If you have ever dreamed of doing field research in Africa, the Big Cat Research Project may be perfect for you. Open to only a few participants each summer, this unique program offers hands-on opportunities to witness exciting scenes like lions on a kill, leopards on the hunt and cheetahs gazing across wide open expanses. All big cats across Africa are in serious decline and under great pressure. The Big Cat Research Project is an on going study with the goal of creating a comprehensive photo identification catalog and behavioral record of all big cats inhabiting a 7,000 Sq mile area. In addition, elephant, rhino, zebra and many more South African species will be encountered as we search for big cats throughout Kruger National Park.
This is a rare opportunity for students to work side by side with Colin Garland; large cat specialist, wildlife photographer/film maker, and guest speaker at Binghamton University, SUNY ESF, and other universities in India, Africa, and Central America. Colin has been studying cats globally for over 25 years with the last 15 years focusing in southern Africa. As a participant in this project, you will be learning about these amazing animals in the world famous Kruger game park, which spans over 7,000 sq miles. You will be collecting data, observing cat behavior, and filming and photographing these incredible predators in their natural habitat. This trip is open to all those who would like to gain experience in field observation, animal behavior research, and conservation photography/ videography. Other skills you can expect to learn include tracking techniques, animal behavior, wilderness skills, field navigation, map reading, wildlife photography and much more. Enrollment space is limited. This program fills many months in advance so please be sure to contact us if you are interested in assisting us with this important work.
Contact us if you would like more information or would like to be on the mailing list for next years trips!
The dates for 2016 are as follows. Please note: exact trip dates are dependent on airline and park availability.
Trip 1: May 30th – June 14th, 2016
Trip 2: June 15th – 29th, 2016
Trip 3: June 30th – July 14th, 2016
This trip is a great opportunity for students to gain hands-on field experience while working in a small group setting. South Africa’s Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa, offering a wide range of habitats to support its abundant wildlife. This provides the perfect environment for researching big cats such as lions, leopards, and cheetahs.
Though we will be focusing on big cats, Kruger Park offers an excellent opportunity to work in close proximity to a wide variety of wildlife including elephants, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, and a myriad of other species. Primary tasks will involve gathering data from a research vehicle while on game drives and at observation points set up at water holes and past kill sites.
Participants of the Cat Research Project engage in hands-on activities such as photo and video identification using facial “mug shots”, as well as comparing spot patterns, ear tears and scarring. Other skills include learning and utilizing animal tracking techniques and marking GPS locations of each cat sighting and kill sight. GPS data collected will also be used to map home ranges/movement and prey availability of each cat / pride.
The information gathered is added to an ongoing database / photo identification catalog and census focusing on animal distribution, hunting patterns and success rates, as well as tracking tuberculoses and anthrax infections within the study area.
Many students have received college credit for this trip. Talk to your professors!
Once inside Kruger Park, we will be tent camping in designated compounds protected by high voltage electric fences for our safety. Each compound has a small grocery store, restaurant, hot showers, laundry facilities, cooking area, and a service station. Kruger encompasses many different eco-zones and habitats depending on the underlying rock formations. Each geological zone offers a unique diversity of animals and birds.
A typical day in the field begins at 6am sharp in search of cats and other animals as well as sitting quietly at water holes waiting for action such as lions attempting to make a kill, elephants coming to drink etc. At mid day we will arrive at a designated picnic site or camp to stretch our legs and prepare a nice lunch before heading back into the bush until sunset in search of lions, leopards, and cheetahs. Though this type of project requires long hours in a research vehicle in search of big cats, the park abounds with other surprises such as serval, civets, baboons, and of course the bigger animals such as elephants, rhino and even the occasional herd of thousands of buffalo along with zebra, wildebeest and giraffe that come to drink at the waterhole.
