From our working holiday volunteering with leopards, caracals and Cape biodiversity in South Africa (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/southafrica)

Many of us come on a Biosphere Expeditions project with a desire to contribute to field science and conservation. But we also come on expeditions for many other reasons and with different expectations – perhaps to meet new people, experience new places or see wildlife.

The first two often begin to be realised, as soon as you arrive on the expedition site. But the latter takes time and effort and often it is too easy to focus on this at the expense of immersing yourself in the expedition experience as a whole.

Here in the fynbos, we have all been fortunate enough to experience and document new species to each of us, whether, they be grysbok, sengi (elephant shrew), black harrier or some of the many flowering species. They may not always have been what we all hoped for, or expected, but nevertheless they offer something new – new data and new experiences. But this project has given us more; the opportunity to remove our biological blinkers and appreciate the wider setting at Blue Hill.

Our field work, in the form of flush transect surveys and mammal trapping, has allowed us to appreciate the landscape and begin to marvel at the millions of years of geological history beneath our every step – gratefully aided by a presentation from Chris Lee (Alan’s Dad) who is a professional geologist.

This also helps give perspective on the historic people of this land, through the observation of ancient rock art, which seems to adorn every cave wall or rock overhang – showing people, antelopes and big cats. Leading us to speculate as to who was here thousands of years before us, and how they interacted with the wildlife?

And sometimes these differing interests collide. As an aside to our main work, we’ve been deploying a bat detector in the evenings, which has detected, amongst others, the endemic Cape horseshoe bat – a species which is becoming rarer. Alan, knew of a cave roost, but not which species inhabited it – cue a mini expedition to the cave. Whilst we could confirm the presence of horseshoe bats, the use of high power spotlights also revealed more cave art, not seemingly visible in daylight; and not previously known to Alan.

In just a few moments, we had learnt more about the Blue Hill area than any of us expected. But also realised there was so much more to learn.

And at the end of each day, you hopefully get to appreciate the nocturnal landscape. To me, the African night sky is synonymous with stars. Many of us are not always fortunate enough to experience them with such vibrant clarity….and yet here we can ponder on what we still have yet to experience or learn and perhaps dream up where we should next explore…

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From our working holiday volunteering with leopards, caracals and Cape biodiversity in South Africa.

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