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Science camp introduces learners to environmental monitoring in the arid lands

By Zanele Chonga, Intern, SAEON Arid Lands Node
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Bird and game viewing experience using binoculars, a first for many of the learners


Tshiamo Titan Phutane plays an active part in the water ways activity


Sinethemba Nogidela collects data for her group during vegetation monitoring


Omphile Khutsoane introduces learners to the concept of ecosystem functioning

The SAEON Arid Lands Node hosted a successful science camp for Thabane High School learners at Mokala National Park in the Northern Cape during the winter school holidays.

There was much excitement among the group of 14 grade 10 learners during the three days of fun-filled, hands-on science activities.

SAEON intern Gabolwelwe Musina gave a stimulating presentation to the group, informing them what is required to follow careers in science. She emphasised that they would only be able to pursue these exciting careers by taking science subjects at school level and by excelling in Maths and Science. She briefed the learners about some of the opportunities available in pursuing a career in science and environmental science, and kept them engaged with questions, quizzing them about their future plans.

Mini research projects

The science camp served as a platform for learners to conduct their own mini research projects. During these fun outdoor activities the budding scientists learned how to collect, analyse, interpret and finally present data.

Marnus Smit, a scientist from the Northern Cape Department of Environment and Nature Conservation (DENC), facilitated an informative session on the capture of small mammals. Marnus demonstrated the use of Sherman traps and camera traps to conduct research on small mammals such as rodents. He clearly stipulated under which circumstances these devices should be used in the field. Learners were especially fascinated by the Sherman trap, which is used to capture individual small mammals in order to examine them closely before release.

Next, learners were provided with binoculars for a bird and game viewing exercise, a novel experience for the learners. The park’s landscape is characterised by hills and large open plains, which are home to a diversity of wildlife. Despite the broad daylight prompting animals to shelter, a few species of antelopes and birds were spotted.

Vegetation monitoring

As the day proceeded, SAEON technician Marco Pauw facilitated an activity focused on vegetation monitoring. He took learners into the veld and highlighted the importance of long-term vegetation monitoring as well as the different techniques used.

Learners were presented with a list of research questions which required them to measure the height and size of the woody species, and to determine whether the vegetation cover of an area was declining or increasing. Learners were divided into small groups and encouraged to collect their own data from three different plant communities.

After the enthusiastic learners had completed their data collection, they were treated to a visit to the museum, which displays the history and establishment of Mokala National Park.

Assessing river health

A stimulating afternoon activity was the trip to Lilydale along the Riet River, where SAEON field technician Tshililo Ramaswiela facilitated the water ways activity (miniSASS). He explained to the learners how to assess and monitor river health by means of macro-organisms. The learners then sampled the river, identified macroinvertebrates, and interpreted the meaning of their results.

Learning how ecosystems function

The youngsters were not only exposed to exciting outdoor activities, but also to stimulating indoor activities. Omphile Khutsoane, Education Officer of SAEON’s Arid Lands Node, introduced them to ecosystem functioning by means of a fun activity, “Eco-Moods”, which explains how ecosystems function and how they are connected.

On the third day of the science camp, learners gave feedback and shared their learning experiences with fellow learners. They expressed deep satisfaction with the camp and all the activities and returned home exhausted, but enriched with what they had learnt.

The camp was coordinated by Omphile Khutsoane with the assistance of SAEON intern Zanele Chonga, and accompanied by most of the Arid Lands Node team.


SAEON’s Omphile Khutsoane (4th from left) and Zanele Chonga (2nd from left) surrounded by learners attending the camp in Mokala National Park


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