Former Camp Wildwood student and University of South Carolina graduate journeys to South Africa to give back through wildlife research and conservation.
By Taylor Bates, Research Manager, African Impact
When I graduated from college, with my whole life ahead of me, I had no clue what my next move would be. Never in a million years would I have guessed that my journey would take me half way around the world to one of the most beautiful places on earth.
From a young age, I was passionate about wildlife and conserving our world. Little did I know that everything in my life was preparing me for an adventure of a lifetime. Growing up, surrounded by lofty pine forests, I was immersed in the natural world where an increasing appreciation for its beauty took hold. Through programs like the SCDNR’s Camp Wildwood, which teaches you not only about conserving our natural resources but about yourself, and others, I made it to that petrifying time in life when you must make a decision about what path you wish to follow. With support from so many instructors, mentors and wonderful groups like Harry Hampton Wildlife Fund, I chose the biology path through college. After my incredible four years I decided I wanted to give back to the world which had given so much to me and volunteer with a research organization doing conservation work with African wildlife. This decision forever changed my life.
From the moment I touched down in South Africa, I felt something special. A few weeks after living in the African Bush somebody asked me if I had “caught the bug.” Being in Africa, my mind whirled thinking of all sorts of weird insects and rare diseases, but as I looked at him, with great concern on my face, he said to me, “Have you caught the African bug? It seeps into your heart and doesn’t let go.”
And indeed it had, wholeheartedly! From my first moment staring up into the inquisitive eyes of the towering giraffes, to the hair-raising experience of having a male lion look you square in the eye, Africa captured both my heart and my mind.
After my first visit, I knew I had to go back and this time wanted to do something more. I received an offer to return to my much-beloved project and jumped at the chance to return to South Africa with heart racing and my mind ready to explore the boundless possibilities.
I now work for this same project as Research Manager in Wildlife Conservation through African Impact. Having been living in South Africa for more than two years now, I have gotten to witness not only incredible animal behavior but have gotten to meet some of the most dedicated and passionate people from around the world, who have all come together through a collective bond to preserve and protect our threatened species and ecosystems.
Through the research we run here we are working to enhance management strategies and gain a greater understanding of the magnificent wildlife all around us, from the mighty elephant to the tiniest dung beetle. With respect for wildlife and a reverence for the precious balance in which it exists, we can work towards a better and brighter future for not only us humans but as a world needing each other to coexist.
Over the years, I have been able to develop conservation initiatives and monitor some of our most iconic species. The African leopard especially captured my heart with both its beauty and adaptability in the face of adversity. Through the last one hundred years, most megafauna in South Africa have been relegated behind the fences of the many reserves that dot the landscape, except for the leopard. This species, with its agile climbing ability, adaptable diet and impeccable camouflage, has been able to continue its elusive life in the shadows. So to study these big cats we have had to take just as sneaky of an approach. Using many surveying techniques — from camera trapping, to spoor counts, to corridor usage — we have been piecing together the movements of our leopards in unprotected areas in hopes to ascertain exactly where these mysterious cats traverse. Using this information we can work with fellow conservationists to better manage the strategies surrounding the conservation of this species.
This is just one of the projects making a difference in not only the lives of these leopards, but also in the surrounding areas where these animals call home.
When out on research drives — be it collecting social dynamic data on lion behaviors, to creating ID kits for the elephant identification database, to analyzing population dynamics throughout reserves in the area — working in the conservation field has been a life-changing experience and one I hope that many more young people like yourself will believe they too can achieve.
Because I believed I could make a small difference, I was able to achieve something just a few years ago I believed to be impossible. One of my favorite quotes is by one of the great conservationists Jane Goodall, who said, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on South Carolina Wild are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect official policies, positions, or endorsements of activity or products by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.