Franke Sustainability Fellow Studies Wildlife in Botswana

Have you ever woken up to the sound of hippos grunting or had class interrupted by a pack of African wild dogs? Franke Sustainability Fellow Dominic Noce has. He spent most of last spring in Botswana's Okavango Delta studying abroad with Round River Conservation Studies, a conservation organization focused on vast landscapes and community conservation which runs immersive educational programs around the globe. The program provides students an opportunity to experience Botswana and gain diverse perspectives on conservation in southern Africa.

Dominic NoceeBotswana is home to some of the world’s most abundant and diverse wildlife populations. That’s perfect for Dominic, a senior in the Wildlife Biology Program and a Davidson Honors College student. Dominic is also a member of the Student Chapter of the Wildlife Society and UM’s Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Student Chapter.

In Botswana, Round River partners with the University of Botswana Okavango Research Institute and local community trusts to assist with wildlife monitoring. College students join a research crew, live and study in the bush, and visit a variety of different field sites and communities, led by local community guides. Classes are immersed in ongoing field research with local communities and conservation groups to provide students with a hands-on education of wildlife conservation and management.

For Dominic, a typical day in the program began with a 6 a.m. wake up, checking vehicles and then heading out to conduct field work for the morning.

“The primary field project was distance sampling surveys, which involve driving a 20 kilometer transect and identifying any large mammals and rare birds spotted,” Dominic said. “These transects lasted until 11 a.m., and then we returned to camp at around noon.”

During afternoon classes, Dominic discussed scientific articles, learned local plant and animal identification, and experienced local culture. At the end of the day, students took turns cooking dinner, and, at night, the group would usually sit around a campfire telling stories until they retired to their tents for sleep.

Of course, that schedule could occasionally be interrupted by wildlife sightings.

“After transects one morning, we heard from the escort guides that there was a pack of African wild dogs around camp and that they should come into view in a few minutes. Not even five seconds later, there were impala stampeding through the mopane woodland near our tents, closely trailed by two dogs,” Dominic said. “We scrambled into the vehicles and caught a glimpse of the dogs splitting up and corralling the herd into the mopane to better single out a target. As someone who is passionate about predator hunting strategies and behavior, the opportunity to follow wild dogs on a hunt was a dream come true.”

African wild dogs

Dominic’s time abroad was unfortunately cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. He flew home about six weeks earlier than planned and finished classes online.

“While I was very depressed at the time, this series of events has made me more determined to return to the Okavango and work on conservation projects there,” Dominic said. “I would love to conduct a master's study there once international travel reopens.”

“Dominic’s experience with Round River Conservation in Botswana epitomizes the type of hands-on learning we strive to provide our students through an education at UM,” said Chad Bishop, director of UM’s Wildlife Biology Program. “However, such an experience only happens when a student capitalizes on the opportunities available to them. Dominic did an outstanding job with the preparatory work necessary to pursue this experience in Botswana and is helping pave the way for future students to have a similar experience with Round River Conservation.”

Dominic’s study abroad was sponsored by the FCFC’s Franke Sustainability Fellowship program, which supports undergraduate students in the college who are studying sustainability or participating in research projects in international settings. As a fellow, Dominic is part of a prestigious cohort of some of our top students.

“The Franke Fellowship covered almost all of my Round River tuition, and I would not have been able to pursue this experience without their support,” Dominic said. “I highly recommend other FCFC students apply for the fellowship if they are pursuing a field-based study abroad, like the one Round River provides.”

Dominic is also interested in wildlife photography and has shared several wildlife photos from his study abroad on his Instagram: @dominicnoce_wildlife.