A herpetologist, a high school teacher and an NGO director walk into a room…
No, this is not the beginning of a bad joke, but was the start of the enlightening experience we had in taking our Biodiversity Skills Pilot Group on a visit to the School of Life Sciences at the Pietermaritzburg (PMB) Campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) on Friday, May 11. Designed to give our learners exposure to campus life and to the range of careers that one can become prepared for at UKZN, this day brought excitement and relevance to all that we have been doing in the Biodiversity curriculum.
The day started off bright and early, as the bus set off from Cato Manor at 7:30am. Upon our arrival, we were welcomed by a team of five postgraduate science students from the School of Life Sciences who had been planning for this visit for some time. This group is part of an outreach initiative called LWAZI -- a student organiztion that provides science enrichment activities to rural KZN schools. Our first scheduled event was a meeting inside the amazing Museum room, which houses a fantastic collection of preserved specimens, skeletons, and other exhibits, all showing the evolution and biodiversity of life in Southern Africa. This marvelous collection even Included included the skull of “Mrs Ples” (Australopithecus africanus).
In addition to getting to tour the Museum, while in that inspiring space the learners were privileged to hear presentations fromour team of postgraduate hosts, detailing their current research and how they arrived at their choice of career focus. From there, we were divided into groups and taken around to various parts of the impressive life-sciences facilities which the PMB campus has to offer. Imagine this: getting to see and do hands-on activities in areas as wide-ranging and diverse as aquaculture, herpetology, insect ecology, plant ecology, ornithology and zoology!
While in the herpetology department, our host Cormac introduced the learners to a 1.5 metre boa constrictor -- not your ordinary thing to see and touch! This session was followed by an ornithology session, in which learners were taught the mechanisms of catching and marking bird species for scientific research; a plant ecology activity, where learners were taught how to preserve and label plant species and shown the significance of a herbarium. These were followed by an insect ecology session, where learners used a dichotomous key to identify a multitude of insects; and lastly a fish ecology session in which the learners observed the results of a comparative pond system analysis.
Many thanks to Camille, Kerushka, Celine, Cormac, Sachin, Ebrahim, and the whole LWAZI Team for giving us such an inspiring glimpse into your lives as scientists! Maybe you will be seeing some of our Biodiversity learners on campus next year!