Preserving Biodiversity: Conservation Photography in South Africa

In light of the ongoing global COVID-19 crisis and worldwide travel restrictions, which are expected to remain in place for an indefinite period of time, Stanford University is suspending all BOSP Summer Quarter 2019-20 programs (see full announcement).

Seminar Quick Facts

Location: South Africa (Kruger National Park and surrounding regions)

Instructors
Susan McConnell, Biology
Sebastian Kennerknecht

Arrival date in Johannesburg, South Africa: June 19, 2020

Departure date from Johannesburg, South AfricaJuly 9, 2020

Information Session: November 18 (12:30pm-1:30pm) in Bass Biology rm. 122

Program Cost: $600 program fee. Fee covers room and board, transportation and course activities during the program. Fee excludes airfare to/from the program location. Financial assistance towards the program fee and cost of travel may be available. Please visit the Overseas Seminar Overview webpage for complete information.

Academic Prerequisites
1) Students must have taken either Bio 7N (Introduction to Conservation Photography) or Bio 53 (Conservation Photography) prior to entering the field in this seminar. Bio 7N is offered in Winter Quarter (but is limited to freshmen and will not be offered in the 2019-20 academic year). Bio 53 is offered in spring; there is limited enrollment, but places will be reserved for students accepted into or waitlisted for the overseas seminar.
2) Bio 16 (Conservation Storytelling: Pre-course for BOSP South Africa) - This course will be held on alternate Friday afternoons from 3:30-5:00 p.m., and the final session will be followed by dinner at Susan McConnell’s home on campus. The sessions will be held on the following days: April 3rd, April 17th, May 1st, May 15th, and May 29th. Note that it may be difficult or impossible for students who are abroad in spring to enroll in this seminar, due to the requirement to attend the preparatory course described above. If you plan to be overseas, you will be required to participate in the workshops via Skype, starting at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time. Note that for many overseas locations, these sessions may occur during the middle of the night.

Additional Program Requirements
1) Vaden Travel Health Orientation
2) 1x1 Appointment with Vaden Travel Clinic
3) Ground Rules - In order to optimize safety during the program, students will be required to agree to and sign Ground Rules that may restrict behavior throughout the program. These Ground Rules are in addition to the BOSP Participation and Assumption of Risk, Release of Claims, Indemnification and Hold Harmless Agreement that all students sign and agree to at the time of program application. Students’ parents/families will also need to sign these Ground Rules to confirm that they acknowledge the specific dangers of travel to the program location.

Activity Level
Moderate: Participants should expect to spend multiple hours each day engaging in physical activity such as hiking or snorkeling. For a full list of program activity levels refer to the Overview page.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Health Information for Travelers to South Africa

US State Department Country Information
South Africa

Visa Information
Consulate General of South Africa

General Information: Visit the Overseas Seminars Overview page

Application Deadline: January 26, 2020 at 11:59pm (applications will open in December 2019). Please visit BOSP's Application Process page for more information.

Questions? Schedule an appointment with a BOSP staff member.

General Description

What is conservation photography? One might define it as “nature photography with a mission.” Conservation photographers photograph the natural world, animals and plants, and the people that threaten, protect or study wildlife and ecosystems—all with the goal of advocating for specific conservation outcomes. 

In this course, students will undertake in-depth projects in conservation photography in South Africa, focusing on the preservation of biodiversity. Using digital SLR cameras, students will practice and refine their photographic skills and learn strategies for effective visual storytelling. They will create original photographs that explore and document how ecosystems, wildlife, and people impact issues in biodiversity, and they will learn how to constructively critique their own images and those of others. The course culminates with student presentations of images that address specific conservation issues, and the celebration of individual photographic portfolios.

We will spend early mornings and late afternoons doing photography in the field, and we’ll interview a variety of stakeholders, including people living in local communities, working in private and national reserves, or enjoying the reserves as visitors. On some days, course faculty and guest speakers will present lectures in the late mornings, early afternoons, or early evenings. During the first week of the course, we’ll review strategies for creating photoessays on conservation and examine outstanding examples of photography on conservation and natural history. Throughout the three weeks, we will invite guest speakers to talk about issues pertinent to biodiversity, including the crisis in rhino poaching, active management of public and private game reserves, the role of apex predators in ecosystems, and community initiatives to engage local residents with wildlife and conservation. The seminar leaders will offer tutorials on photography in the field, conducting interviews, and sequencing images. We’ll devote the third week of the course to the creation and refinement of collaborative, conservation-based projects on biodiversity, culminating on our final day in presentations of final projects and individual portfolios.

