08 December 2009

Volunteering: Meerkat research project in South Africa

Country: South Africa
Departures in 2010: 30 Mar, 20 Apr, 11 May, 1 Jun, 22 Jun, 13 Jul, 3 Aug, 24 Aug, 5 Oct [more info & online booking >>]

The amazing things you'll be doing
Under the direction of experienced field staff, you’ll help observe six habituated colonies of meerkats in South Africa’s Kuruman River Reserve. You'll learn how to radio-track, conduct focal sampling, use a Global Positioning System, and weigh meerkats. The data you collect will help researchers evaluate how cooperative breeding affects the survival of both pups and helpers. You will also investigate interactions between the meerkats and a klepto-parasitic bird species, the fork-tailed drongo.
Supplementing the meerkat studies, you'll help conduct biodiversity, invertebrate, and plant surveys, and spend some time recording the size and activity of social bird colonies like pied babblers and weavers, in response to rainfall levels. You'll also help with outreach efforts to assist the local primary school. All of these adventures will be set against a backdrop of gemsbok, hartebeest, springbok, duiker, steenbok, bat-eared foxes, three kinds of mongooses, many birds, and the fantastic creatures of the Kalahari night.
You will be housed in your own thatched-roof rondavel with a cold-water sink, basic furnishings, electricity, and a fan. Hot showers and flush toilets will be available in a nearby building. The team will be part of ongoing research programs at the reserve and you will have a chance to interact with a variety of researchers—whether discussing their current studies or joining them in a game of volleyball!

A day in a life of a volunteer
Please be aware that schedules can be affected by weather and work conditions, and are likely to fluctuate. For example, in summer (September-April) research begins earlier (6:30 am) and there will likely be a longer midday break (sunset at about 6:45 pm). In winter (May-August), dawn is later (7:30 am), dusk is earlier (6:00 pm), and the team will have a shorter midday break. The following is a sample schedule:
Early morning: Breakfast, preparation for day’s activities
Morning: Session with meerkats, transect surveys, gather vital data
Midday: Processing of data, lunch, rest
Afternoon: Session with meerkats, transect surveys, more data collection
Evening: Dinner
Later evening: Night drive, informal talk presented by resident researcher, recreational time

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