South Africa Thesis – 24th June – 4th August (6 Weeks Terrestrial Only)


This price represents a 20% deposit of the $4,500 expedition fee. Please see the dates and prices page on for a list of what is and isn’t included, and the terms and conditions page for payment and cancellation schedules.

Dissertation Options *


Product Description

SJ161 Assessing the behavioural effects of independent translocation of African Elephants

Elephant populations in South Africa are among the healthiest in the world. Many small, private game reserves promote high elephant densities as they are a huge draw for tourists. However, the reserves are almost always fenced, meaning the natural long migrations of elephants cannot occur. Large elephant populations in restricted areas are leading to high levels of vegetation damage in some reserves. This problem was particularly significant in Pongola Game Reserve, where the calculated carrying capacity of 37 elephants had more than doubled to over 80 elephants. Opwall and its partners have been monitoring the Pongola elephants for over seven years in order to assess the behavioural impacts of bull vasectomies, which were performed in an attempt to halt population growth. While Pongola Game Reserve was fenced, one border of the reserve was demarcated by a lake. The drought experienced by southern Africa in the summer of 2015/16 reduced the level of the lake so much that around 50 elephants were able to simply walk around the fence into the adjacent Royal Jozini Big 6 Reserve in Swaziland. RJB6 had no elephants prior to this, and luckily welcomed the new additions to their reserve. This successful, independent translocation of elephants is incredibly rare, and gives us a unique opportunity to compare pre- and post translocation behaviour. Our main focus will be to study the ranging patterns and dominance behaviours of the translocated elephants to investigate how this move has affected the herd. Habitat assessment data will also be collected to determine if the impact the herd are having on the new reserve is sustainable.

SJ162 Calculating the carrying capacity of the Royal Jozini Big 6 Reserve for elephant populations

In 2016, around 80 elephants broke free of their home and moved to the greener pastures of Royal Jozini Big 6 Reserve in Swaziland. The reserve management were happy to receive the elephants, but due to the unplanned nature of this translocation were unable to properly assess the elephant carrying capacity of the reserve prior to their arrival. Determining elephant carrying capacities for small fenced reserves is difficult, and many different densities have been put forward as reasonable estimates for the number of elephants any given area of land can sustain. However, these estimates are unlikely to be transferable from one reserve to another due to differences in rainfall, water availability, vegetation etc. The nearby Pongola Game Reserve has been estimated to be capable of sustaining 0.38 elephants per square kilometre. However, research has shown that other reserves, such as Kruger National Park, should be able to sustain densities of up to 1.5 elephants / km2. The reserve management therefore needs a carrying capacity estimate based on the actual composition of the RJB6 reserve. Vegetation assessments will be conducted in order to quantify the amount of damage being caused by the elephants and accurately assess the available browse across the reserve. These data could then be used to help set elephant carrying capacity levels in terms of how many would be sustainable to keep levels of habitat damage below pre-determined levels (e.g. less than 20% of the area must have 40% or more trees and shrubs in the top 3 categories of the Walker damage scale). The position of the elephant herds has been noted virtually daily since 2008 in both Pongola and RJB6, allowing an accurate assessment of ranging patterns and habitat preferences. This positional data could be plotted on GIS programs to calculate areas of differential elephant usage and compared between the two reserves.

SO163 Factors affecting the population size and distribution of large mammals in Kwa-Zulu Natal

Until recently, Pongola Game Reserve was home to a very high density of elephants. These elephants caused a great deal of damage to the vegetation and dominated much of the landscape within this small fenced reserve. In early 2016, the elephant population dropped dramatically and suddenly when most of the herds broke free and moved into a nearby reserve. The Pongola elephants had a detrimental effect on the vegetation in the reserve, but the follow-on effects on other large mammals have not been studied. Since the elephants have translocated, the other herbivores in the reserve now have access to browse and graze that was previously dominated by the elephants. Populations of other herbivores should flourish with the reduced elephant numbers, but the damage to the vegetation they caused may have long-term effects. By assessing the populations and habitat preferences of species such as zebra, wildebeest, kudu and impala, students will be able to quantify how a reserve can recover from such massive amounts of damage. During the regular large mammal surveys, all visual encounters with the herbivores are recorded, noting the GPS location of the animal, the species, condition score, number of individuals, age-sex class of each individual and habitat type. GIS maps showing the distribution of vegetation types, habitats, water courses and man-made structures in the reserve can be produced, allowing comparison with the herbivore distribution data.

