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  • Tasneem Johnson-Dollie

How environmental research jobs in South Africa pack a punch

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

Some images in this article were taken pre-COVID-19. 

BY: Tasneem Johnson-Dollie

Environmental research jobs are key to tackling the many challenges facing Earth’s natural spaces. In South Africa, environmental researchers drive some of the most impactful and complex conservation efforts in the world. 

Here’s more about what environmental jobs in South Africa are all about and why they pack such a punch. 

What are environmental research jobs in South Africa all about?

Bushwise students on a walk.

Photo by: Ben Klunder

Safari guides, field guides and game rangers are hands-on conservationists whom many consider the stars of the show in the field of conservation. 

They’re the ones doing the fieldwork needed to conserve wild animal- and plant species in nature reserves. But, they’re not the only key roleplayers.

Wildlife research jobs in South Africa’s environment have a unique focus on observational work. 

Gaining an understanding of how wild animals interact with their environment, through observation, is at the core of what wildlife researchers do. 

This doesn’t mean that wildlife researchers aren’t involved in any action out in the field, though. In fact, on a wildlife research expedition, chasing down herds of animals or spotting a lion lurking nearby are typical parts of the job. 

Wildlife researchers may work for the wildlife conservation research unit of a private or public reserve. They may also be independent researchers affiliated with a university or conservation organisation. 

Bushwise students on a game drive.

Photo by: Ben Klunder

Depending on whom they work for, wildlife researchers can be involved in many different areas of research, from profiling biomes to tagging and monitoring migratory animal species. 

There are so many environmental-research topics relevant to South Africa, working as a wildlife researcher there means you have numerous options when it comes to pursuing meaningful work. 

Why are wildlife research jobs important in conservation?

Wildlife conservation research involves gathering all the essential data that reserves need to plan and execute relevant and meaningful wildlife conservation efforts. Sounds simple, right?

Well, not quite. Wildlife researchers need to be experts on wildlife and the procedures used to do scientific research in the wild – which isn’t as straightforward as doing research in a controlled setting like a lab.

Without the expertise that those employed in wildlife research jobs bring to the field, many of the attempts made to conserve wild species would fall flat. 

Here’s one example of how wildlife conservation research played a vital role in South Africa’s environment. 

How wildlife research jobs added to cheetah conservation in South Africa

Cheetahs lounging.

If a reserve was looking to introduce more cheetahs to an area where the cheetah population was dwindling, they could just pick the cheetahs they want, relocate them to the reserve, let them loose and wish them well in their new habitat.

But trial and error has shown that this isn’t the best way to go about it. In many instances where this approach was used, the relocated cheetahs wouldn’t fare well in their new habitat.

But why was this the case? 

After taking on the task of observing cheetah populations in South Africa, researchers identified different behaviours amongst cheetahs residing in predator-dense areas when compared to those residing in less predator-dense areas. 

Cheetahs overall are less aggressive predators, and shy away from confrontation with larger predators like lions and hyenas. 

Cheetahs are less aggressive predators.

Cheetahs in more predator-dense areas have adapted to their habitats in ways that allow them to secure enough food and territory, even with tons of other predators on the prowl.

One example of this behaviour is that cheetahs in predator-dense areas opt to hunt in larger groups. Having a large group of cheetahs in the same place at the same time makes other predators think twice about bullying cheetahs into abandoning their prey. 

And, cheetahs residing in predator-dense areas would pass on these behaviours to their young, ensuring that generations of cheetahs would be able to survive in the region.

If conservationists hadn’t prioritised wildlife conservation research in this instance, cheetah relocation programs may have continued to fail, and the cheetah population may have been up against an even bigger challenge. 

And, cheetahs aren’t the only wild animals that have benefitted from wildlife research efforts. 

What are other environmental research topics in South Africa focused on?

With a growing number of species appearing on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) Red List of endangered species, environmental research jobs are more vital than ever. 

The abundance of species and biomes in South Africa led to it being named a megadiverse country by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)

But, South Africa is also facing some of the biggest global challenges, such as climate change, habitat destruction and poaching.

Rhino poaching is a big crisis happening in South Africa.

This has highlighted certain wildlife conservation research topics as priorities in South Africa’s environment. Today’s key environmental research topics in South Africa are concerned with:

  1. establishing local and national needs regarding research, education and monitoring 

  2. safeguarding South Africa’s biomes

  3. encouraging and preserving genetic diversity amongst animal species 

  4. understanding soil erosion and how to manage and reverse this phenomenon 

  5. ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources. 

So, when you study nature conservation in South Africa, you’ll be exposed to some of the most challenging conservation work on the continent. 

You’ll also be learning from conservationists who’ve contributed to some of the most innovative solutions in the field.

Bushwise students tracking an animal footprint.

How you can study nature conservation in South Africa’s environment

Starting out on your journey to becoming one of the best wildlife researchers out there is just one wildlife expedition away.

Bushwise Field Guides offers the most comprehensive wildlife research course in the field. On our Wildlife Research Expedition, you’ll learn how to gather and analyse data on an array of animal species, including elephants, cheetahs, hyenas, rhinos and lions. 

Sign up for our Wildlife Research Expedition and boost your potential to land environmental research jobs in South Africa.


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