Photo opportunities are phenomenal so plan ahead with plenty of memory cards and a backup battery for your camera. Charging batteries can be done back at camp but a spare battery is strongly advised. Binoculars are highly recommended. Optional side trips include guided bush walks and night drives conducted by local game rangers. An early morning bush walk is an excellent way to discover the typically unseen mysteries of the bush with knowledgeable native guides who share with the group ancient folklore, uses of medicinal plants, and how to read animal tracks and signs. During a night drive, you will have the opportunity to see nocturnal animals hunting and foraging such as giant porcupine, hyena, lions, leopards and maybe even the rare pangolin and ardwolf.
Each night after dinner we will be sharing our highlights of the day and discussing the data and images collected during day. This is a great time to learn how to use our cat catalog and how to identify each individual cat. A short stroll under the brightest stars you have ever seen will bring you to the fence where hyenas prowl close by looking for prey. The night sounds will bring you to attention, especially when it is a male lion roaring to claim his territory just beyond the fence line. On the last day of your adventures in Africa, you will have the opportunity to visit a local artisan market to purchase gifts and souvenirs before you fly back home.
This trip changed my life in so many ways … Colin and Emma provided so much information in a way that was different from our typical lecture education. It was refreshing and invigorating, drawing out my love of learning and reminding me of my goals and why I am working towards them. The removal from my college environment into one more connected with nature was exactly the change I needed. It had me dreaming of my next visit to South Africa, hopefully sometime soon and with this same inspiring group.
-Riley, 2015 Participant
Participating in the Big Cat Research Project was one of the greatest experiences I have had yet. I expected to learn about field research and get a feel for whether that was the direction in which I wanted my life to go, and I gained so much more than that. Colin and Kathy have a wealth of information to share on big cats and every other species we encountered and are invaluable contacts to have for making future connections. Kruger Park was all I expected and more, with a surprisingly high density of so many different species. I learned so much about research in the field, African wildlife, and myself in just two weeks. The worst part of the trip was getting on the plane to go home.
– Megan, 2013 Participant
This trip was incredible! I had always wanted to go to Africa and see how the animals interact with each other, because all I’d ever seen before had been in the zoo. I also didn’t expect to see so many cats. The way that Colin was able to find them was amazing. The daily life on the trip exceeded my expectations because each day was full, there was never a wasted moment. From driving around to dinner conversations, I learned a lot about the wildlife and cats, as well as about myself and my direction for the future. I am sure I am going to return to Africa.
– Anna, 2013 Participant
My experience in South Africa with Raven Adventures was hands down the most amazing experience I’ve ever had. Being up close and personal with some of Africa’s most awe inspiring animals was mind blowing. To be out in the wild and to see these animals in their natural state was sometimes overwhelming because I couldn’t believe I had waited so long to fulfill this dream. Roaming around Kruger is like being in another world where fancy clothes, fine jewelry and all material goods no longer exist or even matter. You just become so captivated by the beauty of the cats, the other animals, and the landscape that you sometimes forget that the outside world exists. It was an incredibly strange feeling to leave the park and see large infrastructures, plantations and all of industrial society again and this was the moment I realized just how gorgeous Kruger really was. I would give anything to return to the park to see the big cats, sunsets and sunrises again. It was an escape from the “real” world that opened my eyes to the beauties that still exist on this planet and it was an experience I will never forget.
–Lauren, 2011 participant
The big cat research trip in Kruger National Park, South Africa was an informative, insightful and inspiring trip. Every day, Colin was teaching us information about lions, leopards and cheetahs, as well as the other animals we would come across on the road. We learned a lot about mating behaviors, courtship, hunting strategies, feeding techniques, tracking, and rivalries between the animals of Kruger. Unlike a typical class at a university, where you sit in a classroom for an hour at a time and go through a list of objectives, we learned on the road sporadically.
Nature inspired what we learned each day while we were out there. Not only was this trip very informative on the wildlife of South Africa, it was also an insightful experience. Being disconnected from the internet, cell phone, and facebook, I was able to think for myself without the influence of the media or others. Although in America, we may learn about the loss of the certain ecosystems, and endangerment of many species throughout the world, we never truly understand the detriment it will cause if we lose these ecosystems and species completely because we are not able to witness them with our own eyes. It is truly an “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon that can quickly turn into a tragic reality.This trip inspired me to learn more about conservation and the ecosystems and animals that are suffering.
