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East Coast College

A group of animal care students from East Anglia have gained firsthand experience of working with big game wildlife after spending two weeks at a South African nature reserve.
East Coast College students at UmPhafa Private Nature Reserve, South Africa

A group of animal care students from East Anglia have gained firsthand experience of working with big game wildlife after spending two weeks at a South African nature reserve. 

Ten learners from East Coast College, which has campuses in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, spent time working alongside staff at the 6,000-hectare UmPhafa Private Nature Reserve in KwaZulu Natal. 

The trip, which was supported by a £28,000 Turing Scheme grant, saw the youngsters encounter leopards, buffalo, rhinoceroses, wildebeest and hyenas, among others, as they supported crucial species monitoring and conservation activities. 

The intensive two-week work placement gave students the opportunity to take part in a wide range of projects such as behavioral observations on game species and camera trapping of elusive nocturnal species. 

They also took part in exercises designed to help reserve staff combat the illegal poaching of animals, even playing the part of the criminals in some cases. 

Inspiring and incredible trip 

Student Archie Cohen said: “Spending time with the animals in their natural habitat was so exciting as they all have their own uniqueness and place which is critically important for the ecosystem. 

“I have always wanted to pursue a career in this area and now I know what I need to do to achieve this.” 

Fellow student Phoebe Last said: “I loved every minute of this very inspiring trip, it was incredible. I enjoyed learning about the African culture, being around so many wonderful animals and experiencing different elements of how a reserve works.” 

Jasmine Barratt, another student who went on the trip, added: “I was thinking about studying zoology after my course, but after visiting the reserve it has given me a passion for conservation. I would love to become a field guide and educate young people about why we need to look after these animals and respect our environment.” 

Helene Quin, curriculum manager at East Coast College, said: “The trip truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our animal care students which will enrich and enhance their learning with us and beyond into their next steps. 

Life-changing venture for students 

“All of the students displayed determination and passion and I was overwhelmed by their knowledge and deep desire to learn as much as they could. 

“They embraced every opportunity to learn and participate in all aspects of work on the reserve and I am extremely proud that our college was able to offer such a fantastic opportunity to our students. 

“Many of our young people have not had the opportunity to even go outside of the county that they live in, so to go on a venture like this is life changing. 


“With a rise in mental health issues among young people, linked specifically with deprivation, it is now more important than ever to connect them to the environment, to support and promote positive mental health alongside key skills for their studies, personal and professional development and career opportunities.” 

Holly Chase, Assistant Principal at East Coast College, said: “We are delighted that our students could benefit from this fantastic opportunity and know that opportunities such as this are powerful and very often life changing. It is great to see our students immersing themselves in different cultures and ways of thinking.” 

Conservation through education 

As well as working with reserve staff, the students also collaborated with visiting staff from Colchester Zoo, their local UK zoo. The nature reserve was set up and is supported by the zoo’s Action for the Wild charity, which is dedicated to researching and conserving animal species all over the world.

Reserve manager Amanda Warren said: “At UmPhafa, the students are exposed to life on a game reserve from various perspectives by actually working alongside those that work here on a daily basis. Over the course of the trip, the students are exposed to many different game reserve areas, to give them an idea of conservation through an educational experience.  

“We were delighted to have East Coast College join us as it gave us the chance to educate and show the students interested in the field of conservation the practicalities of running a game reserve.” 

Find out more about FE/VET opportunities with the Turing Scheme on our dedicated webpage. 


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