Programs | SPRING Programs | South Africa

Program Details

Location: George, South Africa

Dates: Spring 2019: April 8–May 22, 2019
Spring 2020: April 8–May 22, 2020

Accommodations:  Primarily camping, occasional youth hostel or rural lodge

Credits: 15 quarter credits or 10 semester credits

Language: English instruction

Courses: ESCI 437A, ESCI 437B, ESCI 437C

Prerequisites: One college level course of ecology or similar,
18 years of age

Program Costs

South Africa Spring 2019
$      150        Application Fee
$   5,500        Program Fee
$   2,900        Estimated In-Country Group Fee
$   2,400        Estimated Airfare
$      700        Estimated Food Money/Personal Spending

$11,650        Total Estimated Cost
Spring 2019: Program fees due by February 1, 2019

South Africa Spring 2020
$      150        Application Fee
$   5,500        Program Fee
$   3,000        Estimated In-Country Group Fee
$   2,000        Estimated Airfare
$      700        Estimated Food Money/Personal Spending

$11,350        Total Estimated Cost
Spring 2020: Program fees due by February 1, 2020


The Program

Our program will traverse some of the world's most unique biodiversity hotspots along the Southern Cape. We will begin with an initial examination of the region's amazing natural history and biogeography, while evaluating the social-ecological interfaces which have defined the area as being the birthplace of our first human ancestors. The Southern Cape is well-known for its rich coastal and marine life, from diverse intertidal zones to charismatic marine wildlife, such as pelagic birds, seals, sharks, dolphins and whales, which thrive off these richly productive waters. Our field work will move between sandy shores, intertidal zones, Mediterranean shrubland (fynbos) and Afrotemperate coastal forests, to spectacular rocky cliffs and slot canyons. We will study cutting-edge scientific research, conservation action initiatives, challenges in ecosystem management and emergent opportunities for deepening human understanding in these important areas.

Our field studies will then move inland to examine ancient ecosystems which support an array of mega-fauna that have roamed the continent for millennia but now face complex conservation conundrums, from increasing habitat fragmentation to incessant poaching. As we conduct wildlife surveys and ecological monitoring we will encounter contrasting perspectives on ecological restoration and sustainable resource utilization. We will discuss and evaluate whether these approaches benefit or impede the management of threatened and recovering wildlife populations, which may challenge our preconceived ideas of conservation.   

 An overarching goal of the course is to fine-tune our scientific and field naturalist skills across diverse environments. We will sharpen our observational, sensory, interrogative and analytical skills by becoming intimate with our surroundings. Aided by the use of field guide keys, we will learn to identify resident wildlife species through various techniques, from physical traits and tracks to calls and nuances in behavior. We will join local organizations and participate in ongoing wildlife monitoring efforts to help further our understanding of the dynamics of these iconic African land and seascapes, including the sensitive and entangled interface between human and wildlife communities. Through this program each of us will take part in an integral approach to ecology—one that instills a deeper understanding in identifying, addressing and uniting the multiple perspectives available for learning about, relating to and engaging with the natural world.

Program Photo Gallery


More Details






Alejandra Vargas

Lead Instructor

DVM, National University, Costa Rica, 2003; PhD candidate in Zoology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

Alejandra is a veterinarian and marine mammal researcher from Costa Rica. She is currently completing her doctoral research in South Africa on the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin as an indicator species for marine protected area effectiveness. Alejandra established our Australia and South Africa programs in 2012 and currently teaches the South Africa Program.


Matthew Zylstra

Second Instructor

PhD in Conservation Ecology/Transdisciplinary Doctoral Program in Sustainability, Stellenbosch University, 2014

Matt is a conservation ecologist with experience in facilitating action research approaches for collaborative landscape restoration and stewardship in South Africa and Australia. His research interests lie in coastal-marine ecosystems, naturalist mentoring and community-focused outreach. Matt’s PhD research drew on integral ecology, psychology and education to explore how meaningful nature experience supports transformative learning for sustainability. Matt has been teaching with Wildlands Studies since 2009 and has taught in Australia, South Africa, Tasmania and New Zealand. Matt currently leads our South Africa and New Zealand programs.

Matt's Other Program: