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African Ecology & Conservation Semester in South Africa Print

Spring 2015: January 23 - May 3, 2015
Fall 2015: August 23 - November 29, 2015
Application Deadline for Fall 2015: May 1st

Download the Undergraduate Program Brochure APPLY NOW     
OTS South Africa Student Testimonials ( PDF document 92 kb )

Laurence Möhr Kruger, Ph.D

Resident Faculty:
Dr Mduduzi Ndlovu
Karen Vickers
Dr Kristi Maciejewski
Donovan Tye
Prof David Bunn/Dr Alannah Birch

OTS Staff Spring 2015

Vision and Key Teaching on OTS

Course Syllabus
( PDF document 104 kb )

FAQ's ( PDF document 88 kb )

Orientation Material Spring 2015
( PDF document 770 kb )

Orientation Material Fall 2015
( PDF document 1.46 mb )

Application Deadline:
May 1st 2015

Cost: $25,715

OTS selects participants on a rolling basis. Please apply early to be considered. 
Applications will no longer be accepted after the program is filled, even if that is before the application deadline, so apply early to secure your spot!.

If you are interested in a semester for which the deadline has already passed, please contact a member of the OTS Enrollment Management Team for availability.

Organization for Tropical Studies Enrollment Management

Duke University

Box 90630 
Durham, NC 27708-0630

Tel. (919) 684-5155

Fax. (919) 684-5661

E-mail: otsadmissions @ duke.edu


South Africa’s rich biological and cultural diversity makes it an exceptional location in which to examine issues related to ecology and conservation. Based in Kruger National Park and West Coast National Park, field study and research exercises will expose you to different types of ecosystems, whilst you come to explore the fauna and flora of both the savanna systems and the Cape Floristic Kingdom.

You will take four courses: South African Ecosystems and Diversity, Field Research Methods in Ecology, Conservation and Management of Protected Areas in South Africa, and Duke in South Africa: Special Topics in History. Science courses will be taught by OTS faculty and distinguished visiting scientists and conservation practitioners. Prominent South African historians, artists, and cultural theorists will lead the course on History and Culture of South Africa. The program is physically and intellectually demanding, stressing full immersion in hands-on scientific and cultural studies.

South Africa is a progressive, dynamic nation that continues to redefine itself in the post-apartheid era. It features a fascinating blend of Western amenities and traditional African cultures, and a strong tradition of environmental protection, which has resulted in the creation of numerous preserves that offer excellent research opportunities.

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Split semesters: North and South!

Such has been the interest in the program that we have expanded to running two concurrent semester programs. Both programs will both start at Nylsvley, the site close to the arrival point in Johannesburg, for orientation and all the introductory work (introduction to South African ecosystems, field-based biodiversity assessment, History and Culture of South Africa) before the two classes take off to their destinations – one north to Kruger and the other south to the Cape.  The curriculum is the same and the course material will be similar but the only difference is that students on the north semester conduct their capstone work in the savannas of the Kruger Park, whilst the students in the south semester, will focus on the fynbos, marine and freshwater systems of the western Cape.

Kruger National Park’s facilities are among the best in the world, and you will visit several camps within the park during your stay. Kruger is home to over 150 species of mammals, including black and white rhino, lion, elephant, giraffe, cheetah, leopard, wild dog, zebra, buffalo, hippo, and zebra. There are nearly 2000 plant species (including 300 different types of trees), 49 species of fish, 34 types of amphibian, 166 different reptilian species, 505 species of birds, and countless less obvious insects. The West Coast National Park lies in the heart of the Cape Florisitic Kingdom, the “hottest of the world’s hotspots”. The Cape Floristic Region, the smallest of the six recognized floral kingdoms of the world, is an area of extraordinarily high diversity and endemism, and is home to over 9 000 plant species, of which more than 70% are endemic. The Fynbos Biome, home to the greatest non-tropical density of plant species, comprises most of the CFR, is characterized as a fire-prone Mediterranean-type ecosystem. It is flanked by the species rich, warm Indian Ocean to the east and the cold, nutrient rich Atlantic in the west.