Location

South Africa is an ideal location in which to explore the tensions and benefits arising from efforts to conserve wildlife and biodiversity. In 1998, Conservation International identified seventeen countries that harbor the majority of the Earth’s species and are therefore considered to be “megadiverse.” South Africa ranks #6 on this list. In 1994, South Africa signed the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity, through which it pledged to pursue the parallel goals of preserving biodiversity, developing methods for sustainable use of resources, and sharing the benefits that arise from genetic resources fairly and equitably. Central to South Africa’s efforts has been the establishment of protected areas that include national parks, which are maintained by the South African National Parks (SANParks) system, provincial nature reserves controlled by local governments, and private nature reserves managed by private landowners. Nevertheless, overpopulation and expanding human development in South Africa have led to extensive deforestation and loss of natural habitats, particularly in areas adjacent to the townships.

In this seminar, we will explore the tensions that have resulted from the forced displacement of Black South Africans during apartheid, from population growth, and from local needs to utilize natural resources, relative to the benefits of preserving biodiversity, the creation of public and private game reserves, and the impact of ecotourism on local economies. We will visit a variety of public and private nature reserves, including the Kruger National Park, which was established in 1895 and remains one of Africa’s largest game reserves; the Makalali Reserve, a privately managed reserve adjacent to Kruger that has reclaimed old cattle farms and reestablished a wild ecosystem; the Blyde River Canyon, a mountainous region that is operated as a provincial nature reserve; and the Highveld Escarpment, which borders Swaziland and Mozambique. In each location we will experience a diversity of flora and fauna that stand at the pinnacle of biodiversity. In addition, we’ll meet, photograph, and interview people living in local communities, visit educational programs that introduce local residents to conservation, and meet with the rangers, anti-poaching patrols, park officials, and private landowners who manage the different types of reserves.


Specific destinations:

We’ll spend our first two nights at a hostel in Johannesburg, where students will sleep in bunkbeds, in shared rooms of 6 or more students per room. From here we’ll take a day trip through Johannesburg, with a focus on the history of South Africa under apartheid.

We’ll then drive to the Kruger National Park, a huge national park where wildlife is found in abundance. We’ll stay for six nights at the Skukuza Science Leadership Initiative (SSLI) Campus, a sustainably built education, training and research facility located inside the national park. There, students will stay in farmhouse rooms.  In addition to morning and afternoon game drives, we will seek opportunities to interview rangers, guides, and staff about the management of resources and tourism in a national park.

From the southern Kruger region, we’ll then drive north to Kampersrus, where we will stay for two nights in farmhouse rooms at the Kaya Hanci Lodge. This will be our base for visiting community projects and anti-poaching patrols.

The Makalali Game Reserve will be our home for six nights. Makalali is a large private game reserve that is home to lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo, rhino, hippos, hyena, and a wide variety of plains game and bird life. We’ll stay in chalets in a lovely lodge next to the Mahkutsi River. There we’ll focus on morning and afternoon game drives, community outings, and hearing the thoughts of guest speakers. At Makalali we’ll have the chance to examine the management of animals, water resources, and tourism in a private reserve.

We’ll then transition from the lowveld to the highveld and enter the Drakensberg escarpment, where we’ll spend two nights in chalets at the Caracal Lodge. The region no longer has dangerous game but we may spot wild horses, which are remnants of the gold mining days, Boer wars and early cattle farmers. Here we’ll have a chance to hike, swim in waterfalls, and visit Adam’s Calendar, a standing stone circle thought by some to be the oldest man-made structure in the world.

For the last two nights of the course we’ll migrate to a guest house in Hazyview, which offers comfortable, lodge-style accommodations. At the Ashbourne Lodge we’ll finalize and present student projects and portfolios.

Living and Travel Conditions

Students will share a variety of accommodations during the course, including dorm-style rooms with bunkbeds in Johannesburg, farmhouse rooms in Kruger National Park and Kampersrus, chalets at the Makalali Reserve and Caracal Lodge, and lodge-style rooms at Ashbourne. All meals will be communal, and students are expected to assist with clean-ups after meals.