Given that this adventure not only taught me a lot about wildlife and animal behavior, but it also inspired me to pursue my passions, I would definitely say this trip was a worthwhile experience. I would strongly recommend this trip to anyone who is interested in wildlife and traveling. I learned a lot about the big cats of South Africa, as well as numerous other animals, and I learned a lot about myself, which made this experience truly memorable. I hope to return to South Africa in the near future!
–Jen, 2011 participant
Being a conservation biology major at SUNY ESF made me want to see conservation in action. My interest in photography and the want to apply it to this major was what made me come on this trip even more. It was a great experience waking up early and driving around all day in the park because it taught me how simply, yet difficult a task like photo cataloging could be. It was also nice that we had a chance to go on a night drive and a bush walk because it gave me some insight as to what I may want to do down the road. If anyone wants to travel out of the country to learn about the wildlife in Kruger National Park, or just want to see the sights, I would highly recommend that you go on this trip.
Cheetahs have always been my favorite animal. It took me a while to get enough money for a volunteer internship with the Cheetah Conservation Fund and when I finally decided the time was right, the deadline had passed. Then I heard about Colin’s trip to film and photograph lions, leopards, and cheetahs and I knew I couldn’t pass it up. I’ll admit I was losing hope when the first week passed and we still had yet to see a cheetah, although we had seen plenty of lions and leopards, even African wild dogs, not to mention every other bird and mammal imaginable!
Then one evening as we were heading back to camp for the night, I saw a glimpse of a cheetah in a small opening between thick bushes. Those 15 minutes with this gorgeous male cheetah and his beautiful mate who joined him later were the most incredible and moving minutes of the entire trip for me. It actually brought tears to my eyes and continues to do so every time I look back at my photos or the painting I did from a photo of the male cheetah. Although that was the last we saw of cheetahs on our trip, that was the spark I needed to know in my heart that cheetahs had to be a part of my life. It made the trip the greatest experience of my life and I will never forget the people who were there to experience it all with me.
–Deanna, 2010 participant
My trip with Colin was honestly a life-changing experience, which is something I never expected from a two-week trip. I knew, before I went, that it would be a good experience, and that I’d probably have a good time, but I had no clue to what extent it would affect me.
It was difficult for me to get the money together for the trip; it was a constant struggle almost until the day I left to have the funds to go, and to pay for what I needed to on the trip. But I never doubted that I would be able to go; it was something that I knew, deep in my bones, would happen. And the struggle was more than worth it. I learned so much from that trip, about Africa, about the world, and about myself. The trip re-kindled my love of traveling, and instilled in me a desire to see all of the wild places of the earth. It reminded me why I go to [SUNY] ESF in the first place; because I love this planet and I want to protect the beautiful things that it gives us. Sometimes it can be easy to forget that, when you’re bogged down with homework and tests and work. The trip invigorated me in a way that I’d never expected, and it’s helped me keep my passion alive.
Because of this trip, I’ve realized just how much I love field work, and actually getting out there and experiencing the world. It strengthened my conviction that nature is where I belong, and it’s given me the drive to do my best to see the rest of the world, no matter what it takes.
–Frederick, 2010 participant
Raven Adventures strives to offer low-cost high-quality educational programs and opportunities. Our trip price for 2016 is $3,995. This includes round-trip airfare from JFK, group food prepared by Raven Staff, tent camping, and in-country transportation.
As an additional cost, all visitors to the Kruger Park must pay a mandatory daily conservation fee. For our program, the cost is $290 USD. We ask you to bring this amount with you in US dollars and we will collect it when entering the park. Other expenses, if you choose to partake, include guided bush walks and night drives led by Kruger Park Rangers. Though prices for these activities vary between camps, they average around $65 per person for the bush walk and $45 per person for the night drive. Don’t forget to bring a little extra spending money (for most this is around $100-$200) for personal snacks, souvenirs, and maybe treating yourself for a night out at one of the restaurants in camp.
