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African Ecology & Conservation
Semester Program in South Africa

  • African Ecology & Conservation in South Africa
  • African Ecology & Conservation in South Africa
  • African Ecology & Conservation in South Africa
  • African Ecology & Conservation in South Africa
  • African Ecology & Conservation in South Africa
  • African Ecology & Conservation in South Africa
  • African Ecology & Conservation in South Africa
  • African Ecology & Conservation in South Africa
  • African Ecology & Conservation in South Africa
  • African Ecology & Conservation in South Africa

Program Details

When: Spring 2017: Jan 22 - May 1

Fall 2017: Aug 22 - Dec 1

Duration: 15 weeks

Credits:4 courses

Language: English

Deadline: Spring 2018: November 1

Fall 2017: April 1

Field Notes: Undergraduate Blog

Trop Talks: Webinar Series

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African Ecology & Conservation
Semester Program in South Africa

South Africa’s rich biological and cultural diversity makes it an exceptional location in which to examine issues related to ecology and conservation. Based in Kruger National Park and West Coast National Park, field study and research exercises will expose you to different types of ecosystems, whilst you come to explore the fauna and flora of both the savanna systems and the Cape Floristic Kingdom.

You will take four courses: South African Ecosystems and Diversity, Field Research Methods in Ecology, Conservation and Management of Protected Areas in South Africa, and Duke in South Africa: Special Topics in History. Science courses will be taught by OTS faculty and distinguished visiting scientists and conservation practitioners. Prominent South African historians, artists, and cultural theorists will lead the course on History and Culture of South Africa. The program is physically and intellectually demanding, stressing full immersion in hands-on scientific and cultural studies.

South Africa is a progressive, dynamic nation that continues to redefine itself in the post-apartheid era. It features a fascinating blend of Western amenities and traditional African cultures, and a strong tradition of environmental protection, which has resulted in the creation of numerous preserves that offer excellent research opportunities.


Kruger National Park’s facilities are among the best in the world, and you will visit several camps within the park during your stay. Kruger is home to over 150 species of mammals, including black and white rhino, lion, elephant, giraffe, cheetah, leopard, wild dog, zebra, buffalo, hippo, and zebra. There are nearly 2000 plant species (including 300 different types of trees), 49 species of fish, 34 types of amphibian, 166 different reptilian species, 505 species of birds, and countless less obvious insects. The West Coast National Park lies in the heart of the Cape Florisitic Kingdom, the “hottest of the world’s hotspots”. The Cape Floristic Region, the smallest of the six recognized floral kingdoms of the world, is an area of extraordinarily high diversity and endemism, and is home to over 9 000 plant species, of which more than 70% are endemic. The Fynbos Biome, home to the greatest non-tropical density of plant species, comprises most of the CFR, is characterized as a fire-prone Mediterranean-type ecosystem. It is flanked by the species rich, warm Indian Ocean to the east and the cold, nutrient rich Atlantic in the west.

Course work and structure:

The programs consists of lectures, skill workshops, fieldwork, and visits to selected natural and historic sites of interest throughout South Africa. Students interact and learn from academics from local and international universities, conservation managers and other expert practitioners. The ecology courses, which focus on the understanding of Social Ecological Systems (SES) strongly emphasize field based, experiential learning.  Following the introductory period where we focus on developing key skills and socio-economic perspectives on conservation in RSA, students spend the middle portion of the course interacting with invited faculty and conservation practitioners, visiting selected sites. This provides students with the necessary experience in research and exposure to a range in different approaches to science to prepare you to conduct independent research. During the final quarter of the course, engage in the capstone project: their independent research projects. Students work with their professors to design research projects that will contribute meaningful scientific data to issues faced by managers in South African National Parks. 

You will also be exposed to the country's vast cultural and ecological diversity as you travel to other parts of South Africa. Your journey around the country will take you through the famed Drakensberg Mountains, the agriculturally rich highveld, and the biodiversity hotspots of the fynbos and karoo. Steeped in a rich history, Cape Town is a cultural melting pot with a diverse and vibrant character derived from Khoisan and other African groups from the North, as well as Indonesian, French, Dutch, British, and German settlers. From Cape Town you will make an excursion to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. The History and Culture course, which provides important socio-economic context for the ecology courses, includes a three-night homestay with a local family in the village of HaMakuya. Not only will you conduct research into rural livelihoods, but also the experience will provide you with cultural exchanges with local people. You will be expected to share in music, dance, and craft workshops.