During the seminar we will spend most early mornings and late afternoons in the field, either in safari vehicles or on foot, viewing wildlife and conducting interviews. The activities in this course are moderately strenuous, thus this course may not be appropriate for students with limited mobility. All field outings are highly mentored in order to teach students advanced photographic skills and to ensure safety in the field.

Students should understand that the conditions for this seminar present some difficulties and discomforts that are not encountered at Stanford. Lodgings for this seminar vary in their level of amenities. Students will be in shared rooms, often sharing common bathrooms. We may encounter periods without hot water. Nighttimes may be disrupted by interesting and sometimes loud sounds of wildlife, so earplugs may be useful for sleeping. Throughout the trip, wifi connections (if they exist) are extremely slow. Dietary selections will be limited: although basic vegetarian options can be accommodated, students with severe dietary restrictions should carefully evaluate their ability to participate comfortably.

In game parks and reserves, the animals are wild and can present a threat to life and safety. We are likely to encounter large animals such as elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos, buffalo, and hippos, in addition to a wide variety of plains game (e.g. zebras, impala, kudu), birds, reptiles, and insects. It is essential that students observe all local and park regulations and exercise caution, being fully aware of their surroundings. Seminar participants must precisely follow the directives of guides, particularly when walking in the bush. Claudia Schnell and Robin van den Berg will serve as course naturalists. They are certified FGASA Lead Rifle Trails guides who are well trained to take clients into the field and to respond appropriately and effectively to unexpected situations.

If you are uncomfortable traveling under such conditions, you should not apply to this seminar.

Instructors

Susan McConnell is the Susan B. Ford Professor in the Department of Biology at Stanford. The research in her laboratory explores the mechanisms by which neural circuits are established during mammalian brain development. Her interest in the brain is an outgrowth of a lifelong fascination with animal behavior, which also led her to delve deeply into wildlife photography. Although she has worried that an obsession with “getting the picture” causes one to lose sight of the rewards of direct experience, Sue has realized that when she’s behind the lens, she feels absolutely and fully engaged with observing and predicting animal behavior. Telling stories about wildlife is best accomplished not through the production of single images, but rather through a series of images that explore a subject and its relationships to the people who study, protect, live with, or exploit that species. Sue is particularly interested in scientific studies of animal behavior in the field and in the depiction of animal emotions. Her photographs have appeared in Smithsonian, National Geographic, Outdoor Photographer and other magazines, and have been exhibited at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the Stanford Art Gallery, and the G2 Gallery in Los Angeles. Sue is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Her teaching has been recognized by the Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Hoagland Prize for Undergraduate Teaching. Sue taught Bio10AX (an Arts Intensive course on conservation photography) in September 2011, OSPGEN49 (Conservation Photography) in Costa Rica in 2013 and 2015, OSPGEN 18 (Conservation Photography and Print Journalism) in South Africa in 2016, and this course (Preserving Biodiversity: Conservation Photography in South Africa) in 2018. She currently teaches Bio7N, an IntroSem on conservation photography, and Bio53 (Conservation Photography), which is identical in content to Bio7N but is open to students of all years.

Sebastian Kennerknecht is a wildlife and conservation photographer with over fourteen years experience visually covering wildlife both locally and internationally, focusing in particular on endangered species and wild cats. He has produced high quality photographs, time-lapses, videos, and web content featured in and by BBC Wildlife, Smithsonian, The Economist, Science, and Conservation International, among others. Using highly customized SLR camera traps (which Sebastian builds himself) along with conventional photographic techniques, and following extensive natural history research, he works closely in the field with biologists to capture the behavior and ecology of wildlife, showing the threats they face as well as the conservation work being done to protect them. Sebastian has worked for world-renowned wildlife photographer Frans Lanting, assisting him on two international assignments and six photography workshops. Sebastian has personally organized and led over forty wildlife photography workshops in the USA and thus is a highly experienced instructor; he previously taught this course (Preserving Biodiversity: Conservation Photography in South Africa) in 2018. Sebastian graduated with a BS in Ecology and Evolution from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and is a member of the Andean Cat Alliance. He has traveled to over twenty countries for photography assignments, thus he understands and appreciates the logistical, creative, and cultural aspects of such trips.

Prerequisites and Expectations

Student must have taken either Bio 7N (Introduction to Conservation Photography) or Bio 53 (Conservation Photography) prior to entering the field in this seminar. Bio 7N is offered in Winter Quarter (but is limited to freshmen and will not be offered in the 2019-20 academic year). Bio 53 is offered in spring; there is limited enrollment, but places will be reserved for students accepted into or waitlisted for the overseas seminar.

