A group of 12 first-year Nature Conservation Students from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) spent a week at Bergplaas Nature Reserve on theSpirit of the Wild Programme (SOTW) and experiencing hands-on management of a nature reserve.
"The students participated in erosion reclamation work using biodegradable jute cloth on prepared areas, and they assisted with the construction of a retainingwall on a dam overflow," says Bergplaas manager and SOTW facilitator, Wayne Maspero.
"During the week we had several discussions about veld management, including the pros and cons of fire, and the use of salt licks and mineral blocks to achieve a trampling effect with game."
When game, particularly in larger numbers, tramples veld, as happened in the original migrations in this area, it loosens capped soil and invigorates thegrasslands.
"We also discussed bulk versus selective grazers and looked at our fenced exclusion plots on the reserve where no grazing occurs, which we compare to differenttypes of grazed veld," adds Maspero.
NMMU Nature Conservation graduate, Nthlahla Nomsobo, who did his internship at Bergplaas and is now a full-time member of the team, spent time with thestudents discussing their third year, which comprises one year of experiential or practical training on a nature reserve. They must complete this yeartogether with a final report and presentation in order to graduate.
Tracker Academy graduate Lucky Gaqisa spent the afternoon with the students identifying and tracking spoor. They also spent time at the lion bomas wherethey helped with maintenance and cleaning, followed by a discussion on wild lion populations and animals bred in captivity, including for the cannedhunting industry and Asian lion bone market, the latter having been approved at the 2016 CITES congress.
The students were highly appreciative of the week and shared their thoughts and feelings in letters to the SOTW facilitators, Cindy and Wayne Maspero.With the permission of the students, we are sharing some of their quotes:
The Spirit of the Wild course exceeded my expectations. At first it was odd having to express myself in such unique and different ways. Nature has so many answers if only we open our eyes and see.Farouk Mohamed
I've had the best experience of my life. I will miss everything about this place, the wind, the silence, the mountains, the walks - everything.Thabisa Jini
You have profoundly changed and touched my life. Even though I was here only a week I feel as if I have lived a whole life in another world, with the understanding; perspective you have transferred to me this week.Steph Kearns
I want to thank you for the space you have created to allow us to shine and be who we truly are. I now realise that the events, the people, the experiences in my life have led me to this moment.Brandon Giddey
This has been a learning curve and most importantly the real connection with nature where my heart and the speed of the wind find a rhythm and beat and move together as one.Rangani Madaba
My experience here...wow... no words can really describe the change I am undergoing. This course helped me to begin healing from pain that has gripped my chest for the past few months.Danielle du Toit
This experience evoked a shift in the way I see my world and even myself. A lot of self - exploration and questioning took place. Being so in tune with nature is all at once, a scary and beautiful thing. It opens your eyes, your soul and your heart to a new understanding. It changes you on a deeper level.Bayleigh Miles
This programme helped me reconnect with nature and build my confidence.Rogan Bryce
You have changed me in so many ways that I never even knew were possible. I am more confident and feel good enough to give my opinion about something. I would recommend the Spirit of the Wild to anyone who wants to find themselves or to get in touch with nature.Melissa Louw
The SOTW gave my life clarity and has now made me feel great about myself again.Micaela Smith
I did not have much of a connection with nature, and I know now that human beings have a connection with nature.Nkululeko Tyathanga
Bergplaas' wonderful nature, colourful sunrises and clean air has brought out the wild spirit in me. Walking barefoot on mud and stones, listening to the humming wind and singing birds, enjoying silence and loneliness, admiring the little wonders of nature - all that and more has moved deep emotions in me.Diana Friedrich