One of the most exciting activities to participate in while volunteering abroad on our wildlife conservation projects in Africa is a game count. So what is this and how are volunteers involved? I had the opportunity to participate in a couple of game counts while visiting several of Kaya’s conservation projects in southern Africa recently, and they really were the highlight of my travels.
The main purpose of a game count is to document the presence of wildlife in a specified area over a period of time, monitor changes and consider if any action is needed once a bulk of data has been collected. Project teams are looking for changes in the range of species, times when they are present and the numbers of animals in a predetermined sample area. For example, in Zambia the team are monitoring the movement of elephants across the Zimbabwe / Zambia border and implement long-term mitigation of wildlife / human impact in conjunction with the local authorities On my outing we met 14 elephants and were able to age, size and document their features. It really was incredible.
On a game count you will record the location, number, age and size of the animals and time of day that they are spotted. There are a number of tools that are normally shared out including binoculars, GPS tracker, range finder, species form (for example, to age an elephant), record sheets and a camera with a good zoom lens. If you aren’t given a piece of equipment remember that a keen pair of eyes is the greatest tool available and you will notice that everyone vies to be the first to spot something!
Volunteers, interns and project team members normally travel in a jeep or open sided truck with seats. It really is fantastic to be so high up and provides a great view of the savannah or bush without endangering people or wildlife. In Swaziland, this meant we could spot animals without interfering with nature. I was lucky enough to see a stand off between two male Inyala (shown in the cover photo of this blog). What a great moment.
On a game count you never know what you will see and that is what is so exciting. You cannot control the movement of wildlife so nothing is guaranteed and this builds the anticipation of each game count outing. I saw my first Kudu in Zimbabwe and it was an incredible moment. I also improved my photography skills too, as I used my zoom and different lighting settings. If I had had the time I certainly would have joined one of the wildlife photography courses to capture even more incredible moments.
Even if you are on a community based project you may have a chance to join a game count, such as the teaching and community project in Victoria Falls, and it really is an experience not to be missed. So take a look at our wildlife projects in Africa and take advantage of the opportunity to see wildlife in its natural habitat while volunteering abroad and contributing to essential conservation efforts. I cannot wait to return to southern Africa in the future.