All accepted and waitlisted students will be required to attend a pre-seminar preparatory course (Bio 16) during spring quarter, in addition to the mandatory orientation meeting in spring. The course will be held on alternate Friday afternoons from 3:30-5:00 p.m., and the final session will be followed by dinner at Susan McConnell’s home on campus. The sessions will be held on the following days: April 3rd, April 17th, May 1st, May 15th, and May 29th.

Note that it may be difficult or impossible for students who are abroad in spring to enroll in this seminar, due to the requirement to attend the preparatory course described above. If you plan to be overseas, you will be required to participate in the workshops via Skype, starting at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time. Note that for many overseas locations, these sessions may occur during the middle of the night.

Application Process

A subset of students who apply to the seminar will be asked to submit a photographic portfolio of no more than 10 images. Many of these students will be invited to a very brief (10 min) individual interview.

Number of students to be accepted: 14 undergraduate students

Grading Basis

Satisfactory/No credit

Student projects and portfolios will be evaluated based on effort, improvement, and rationale rather than on the aesthetic or professional merit of the photography.

Passport and Visa

Students are solely responsible for obtaining their passport and visa (if applicable). Every BOSP participant MUST have a signed passport that is valid for at least 6 months after the scheduled RETURN date from the overseas program. Students who do not have a valid passport must apply for a new or renewed passport immediately. For information on obtaining or renewing a U.S. passport please visit the State Department website.

To determine whether a visa is necessary for your program, visit the Consulate General of South Africa website. You may also consult with the recommended visa service providers listed below.

VisaCentral by CIBT
VisaCentral by CIBT offers online Stanford rates, or contact the local office:

In person: 555 Montgomery St. Suite 700, San Francisco, CA 94111
Walk-in hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
By phone: (877) 535-0688

Health and Safety

Students on international programs should be aware that attitudes toward medical conditions, disabilities, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and psychological conditions vary by culture and under the laws of the host countries. These differences impact the level of treatment and accommodation available abroad. Students should give serious consideration to their health and personal circumstances when accepting a place in a program and should consult with their clinician.

While the benefits of international travel can be enormous, it is often associated with certain health and safety risks. Thankfully, a number of interventions exist to mitigate these risks including vaccines, use of certain medications, and specific behavior changes. Health concerns vary by the particular destination, time of year, the health of the individual, type of accommodations, length of stay and specific activities. Participants should be up to date on all their regular immunizations, check the CDC website for vaccinations and immunizations. In addition, specific travel vaccines such as typhoid, yellow fever, or rabies vaccines may be indicated. Various types of medication may also be needed to prevent life-threatening malaria or altitude illness; or to treat traveler’s diarrhea. Finally, students should learn and utilize insect precautions, food and water precautions, and general safety precautions. These can prevent illnesses such as dengue fever, schistosomiasis, HIV; or accidents such as those involving motor vehicles. In spite of all the precautions, occasionally students do become ill or sustain an injury while traveling. Thankfully, most of these are minor. However, it is critical that students have a clear plan of care in case of an emergency on their trip. The travel clinic at the Vaden Health Center has produced an online travel health module that provides comprehensive strategies to help you stay safe and healthy while traveling.

Students must review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for complete information regarding the health concerns and vaccine recommendations specific to South Africa. Students must also discuss with the on-campus Vaden Health Center Travel Clinic or a travel health specialist about the best ways to protect their health.

Students must review the U. S. State Department’s Country Information for complete information on safety and security in South Africa.

As with any foreign travel, students are advised to be alert to their surroundings, and be particularly aware of any health and safety advisories for the area in which they will be visiting. Students should consult with their health care provider(s) to be prepared for potential illness. Additional issues of personal health and safety and precautions will be discussed in detail during the mandatory pre-seminar preparation and upon arriving in the country.

If you are uncomfortable traveling under such conditions, you should not apply to this seminar.

Program Modification and Cancelation

Stanford reserves the right to cancel or modify the seminar before or during its operation for any reason, including natural disasters, emergencies, low enrollment, or unavailability of facilities or personnel or compliance with the University travel policy. The specific seminar dates, locations, facilities, and activities are subject to change depending on available resources at the time, safety and security situations on the ground, and other important considerations that may arise for a successful implementation of the seminar.