Field Course in South Africa

Course Description


This field course in Methods in Animal Behaviour is designed to provide students with field experience in biology, ethology and ecology. It is intended for undergraduates, who want to get first experience in working with wild animals in a sub-tropical environment. Students will acquire knowledge of methods in (1) measuring environmental variables, such as GPS data and phenology, (2) collecting and analysing the natural behaviour of free-ranging animals, using telemetry, camera traps, ethograms and standard behavioural sampling techniques,  (3) field experimentation, including predator model experiments, and (4) acoustic analyses, including natural recordings and playback experiments.


Vervets Description Files.jpgKlaus_FPM.jpg




© Gilles Gay des Combes
The study site is located in Kwazulu-Natal, about 250km from Durban (airport) and about 50km from Vryheid, a large town with shops and a hospital. The climate is sub-tropical with a wet and hot summer, lasting from November to April (max 35°C).
Location Mawana.jpg
© Gilles Gay des Combes
The Mawana Game Reserve is a 12,000h privately owned ranch, which is primarily used as a game reserve for recreational hunting. Most local wildlife is present, with the exception of rhinos, buffalos and lions. Some animals pose a safety risk for humans, including elephants, hippos, snakes, scorpions, spiders and ticks. To this end, all students will first undergo special training upon arrival to minimise possible risk, to learn how to behave when encountering these animals and to prevent encounters by learning to read the tracks and sounds produced by them.
   Warthogs.jpg  Tracks.jpg
© Gilles Gay des Combes
The course is operated in collaboration with the Inkawu Vervet Project directed by Dr Erica van de Waal. Eight groups of vervet monkeys are well habituated to the presence of researchers and can therefore be approached closely.
The game reserve is primarily used for hunting but January is usually not part of the hunting season.  A lodge will be available for all the students with a fully equipped kitchen allowing participants to prepare their own food in the morning and at lunch time. Evening meals will be taken together and cooking is based on a rota system. Bathrooms and bedrooms are shared; a nice living room with a piano will also be used as office space and for presentations. Finally, there is a nice garden with a "braai" area for South African barbecues, to enjoy local culture during sunset time.

Hunters lodge.jpg









© Gilles Gay des Combes

Course Schedule and Fees

The field course will take place from the 4th and 18th of January 2017

For Neuchatel students, the course can be taken as a replacement of the APP III Option 5, which normally runs in the second half of the spring semester. Evaluation will be as for the APP in that students will work in small groups with a total of four weeks to complete the course. The first week
in Switzerland will be used to prepare one of the project ideas and study the relevant literature. Data will then be collected in South Africa during the two-week field course period and students will give a small presentation to the owners at the end of their field stay. During the last week back in Switzerland, students will analyse the data and write a report. A final oral exam will be held as part of the May exam diet to obtain 9 ECTS.
Day 1 – Wed 4th
Travel Day
Day 2 – Thu 5th
Arrival at camp - Safari
Day 3 – Fri 6th
Field Course: « Bush Survival Lesson »
Day 4 – Sat 7th
Field Course
Day 5 – Sun 8th
Day Off  - possibility to visit Inkawu Vervet Project
Day 6 – Mon 9th
Field Course
Day 7 - Tue 10th
Field Course
Day 8 – Wed 11th
Field Course
Day 9 – Thu 12th
Field Course
Day 10 – Fri 13th
Field Course
Day 11 – Sat 14th
Field Course
Day 12 – Sun 15th
Day Off - Data analysis
Day 13 – Mon 16th
Field Course – Presentation
Day 14 – Tue 17th
Leaving camp - Excursion to the beach in Ballito
Day 15 – Wed 18th
A typical day during the field course consists of a one hour introduction to the different methods used in animal behaviour studies, followed by practical exercises and/or experiments in the field with wild animals. Students will always be accompanied by an experienced researcher, but will work independently in small groups. Some time will be devoted to explore and analyse the data and to prepare the presentation and final report.
The cost of the course is 700 CHF per student, which includes all within-country transportation, housing and fees at the Mawana Game Reserve, access to the equipment during the course, food for the entire study in the lodge and an excursion day to Ballito beach including transport and accommodation.
The course fees do NOT include the international flight (airport taxes) to Durban. Students will also need to obtain travel insurance, which guarantees repatriation and proper health coverage. There are no specific vaccinations required for South Africa, and the site is malaria-free. Nevertheless, students should get medical advice prior to departure and make sure all their vaccinations are up to date. Food will be provided during the field course, but not during the arrival and departure days nor the final day at Ballito beach. Snacks and alcoholic beverages are also not included.

Application Process

To apply for a place in Methods in Animal Behaviour, you must attend the following meeting during which more information about the course will be given:
Informational Meeting: 20.09.2016 at 14:00 (Aula Unimail F-100) 
We will limit the course to 10 students!
Procedure on how to apply will be given at this time and time will be devoted for all your questions!
Students with IVP team.jpg

© Gilles Gay des Combes




Stéphanie Mercier

room B027 (Batiment G)
Tel +41 32 718 24 69






Miguel Gareta

room D126
Tel +41 32 718 31 31 


foto miguel.jpg












Université de Neuchâtel
Institut de Biologie
Rue Emile-Argand 11
2000 Neuchâtel











© Stephanie Mercier










© Stephanie Mercier






  Young Nyala Male.JPG
© Stephanie Mercier









© Stephanie Mercier















© Stephanie Mercier













Axelle-Stef telemetry.JPG
© Stephanie Mercier