Reserve Management and Big Five Monitoring

Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa. 


Project Overview

In early 2014 I spent some time working alongside the head researcher, Cilla Pickering, at Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa. 
Cilla undertakes daily monitoring, and radio tracking of the big 5 on the reserve. She is also involved in recommending and overseeing animal movements to and from other reserves, to maintain a healthy gene pool at Phinda and throughout other fenced reserves. 
During my time at Phinda, I was able to learn tracking skills from ranger Hadrian, monitor movements and behaviour of Cheetah (Phinda is famed for the genetic heritage and health of its Cheetah population), Lion, Elephant, Leopard, Buffalo, as well as join Spotted Hyena researcher Axel on night time surveillance. 
I was also lucky to help out with habitat management during a 'burn' season, which consisted of burning areas of land, to rid the area of encroaching scrub and rejuvenate the area for grass and other vegetation for grazing animals.


  • This was more of a personal learning trip for me, so that I can learn the skills necessary for me to take part in more African conservation in the future. With that in mind my aims were to: 

  • Learn tracking skills

  • Learn to conduct GPS and Radio-telemetry tracking 

  • Learn about reserve management in a closed system (fenced reserve)

  • Learn about and take part in game capture and mass game capture and movements (very different to zoo collection movements!). 

  • Learn about and participate in anti-poaching work; fence line patrols, rhino ear notching, DNA collection (to trace illegal caches and help make prosecutions). 

  • Learn the skills necessary to be around wild animals.  


I learned all I set out to in my aims, and more! I had the best experience helping the Phinda team, it definitely deserves it reputation as one of the best 'small' reserves in Southern Africa! 
During my time there (and for the two years previously) there were no incidents of poaching. (Sadly in 2015/2016 under the pressure of poaching for Rhino horn the team has taken the sensible decision to trim the Rhino horn, lessening the incentive for poachers).