South African Ecosystems and Diversity

Duke University—Biology BIO 284A or ENVIRON 284A

Through a combination of field work and classroom instruction, you will explore South Africa’s diverse ecosystems, including savanna, fynbos, freshwater, and coastal marine environments. You will spend 7 to 12 days conducting independent research in the field and writing scientific papers. Students in the past have tackled such subjects as the influence of vegetation complexity on bird and mammal communities, the effect of elephants on keystone plant species, and how changes in land use might influence rodent communities.

Field Research in Savanna Ecology

Duke University - BIO 285LA or ENVIRON 285LA

The OTS philosophy is that learning is a great deal more effective when students have hands-on experience. This course will provide you with the research design principles, field research methods, and basic data analysis skills you will need to carry out research in the biological or social sciences. Visiting researchers will select a question and guide you through the process of identifying ancillary questions, posing hypotheses, designing field experiments, and interpreting data. This knowledge will provide you with a foundation to conduct your own independent research projects.

Conservation and Management of Protected Areas in South Africa

Duke University—ENVIRON 281A

What better context than South Africa, and Kruger National Park in particular, to examine the sociological, ecological,
and political challenges facing conservationists worldwide! Conservation scientists and practitioners will discuss the principles, policies, and practices of managing protected areas, and place special focus on South Africa’s leading experience in African wildlife conservation.

Duke in South Africa: Special Topics in History

Duke University— HISTORY 390A-13

South African historians, artists, and social scientists will hold you spellbound with their analysis of this nation’s history and culture. This course begins with early hominid evolution and advances through the colonial and apartheid eras to the current emerging democracy. The integrated approach of the history course is designed to provide the socio-economic context for the ecology and conservation courses.


African Ecology and Conservation- Sites Visited


Nylsvley Nature Reserve is one of the most intensively studied savannas in the world. It is two hours north of Johannesburg. It has many species of wild animals but the larger more dangerous species are absent. Nylsvley has plenty of space for moving around and you can explore the reserve on foot so this is an ideal site to adjust to the time and weather change, to stretch your legs after the long transatlantic flight, and to jump into the program.

All students will be present during your stay at Nylsvley. Orientation to South Africa and the OTS program will occur at Nylsvley. You will spend time with all of the permanent faculty members and get to know all of your fellow students. It is from here that the basics of savanna ecology will be taught, as well as the core of your History and Culture course.


Skukuza is the main camp in the Kruger National Park and houses the headquarters for OTS in South Africa. The Kruger National Park is one of South Africa’s most visited National Parks with over 1 million visitors each year. Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s largest protected areas and is famous for both its fauna and flora; in particular, the diversity of wildlife. While in Skukuza, you will participate in a variety of research projects. 

Other sites in Kruger National Park

While in the north of South Africa, you will have an opportunity to explore and conduct research in another camp in the park. Here you will run projects with guest faculty.


The HaMakuya leg of the semester forms an integral component of the History through Culture program. HaMakuya lies just outside Kruger National Park, in close proximity to Punda Maria, a northern rest camp in the park. HaMakuya offers the opportunity to become immersed in the rich culture of the Venda people. During this period, the group will interact closely with host families during a three-day homestay, spend time experiencing what life is like as a rural person in South Africa, and participate in research with a focus on community livelihoods within the area.

Cape Town Semester Break

Your semester break will be organized around Cape Town. Cape Town, situated in the Western Cape, in one of South Africa’s premier tourist destinations and is known for its landmarks, including Cape Point and Table Mountain, and all round exquisite coastlines. Other attractions include the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, the Cape Whale Coast and wine routes. We will spend five nights in Cape Town During your mid-term break.

Travellers Rest, Cederberg Wilderness District.

So named for the rare cedar tree found in the western areas of the spectacular Cape Fold Mountain Range. Whilst in the Cederberg we will explore fynbos ecology, the management of catchment systems and monitoring of rare mammals. An area of cultural and historical significance, San frequented the areas and so we will also explore the many caves in the area looking for bushman paintings. We will stay at Travellers Rest, a farm near the world famous Rocklands rock climbing district. While here you will participate in research projects led by guest faculty.