SO164 Monitoring the populations and ranging patterns of the critically endangered black rhino

The critically endangered black rhino once ranged throughout southern Africa, but a devastating poaching wave in the early 1990s reduced their numbers to just 2000. Now, many initiatives are working towards protecting land containing good black rhino habitat, in order to increase the numbers of growth rate of this endangered species. The Black Rhino Range Expansion project, a collaboration between WWF and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, has helped create 10 new black rhino populations in South Africa. Thanks to initiatives like this, the overall population of black rhino is increasing throughout Africa. But ensuring the long-term success of this initiative requires constant monitoring and further gathering of knowledge regarding the new rhino populations. Opwall students have the rare opportunity to assist this project by collecting behavioural and ranging data on a small population of black rhinos in the Kwa-Zulu Natal region within the Pongola reserve. These rhinos were introduced into the reserve in 2006, and have been closely monitored by the onsite researcher for the majority of that time. Data collected in 2017 will be added to long term data sets to provide further information regarding the ranging patterns and interactions of an established population of this enigmatic species.

Additional Information


South Africa


6 Weeks

Marine Weeks

No Marine

Expedition Type


Terrestrial Weeks

6 Terrestrial Weeks

Terms and Conditions


The following conditions form the basis of your contract:


A deposit of 10% per person must be paid when booking and accepting these terms and conditions. In order to help spread the payments we require a further 10% payment 150 days prior to your expedition start date, and 20% payment due by March 31st in the same year as your expedition. If you are booking within 8 weeks of your intended departure date then we require full payment. Should we be unable to process your booking for any reason then your deposit will be returned to you.We must have the full balance payment at least 8 weeks (56 days) prior to departure.

There is an early-payment discount available if you pay either 50% or more of the total sum owed, or 100% of the total sum owed, prior to the 150 day payment date. The discounts available are as follows:-

  • For 2 week expeditions, $25 discount for greater than 50% payment or $50 discount for 100% payment
  • For 4 week expeditions, $40 discount for greater than 50% payment or $80 discount for 100% payment
  • For 6 week expeditions, $60 discount for greater than 50% payment or $120 discount for 100% payment
  • For 8 week expeditions, $75 discount for greater than 50% payment or $150 discount for 100% payment

All correspondence will be sent to you at either of the addresses you enter at time of booking. In the event of the alteration or cancellation of a confirmed booking by you, conditions in section 3 will apply. Please note that the person completing the booking form undertakes full payment of all the expedition components booked, therefore should have the full consent of the person named on the form. Payment of your deposit confirms you comply with these booking conditions.


While we reserve the right to amend prices upwards or downwards at any time, it is our policy to offer expeditions at a clear and firm price. However, the factors which may force us to surcharge you are government action, changes to the cost of currency or fuel – unless full payment is made six months or more prior to your departure date.


Should you have to cancel your booking we ask that you advise the us promptly in writing or by email. The cancellation will take effect from the day the written confirmation is received. Cancellation will incur a $95 handling charge. Additional cancellation charges, which become effective more than 30 days after the date of booking*, are as follows:

Period Cancellation charge
More than 185 days before departure No further cancellation charges
185 days before expedition start date to 150 days before expedition start date Loss of 10% of total expedition costs
149 days before expedition start date to 70 days before expedition start date 20% of your total expedition costs
69 days before expedition start date to 42 days before expedition start date 40% of your total expedition costs
Less than 42 days before the expedition start date 100% of your total expedition costs

* this applies only to bookings taken before 1 March in the year of the expedition. Bookings taken after the 1 March in the year of expedition are subject to the cancellation charges as shown in the above table.