How to Apply
To join us please complete all of the following application steps to fully enroll yourself. Enrollments are on a first come first serve basis.
1) Please contact Colin Garland at firstname.lastname@example.org to ensure there is still space on the trip dates of your choice and to answer any questions you have.
2) After you have confirmed the trip dates you wish to join us on, we must receive the following forms fully completed and signed. Please scan and send to email@example.com
4) Upon receipt of all your completed forms, your deposit and final payment, your trip placement is fully secured. Final payments must be made before the final due date or you may forfeit your space on the trip and lose your deposit. Please be sure to take note of any due dates for payments . Thank you and we look forward to seeing you soon!
Do I need any shots?
NO! We used to guide in Kenya and Tanzania and a huge amount of effort was needed to keep everyone safe and free of illness from food and water born illnesses. South Africa is a trip leader’s paradise. Just a few hours after landing in South Africa, our students have already traveled on excellent highways, entered the game park and are enjoying the abundance of wild animals found there. The food and water in South Africa is 100% safe to consume. Kruger park accommodations are excellent and the camp compounds throughout the park are clean and safe. Each compound is like a small village, complete with small grocery store, gift shop, restaurant and some even have a swimming pool and outdoor theater for viewing excellent and informative movies about the animals that live in the park.
What about Malaria?
One of the wonderful aspects of traveling within Kruger park during the dry season is the lack of biting insects. This means there is a minimal risk of malaria! We have been traveling extensively in Kruger during the dry season for many years and have never encountered a single case of malaria within our group or by others we have met. This of course does not suggest it is impossible but the risk is so low that none of our staff concern themselves with taking malarial prophylaxis. This is of course, a personal choice and we are happy to discuss this issue with you further. If you do choose to take a prophylaxis, please be sure to notify us upon your arrival. Be sure to do your research and get the appropriate type for the areas in which you will be traveling. It does make a difference.
What if I’m a vegetarian / vegan?
All meals prepared and served by Raven Adventures offer a vegetarian / vegan option. Please tell us if you have any food allergies or special dietary needs so we can plan ahead. On our drive from Johannesburg to Kruger park, we stop at a very large supermarket to stock up on staple foods to bring with us into the park. The park does have small grocery stores located in each camp where we will be purchasing fruits, vegetable, sandwich meats and other food items to add to the menu. Our stop at the super market outside the park is an excellent opportunity for you to purchase personal snacks. We also provide a box of quick food (apples, oranges, snacks etc) inside the vehicle for anyone to consume.
What do I need to bring?
This is our basic equipment list we have created. This list does not cover everything you are likely to bring, but we strongly suggest you pack as light as possible. All luggage must be packed inside our van (plus all our food, camping gear etc) during our time in Kruger. We ask each person to limit their luggage to one medium cloth duffle bag and one small day pack or personal bag that you can keep with you at your seat while on safari. Please note: Large, hard case type luggage and luggage with heels and handles is impossible to pack efficiently inside the van. Please use soft duffles. Thank you.
What if there is a medical emergency?
At least one Raven staff member on every trip is certified in search and rescue and back country medicine. This is an advanced medical first aid training that goes far beyond the typical first aid training offered by the Red Cross and other entities. South Africa also has an excellent private and public medical system and there is even a medical clinic located at Skukuza camp in Kruger park. Please be sure to complete all health forms and list any medical issues, allergies, etc, so our staff are made aware of special concerns.
Will I be able to contact family and friends at home while I am traveling?
Though we will be traveling into the bush of Kruger park, all camps have phones in which you can use to make long distant calls provided you have a credit card or have purchased a pre-paid phone card. A couple camps even have internet service, though we have found these to offer intermittent service at best.