Cape Peninsula

Soetwater is situated between the sea and Slangkop, close to the town of Kommetjie on the Atlantic coastline. This area encompasses a large number of vegetation types such as fynbos, vegetated dune systems and mountain scree slopes, as well as a coastline that includes both sandy and rocky shores. This area is also one of the only undeveloped stretches of coastline along the peninsula. For this reason it forms an important component on the City of Cape Town’s Biodiversity Network and is included in the Cape Peninsula Protected Natural Environment. While here you will participate in research projects led by guest faculty.

Geelbek, West Coast National Park

Your chance to work in the Cape Fynbos and Strandveld, one of the world’s great biodiversity hotspots, will come with our stay near the Langebaan Lagoon, a world renowned birding hotspot. We will spend time working on intertidal biology, freshwater ecology, fynbos ecology and alien invasive species at this idyllic site.


Laurence Mohr Kruger, Ph.D.
Ph.D. Botany, University of Cape Town

Dr. Kruger is the director of the OTS South Africa Program based in Skukuza, Kruger National Park. His primary interests lie in functional ecology, in particular species’ response to disturbance. During his Ph.D. he focused on the importance of resprouting in South African coastal forests, fynbos and savannas. His current work is focussed on the impact that elephants and fire have on savanna woodlands and how plants might respond to this disturbance. Allied to this is work on the impact of the loss of vegetation complexity on resident faunal communities. In addition, his interests lie on the demography of woody plants in a variety of SA ecosystems, the demographic bottlenecks imposed in each system, and which traits are critical in overcoming these. Of particular interest are the bottlenecks associated with the breakdown in mutualisms, with a strong focus on pollination and dispersal ecology.

A large portion of Dr. Kruger’s private consulting work has been in the field of conservation, in particular conservation planning. This work has included surveys of natural habitats (biodiversity surveys), identifying the threats (development, habitat transformation, alien vegetation/faunal invasives), and the setting of conservation targets. This work has provided him with the opportunity to become more actively involved in conservation, whilst still engaging on a theoretical level.

Bernard Coetzee, Ph.D.
Ph.D. Zoology, Stellenbosch University

Dr. Coetzee is fascinated by the patterns and processes structuring biodiversity, and how these change with human activity, both for better or more regularly, for worse. He combines ecology, biogeography and community ecology with a strong quantitative statistical focus. While his focus is often on birds he has a broad taxonomic interest. He has a passion for protected areas, their optimal designation and their ecological efficacy – whether they achieve the conservation goals set out for them, especially given the socio-economic and political realities of the landscapes in which they are embedded.

His research has a strong applied science and policy emphasis, and he endeavors to design research with stakeholders that are relevant to their needs. He also analyses conservation policy, and aims to structure his research to feed into global environmental decision-making.

Dr. Coetzee hopes to further develop his interest in how large spatial scale processes interact with smaller scale processes in savanna systems, and vice versa, as their interacting dynamics are rarely well quantified. This is of particular interest to ensure that protected areas such as Kruger National Park deliver on its potential conservation benefits. He aims to use a range of techniques at the disposal of the modern ecologist, ranging from remote sensing platforms and spatial modeling, to fine scale observational and manipulative field studies.


Donovan R.C. Tye, M.Sc.

Operations Manager
M.Sc. Savanna Ecology and Conservation, University of the Witswatersrand

Mr. Tye’s interests lie in understanding the determinants of species assemblages in disturbance-prone ecosystems, and how these determinants affect ecosystem functioning. This broad and somewhat vague theme has provided a framework for much of his research in and around protected areas in South Africa. During is M.Sc. he focused on the effects of alien plant introductions on native communities and ecosystem processes. This invasion biology focus has since expanded to include the ecological consequences of faunal introductions in savanna and fynbos river systems. As an educator with OTS he has developed an interest in the forces that structure plant communities in African savanna systems. Using long-term vegetation surveys across a variety of landscapes at multiple scales, he aims to illustrate, with examples, how natural disturbance regimes influence the distribution of plant functional traits represented in woody plant communities. More recently, Mr. Tye has become intrigued by the application of emerging technologies in the field of biodiversity science. In particular, the use of bioacoustics in biodiversity monitoring programmes.


