Students Study Animal Behavior in South Africa

HIGH POINT, N.C., June 15, 2017 – Meerkats, elephants and penguins. What do these animals have in common? Each one has been studied by High Point University students as part of a Maymester course in South Africa.

HPU Global Experience programs, also known as “Maymesters,” are short-term study abroad opportunities that allow students to fulfill course requirements under the leadership of HPU faculty, while immersing themselves in a new culture. This year’s offerings included eight journeys that covered 11 different countries.

Students who participated in the Animal Behavior course began their adventure through South Africa with a few nights spent in the Southern Cape, where they studied animals such as penguins, whales and ostriches, just to name a few.

They continued their studies in Hoedspruit and spent nine nights in The Greater Kruger National Park, a portion of the vast 77,000-acre Balule Game Reserve. There, they took part in day and evening game drives and visited an elephant sanctuary, where students had the chance to ride one of the animals.

“We can learn about behavior cognitively and/or emotionally,” says Dr. Joanne Altman, director of undergraduate research at HPU and the trip’s faculty advisor. “Learning cognitively that elephants live in large groups of females with their offspring, is one thing. We can do that in a classroom. But watching 50 elephants feed, interact and play in a waterhole just a few feet away, in the context of their natural environment, is an experience that our students will never forget. The knowledge gained will forever be coded with the feelings of awe that accompanied it. That is what creates a passion for what we learn, and a pattern to become life-long learners.”

To conclude their trip, students chose an animal on which to write a paper. Many began the course with an idea of the animal they wanted to write about, but after experiencing and seeing a variety of others, those ideas changed.

“That’s the impact of studying behavior by observing it, rather than reading about it,” says Altman.

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