Conservation South Africa

BUFFALO, NY - Eight animal behavior, ecology and conservation (ABEC) majors spent three weeks of their summer break studying the wildlife ecology and conservation of South Africa from a global perspective. The group traveled from May 20-June 11 under the guidance of Associate Professor of Biology Susan Margulis, PhD and Macy Madden '14, who served as a teaching assistant. They include:

  • Mallory Abel '15
  • Mio Akashima '15
  • Ashley Holmes '15
  • Liam Kelly '15
  • Lauren McGee '15
  • Kelsey Trumpp '15
  • Catherine Wenrich '15
  • Nick Woodard '15

This unique opportunity was part of Margulis’ core capstone course ABEC 404: Wildlife, Ecology and Conservation in South Africa.

“As a capstone course, the learning that takes place via interaction with people from very different cultures and backgrounds is incredibly valuable,” says Margulis. “From a scientific perspective, the trip provides students with a taste of what being in the field is like and introduces them to various methods of studying wildlife.”

Students spent the majority of the trip at the Lajuma Research Centre situated high up in the Soutpansberg Mountain Range in the northern part of South Africa. Working with colleagues and students from the University of Venda, the Canisius group learned basic field techniques and became acquainted with key conservation issues facing South Africa. They used camera traps to monitor very young Yellow-Spotted Hyrax. Students then visited Kruger National Park and used GPS units to examine birds of prey.

Upon their return to Lajuma for their final week, students participated in ongoing data collection related to habituated monkey groups in Lajuma (specifically the Sykes’ monkeys, or “samangos” as they are called locally). They also focused on the invertebrates of Lajuma, and on the tracks and signs of wildlife. At the Madodonga Primary School, students played a conservation game with children in grades 5-7. The children then performed a traditional Venda dance for the Canisius students.

The group sampled a traditional Venda dinner cooked by students from the University of Venda, adds Margulis, which consisted of mopane worms (a Venda delicacy), termites, and stink bugs. Canisius students reciprocated by cooking a traditional American dinner for the Venda students.

“I definitely returned from my trip to South Africa with a new perspective on life and I am so grateful for that,” says Lauren McGee ’15. “The people we met taught me not only about animals but about life as well. I had the opportunity to see animals that I may never see again, like the Cheetah, the Black Rhino and the Southern Ground Hornbill. The entire experience was unforgettable.”

The largest program of its kind in the U.S., the Canisius ABEC program educates students about the science of animal behavior as well as the ethical and moral considerations involved in these fields. The major offers broad training in the nature of animals, their behavioral ecology, and mankind’s relationship to them. It is designed for students who wish to engage in a rigorous course of study on the behavioral biology of animals, and one in which they critically examine issues pertaining to animal welfare and wildlife conservation. A central theme underlying this program is the use of scientific knowledge about animal behavior for the benefit of animal welfare and wildlife conservation.

Find out more information about ABEC, visit

Canisius is one of 28 Jesuit universities in the nation and the premier private university in Western New York.