Tuition and Financial Aid

Tuition and Program Fees

The course costs are detailed below:

  • Tuition for 2017-18 Academic Year: $25,860
  • Program fee: $1,850
  • Duke lifetime transcript fee: $40 (does not apply to Duke Students)

Tuition and fees cover:

  • Room and board at hotels, homestays, and research stations
  • Local travel to program sites
  • Participation of many local and international healthcare officials, public health researchers, doctors, and other experts
  • Laundry costs

Tuition and fees do not cover:

  • International travel
  • Independent travel
  • Incidentals
  • Personal spending


OTS is committed to providing opportunities to all eligible students interested in participating in our programs. We make scholarship applications available to students upon acceptance into an OTS program and offer limited funding on a rolling basis. Applicants attending institutions that are members of the OTS consortium colleges and universities have priority, but all qualified applications will be considered. We have dedicated a substantial amount of funding to provide partial scholarships to students who need financial support. APPLY EARLY!!!

Note: Costs for the school year will be announced in late May of each year.

Application Process

We will make the application available two semesters prior to the semester in which you wish to participate.

Apply Now

“Like” our Facebook page ( to be notified when the application becomes available.

We have a rolling admissions policy, so we will review your application as soon as you complete it. This means that the program may fill BEFORE the application deadline. APPLY EARLY!

To participate in the Spring Semester program, you must apply no later than November 1st. To participate in the Fall Semester program, you must apply no later than April 1st. If you are interested in a semester for which the deadline has passed, please contact us for availability at

Accommodations & Meals

For most of the program, you will be living with other students in large dormitory rooms, cottages with four to six students, and smaller cottages with two students per room.

Meals are provided by our caterers, Shadreck and co. who refer to themselves as AggyShadow Catering Company. The food is fantastic, regularly cited as one of the highlights of the program, and we warn you in advance about the possibility of expanding waistlines!! The menu is highly varied and usually dinners consist of a variety of choices of side dishes. The program caters for those of you with special dietary requirements (i.e. vegetarians, vegans) or food allergies but please let us know in advance so that Shadreck can prepare accordingly.

Passport & Visa Information

You will be asked to provide this information to both OTS and Duke University in several Registration Documents. You must ensure that you have two facing blank pages in your passport. This is really important, as people HAVE been turned away at the border for this reason.

Your passport must valid for at least six months after the end date of the program. You will also need a Visitor’s Visa to enter South Africa if you are not South African. Under separate cover, OTS will provide you with information about applying to the South African Consulate for your Visitor’s Visa. This information will only cover the time period in which you will be with the OTS program.

For detailed instructions on how to apply and the documentation you will need, please visit the South African Consulate website:

Note: You will need to apply to the Regional South African Consulate Office for your home state which you will find on the website listed above. If you plan to travel elsewhere in South Africa after the semester, you must check with the South African Consulate for appropriate Visitor’s Visa requirements. If you intend to stay and travel after the program you may want to apply for a longer visa than just the duration of the course. Many students change their mind about staying on after the program (i.e. they decide to stay longer) visas can no longer be extended from within South Africa, instead you must travel to your home country and apply from there, if necessary. Therefore it is a good idea to apply for a visa that enables you to stay in the country at least two or three weeks past the course end date. We have also had students choose to stay on to do some research after the program. So if you think you might be interested in getting involved in something like this, do not hesitate to contact Laurence. If you are not traveling on a U.S. passport, please contact the South African Consulate to learn what will be required to receive your Visitor’s Visa.


OTS summer program is open to all undergraduate students in good standing with their home institution who have at least a 2.7 GPA. Students applying to the African Ecology & Conservation must have completed the equivalent of one year of college-level biology. Applicants attending institutions that are members of the OTS consortium have priority, but all qualified applications will be considered.

Health and Safety

OTS is deeply committed to student safety and well-being and does not expose students to unnecessary danger or risk. In cooperation with the Duke University Global Education Office for Undergraduates (GEO), OTS monitors national and international events that might affect our students. Five decades of risk assessment, emergency response, and crisis resolution have enabled OTS to maximize student safety and security. All students participate in an on-site orientation program upon arrival in Costa Rica or South Africa. For our most current safety information, contact the OTS Enrollment Management staff at