The lust for adventures took Maja to South Africa

Last changed: 09 January 2020

The dream of adventures out on the African savannah was one of the main reasons Maja Widell applied for the Master's programme Management of Fish and Wildlife Populations. Even before she had started, she knew she would do her master's thesis work in Africa. Now she's been there!

Who am I?

My name is Maja, I'm a 24-year-old swede born and raised in Dalarna. Since childhood I've been astonished by nature and wildlife. A year ago, I made the decision to move to Umeå, to do the master's programme at the department of wildlife, fish and environmental studies.

However, I just arrived back home from a 3-month long stay in South Africa, in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, where I was conducting field work for my MSc-project. The mountainous landscape in the park was breath-taking and the wildlife was spectacular!

What is your Masters thesis about?

For my project I'm investigating how elephant interference with white rhino grazing affects grassland dynamics in terms of growth and reproduction. By their heavy grazing, white rhinos maintain a grassland type called grazing lawns. These lawns consist of grass species that have co-evolved with grazer communities. In fact, the lawn species are in some ways promoted by high grazing pressure. Interfered white rhino grazing can therefore have an important impact on the lawn grass populations.
But how does elephants interfere with rhino grazing?

Elephants are messy feeders and when they are browsing from shrubs and trees, they discard a lot of twigs and branches. Previous studies have showed that the woody debris that elephants scatter on the lawns, inhibits white rhinos from grazing these grasslands.

Why did you choose that topic?

It is a fascinating topic, that makes you realize how complex interactions between species and trophic levels that exists in nature.

Beside my interest for the specific topic, the opportunity to conduct field work in Africa was crucial for my choice of MSc-project. The truth is, one of the main reasons why I applied for this master's programme was because I knew that the department is involved in many African research projects. Hopefully, this MSc-experience helps me develop skills and gain knowledge that enhances my chances to return to the continent as a future ecologist.

A camera trap. I use them to monitor grazing activity in my plots. Photo: Maja Widell
One of my treatment plots with the woody debris (that simulates the interference by elephants). Photo: Maja Widell
A grazing lawn. Photo: Maja Widell
Eric (ranger) and Phumlani (research assistant). Eric protect us from dangerous animals when we are out in field and Phumlani helps me identifying grass species. Photo: Maja Widell
Beautiful scenery... Photo: Maja Widell
...and amazing wildlife in the park. Photo: Maja Widell
White rhinos. Photo: Maja Widell
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