appreciate everything while you are there--I know it sounds cliche, but it's so true.
Default avatar
Andrew
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

African Ecology and Conservation Rocks!

This program is superb. You will travel to many incredible places around the country, and see diverse landscapes. You will have the opportunities to hike, jump off cliffs, surf, and more. The wildlife is incredible, and you will have encounters ranging from massive elephants right next to you to catching gerbils in traps. The staff are amazing. They are friendly and helpful, and easy to talk to in both academic and social contexts. The people I interacted with on this trip come from many different backgrounds, and you will stay in touch with them for years to come as they become family. This trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that allows you to see South Africa and its ecosystems as a scientist and not just a tourist. 10/10 recommend.

What was your funniest moment?
A baboon stole our Wifi router (we manage to get it back).
Default avatar
Gizella
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The type of program I was looking for

I was interested in the OTS South Africa program since my freshman year in college, and then finally chose to apply for my junior spring and could not have been happier about it. I wanted a program that would challenge me academically, as well as not be in a traditional classroom setting. The mobile classroom style of OTS was so engaging, and it was a really great learning experience for me personally to be having lectures out in the field, visiting museums and historical sites, and gathering all of our own data directly for analysis. On top of the ecology and conservation aspects, the incorporation of history and culture in the curriculum made me understand more of the socioeconomic dynamics of South Africa, and how these dynamics affect conservation of wildlife and wild spaces now and in the future.

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
I WOULD HAVE PACKED LESS!!! I brought way too many clothes to South Africa with me. I barely wore half the t-shirts I brought, I could have survived with 2. When you're there you'll also be buying things for yourself and gifts for friends and family, so space starts to add up in your bag. Bring your favorite t-shirt, and 3 good field shirts, 2 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of shorts. Thats pretty much all the daywear that you'll need. (This isn't including other stuff like socks and swimsuits and a jacket). Favorite t-shirt, one good sweater. (and maybe a few nice things for Cape Town!)
Default avatar
Emma
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

A Semester in South Africa

This program provided an involved and dynamic look into what constitutes a career as an ecologist. We traveled all over South Africa, gaining experience in many different settings and ecosystems. The program takes advantage of the expertise and wildlife located in Kruger National Park, research facilities, and other academic institutions to give rounded understanding of the country's ecology. It allows students the independence to develop their own style of research and writing, while still providing enough guidance. The academics involved are clearly passionate about their work and are enthusiastic to share this with the students. We were also given an in-depth view of the history and culture of South Africa, which was a unique and integral part of our education. My experience with OTS was formative and unforgettable. I am grateful to have attended this program and would highly recommend it to anyone.

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
We did a homestay with a family in HaMakuya and one of the dishes they served us was Mopane worm! The worm is considered a delicacy and it was a sign of respect to have it served with our meal. Eating it was definitely a step outside my comfort zone, but it was good and I'm glad I did.
Default avatar
Jessica
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Highly recommend OTS African Ecology & Conservation!

My experience in OTS African Ecology & Conservation in South Africa was amazing, and I am very glad that I chose to apply. I am grateful for the research experiences in a variety of ecosystems, the amazing people, and adventures around the country.
I appreciated how the academics were mainly focused on field research projects, which was very different from a usual semester for me. It was a great experience to apply some of what I had learned in lecture courses to field research, and I enjoyed learning from the OTS faculty and visiting faculty from around the world. While I was there, I also realized what a once-in-a-lifetime privilege it was to experience the parks in such a hands-on way.
One of my favorite parts of the program was becoming friends with the other students and faculty. Although at first I was worried about meeting a new group of people, it was fun to work with other students from a variety of backgrounds, and we quickly grew close through all of our shared experiences. I especially enjoyed going on game drives and doing activities (such as surfing, snorkeling, and hiking) with them.
I recommend this program to students interested in field research, South Africa, and ecology and conservation, and anyone looking for an experience that is quite different from a standard university setting.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
I recommend trying to learn to identify the common animals and birds before the semester begins. While the game drives and bird walks were always fun and exciting, I enjoyed them more once I was able to identify the animals that I saw. I recommend reading about South African history ahead of time as well. When we visited historical sites such as Freedom Park in Pretoria and Robben Island, I got more out of the visits when I already had some understanding of the historical significance.
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Emily
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

OTS South Africa--an awesome adventure!

I had a wonderful time in South Africa last spring. While I was initially apprehensive about spending the semester away from my friends and in a new country, I knew it would be fine as soon as I met two of the students in the airport for the flight to Johannesburg. I loved becoming friends with all of the other students in the group, the professors, and the catering team as we traveled around South Africa in Kruger National Park, the Cape region, and more places. I appreciated the catering team's flexibility in providing tasty vegetarian and vegan meals and the willingness of the staff to work hard to provide students with enjoyable experiences.
A highlight was going on game drives in the mornings to see the animals. We would drive from 6-8 many mornings in Kruger, and it was always fun to start the day by visiting elephants and giraffes. Another highlight was learning to speak some Venda, Shangan, and Afrikaans. A third highlight was doing field research and learning about the savanna and fynbos ecosystems by exploring them. I did research projects on wildflowers, forbs and pollination, landscape ecology, and rhinos, and I helped with classmates' projects on frogs, springtails, and seed dispersal. Other research projects were on a variety of topics, including landscape of fear in small mammals, raptors, riparian ecology, termite mounds, road edge effects, and weaver nests.
I would strongly recommend this program to anyone interested in ecology, conservation, or savanna wildlife.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
A surprise at the beginning of our trip happened at our first park, Nylsvley Nature Reserve. It does not have dangerous animals, so we were able to leave our camp. I went running with two other students, and we saw three giraffes on the side of the trail!
Default avatar
Scott
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

OTS South Africa - Spring 2019

Sitting in my ecology class, I was fascinated by the stories my professor would tell while doing fieldwork in Brazil. He would show us pictures and talk animatedly about his work on turtle ants, all while defining what ecology is. However, I felt a bit dejected since I thought I wouldn't be able to experience these locations for myself - there aren't any tropical locations in the US, and I was only a student in DC. That's where OTS comes in. It's a program that aims to get students like me out to tropical locations in Costa Rica, or, in this case, South Africa.

And what an experience it was. As a student studying abroad, you travel with professors and other students in the same boat as you to different locations in South Africa, going from Kruger National Park to Capetown. The professors genuinely care for you not only as a student, but also as a person, all while teaching you all about tropical savanna ecology. You will be shocked at just how much this program packs in a semester, as you see elephants up close during game drives, go into restricted areas of the park to conduct a research project on rhinos (yes, that was my capstone!), or climb Table Mountain during spring break. I heartily recommend this program to anyone who is either debating going into ecology, or who wants to develop their scientific prowess.

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
Mopani worms. They were served dry to us during our homestay in Venda and were bout the size of a crayon. I had half a plate served with pap, a sort of maize porridge.
Read my full story
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Ben
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Fantastic program

The Organization of Tropical Studies in South Africa was a fantastic program and I am very lucky I had the chance to attend! The small cohort of students made the program very unique and allowed everyone to feel like a part of the “family”. The academic and support staff were wonderful and could not have cared more for our wellbeing or success. The meals provided for you are decent, and very accommodating to all dietary preferences. The housing accommodations were varied and wonderful in themselves, from air conditioned homes to tents in the cape. It was a great privilege to be able to research in the Kruger National Park. Add all of this on top of being in the beautiful country of South Africa and it makes for an unforgettable experience.

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
Mopani worms! B