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Course work and structure:

The programs consists of lectures, skill workshops, fieldwork, and visits to selected natural and historic sites of interest throughout South Africa. Students interact and learn from academics from local and international universities, conservation managers and other expert practitioners. The ecology courses, which focus on the understanding of Social Ecological Systems (SES) strongly emphasize field based, experiential learning.  Following the introductory period where we focus on developing key skills and socio-economic perspectives on conservation in RSA, students spend the middle portion of the course interacting with invited faculty and conservation practitioners, visiting selected sites. This provides students with the necessary experience in research and exposure to a range in different approaches to science to prepare you to conduct independent research. During the final quarter of the course, engage in the capstone project: their independent research projects. Students work with their professors to design research projects that will contribute meaningful scientific data to issues faced by managers in South African National Parks. 

You will also be exposed to the country's vast cultural and ecological diversity as you travel to other parts of South Africa. Your journey around the country will take you through the famed Drakensberg Mountains, the agriculturally rich highveld, and the biodiversity hotspots of the fynbos and karoo. Steeped in a rich history, Cape Town is a cultural melting pot with a diverse and vibrant character derived from Khoisan and other African groups from the North, as well as Indonesian, French, Dutch, British, and German settlers. From Cape Town you will make an excursion to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. The History and Culture course, which provides important socio-economic context for the ecology courses, includes a three-night homestay with a local family in the village of HamaKuya. Not only will you conduct research into rural livelihoods, but also the experience will provide you with cultural exchanges with local people. You will be expected to share in music, dance, and craft workshops.

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Semester movement:

Each semester will visit the same sites, on the whole, but the primary difference is that students on the North Semester will conduct their capstone project in the Kruger Park, and the South Semester, in the West Coast National Park. The schematic below illustrates the movement of students around South Africa. Note well: You will need to choose which class you wish to attend before you arrive in South Africa. You should indicate your preference, but the programs must be equally divided, so we cannot guarantee your choice.

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Sites Visited

In addition to Kruger National Park, you visit numerous sites in South Africa. Among these are Cape Town, Nylsvley Reserve, and Wits Rual Facility.

Cape Town

With the slopes of Table Mountain plunging into both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, Cape Town deserves its ranking as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. You travel to Cape Town mid-semester, where you spend several days engaged in various cultural activities, such as visiting local markets and museums. A trip to Robben Island allows you to visit the prison where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years.

The Cape Town area also provides you with an opportunity to explore two diversity "hotspots" - the fynbos (the world's smallest but most diverse floral kingdom) and the karoo (a winter rainfall semi desert with the richest succulent flora in the world). You may also wish to relax on Boulder Beach, where a colony of African penguins make there home.

Nylsvley Reserve (Fall Semester Only)

You spend the first week of the program (orientation) at Nylsvley Nature Reserve, located northwest of Johannesburg in South Africa's largest inland highveld floodplain. The area is comprised of reed banks, grassveld, woodland, and bushveld. Nylsvley is one of the top birding sites in South Africa, with approximately 370 species of birds, over 100 of which are water birds. Large mammals, such as roan antelope, tsessebe, and black-backed jackals also make there home in the reserve.

Wits Rural Facility

From Nylsvley, you travel through the Drakensberg Escarpment to Wits Rural Facility (WRF) - the University of Witwatersrand's base for rural-focused research. WRF is located in the Bushbuckridge region of the northern province, not far from Kruger's Orpen Gate. Here you spend time in Welverdiend village experiencing rural life as you examine issues such as water access, education, and health.


This program is open to all undergraduate students in good academic standing and who have completed at least one year of college-level biology. Graduating seniors are also eligible if they can stay enrolled at their home institution through the completion of the OTS program.

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Tuition and Program Fees

The 2015-2016 tuition for OTS semester programs is $23,825.  In addition, there is an OTS program fee of $1,850 to cover room and board.  International travel, independent travel, incidentals, and personal spending are not covered. Non-Duke students will also be charged a $40 lifetime transcript fee.

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We would love to hear from you! If you have any questions about this program or any other undergraduate opportunities available through OTS, please contact a member of the OTS Enrollment Management Team. Duke students should also contact the Duke University Global Education Office for Undergraduates.

Organization for Tropical Studies Enrollment Management
Duke University
Box 90630
Durham, NC 27708-0630
Tel. (919) 684-5155
Fax. (919) 684-5661
E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

All applications will be considered without regard to race, color, national and ethnic origin, disability, sexual orientation or preference, gender, or age. Duke University reserves the right to cancel this program. Should it do so, refunds will be made in accordance with the policy of the Duke University Global Education Office for Undergraduates.

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Organization for Tropical Studies
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