Note if you are doing a dissertation/thesis topic then you are able to cancel up to 15 April in the year of your expedition with no loss of deposit, if documentary evidence can be produced that your university will not permit you to undertake the dissertation or thesis topic chosen.


In the unlikely event of Operation Wallacea deeming travel to your particular destination unsafe for any reason, more than 3 months before departure, we will provide a suitable alternative. As a result we are unable to refund any monies, beyond the conditions outlined above. We undertake not to cancel any expedition closer than 3 months to the expedition start date unless in exceptional circumstances such as war, riots, civil strife, industrial action so severe that alternative transport and accommodation cannot be provided, terrorist activity, natural and nuclear disaster, fire, adverse weather conditions, technical problems with transport and similar unforeseeable circumstances where compensation payments cannot be made.


We undertake not to make any significant changes to your booking. However since this is a field research project, from time to time certain aspects will change between the planning stages and the project delivery. These can include (but are not limited to) details of the accommodation, survey methods and transportation between sites. We will inform you of any significant changes and will provide a suitable alternative to the original project. Such changes will not constitute being offered a refund when a suitable alternative is made available.


If you want to transfer your booking to the following year or to another named person who does not currently hold a booking with Operation Wallacea then you need to obtain prior approval from the Opwall office. In the event that you make your decision to transfer after 1 January in the year of the expedition, then you need to pay an additional 10% to secure the transfer. If the decision is made before the 1 January in the year of the expedition then no further payments beyond the 10% deposit are required. No transfers are allowed after 1 April in the year of the original booked expedition. Only one transfer to a future year or of the named person per application is allowed and once that transfer is made then all monies paid would be forfeited in the event that the completer of the form wanted to cancel.


If you decide to move on to another project or expedition, you can do this free of charge, capacity allowing, until 1 April of the year of your expedition. You will be asked to fill in a new booking form to confirm the change of project. If the project or expedition you want to move to is longer you will be invoiced for the difference in price. If it is shorter, your payment schedule will be adjusted to take the new total amount payable into account. If, following you confirming that you wish to change your booking, you should decide to cancel, cancellation charges will apply in line with your original booking rather than the new booking.


Please note that when you have read the booking conditions above and completed the booking form, and when a confirmation invoice has been issued by or on behalf of us or the relevant supplier, you enter into a binding contract which will be governed and interpreted in accordance with the law of England and Wales. As a member of the Association of the Bonded Travel Organisers Trust Limited (ABTOT), an Association approved by the BIS, Operation Wallacea Ltd has provided a Bond to meet the requirements of the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992. In the event of the Company’s insolvency this Bond provides security for all non-flight inclusive packages provided by Operation Wallacea Ltd. In the above circumstances, the following will apply:

  • A refund of your package pre-payments if you have not yet travelled; or
  • Transport costs back to the start point of the expedition and a refund of the unused portion of the package price if you have already travelled


Operation Wallacea has insurance in place to provide medical and repatriation cover up to £1million for all participants on the expedition. This insurance does not cover other insurable costs such as cancellation and curtailment of your expedition due to your ill-health, flight and travel delays, loss of personal baggage or theft of possessions etc. It is a condition of your booking with Operation Wallacea that you take out travel insurance to cover these items.


  • Costs of flights and transport to and from the start and finish points of each expedition
  • Accommodation and food costs before or after the expedition start and end dates
  • Additional insurance cover beyond the £1 million expedition medical and evacuation insurance cover provided by Opwall
  • Costs of additional elective training (e.g. canopy access course, dive training beyond PADI Open Water)
  • Dive equipment rental
  • PIC cards and PADI training Manuals (or BSAC equivalents)
  • Local taxes
  • Park or Reserve entrance fees
  • Visa costs
  • Vaccination or prophylactic medicine costs