Research student testimonials

An experience too good to miss, but don’t take our word for it.  Here’s what some of our previous Facilitated Research students have to say about carrying out their research with ALERT...

'Deciding to undertake a postgraduate thesis was a huge life decision for me and the whole process seemed quite overwhelming at first.  I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but turning that into a viable research study was a daunting prospect.  Given that my field work was to take place in Africa my university was limited in how much support they could provide.

The team at ALERT were hugely helpful as I prepared for my study.  Their thorough understanding of the animals that they work with and the environment that they operate in was incredibly useful to me in establishing my methodology and making sure that it would really work on the ground.  They handled all the logistical arrangements for me and have been incredibly supportive as I have embarked on this journey.

I would highly recommend ALERT to anyone interested in carrying out a research study in Africa.'

Lisa Clifforde, MPhil, Exeter University, UK

'Conducting research with ALERT was an invaluable opportunity to see the daily operations - the set-backs and the successes - of a conservation organization from the inside.  ALERT’s program not only allows research students to work closely alongside smart and dedicated conservationists but provides a great simulation of actually being that kind of conservationist, which is probably the best training for ultimately becoming one.

A highlight was getting to participate in a two-day planning meeting for the Simalaha Conservancy - a KAZA-backed community conservation project in southwestern Zambia - along with senior traditional leaders, district commissioners and other government officials from the forestry, fisheries, wildlife, and tourism departments, KAZA leaders themselves, and local community members.  Being in one room with representatives of such a diverse array of backgrounds and perspectives, all with the common goal of conserving Zambia’s environment in a way that benefits Zambian people, was an unforgettable and incredible experience.  I learned so much from the people I was fortunate to surround myself with during my time in Livingstone.  I was able to develop my own professional network, which I will surely be able to draw on as I begin my own career in conservation, but I am sure any research student will find the relationships they develop with ALERT staff not only informative and educational but also warm, friendly, and even inspiring.

During my research experience, I gained a much greater appreciation for the difficulty, intricacy, urgency, and importance of the kind of multi-layered conservation work ALERT is engaged in.  I was made to feel very, very welcome, and team members were completely generous with their time and knowledge when I had questions for them.  Above all, my time with ALERT gave me the know-how and further motivation to make this work the focus of my future career.'

Matt Schneider, Ohio State University, USA

'You do NOT get hands-on experience like this in the UK!  Nowhere!  If had stayed in the UK to carry out my research, I would never have learnt as much as I have done in such a practical environment.  Not only have I learned more about wild animals, but also so much about the communities who deal with the problem of living with wild animals.  It is so good for researchers to be able to go onto these projects and meet the local community.  

It has shown me that it is not only animals ALERT are helping, it is also people.  With educating school children about lions and also the homestead owners and putting in the lighting systems, it is so much more than just trying to rehabilitate lion populations.  

I have honestly learned so much from my stay with the Victoria Falls team.  As well as practical lab work, I learned how to identify insects and different mammals, and how to carry out projects like game counts and large predator surveys.  I felt like I was part of the research team and enjoyed myself thoroughly.

Another important thing I believe I have gained is confidence.  Working with so many people and meeting volunteers from all around the world has helped me gain confidence in speaking to people.  It was such a comfortable environment to live in; like a big happy family.  Overall my experience at Victoria Falls has been amazing and I am so glad that I have done it!  My data collection and dissertation will be extremely different to anybody else’s on my course.'

Sarah Rahman, Swansea University, UK

'It has been a dream and life-long ambition for me to work with lions in the African bush. Even before starting my post-grad I knew I wanted to conduct my own lion behavioural study, so when I was told about ALERT’s Facilitated Research Program, I was over the moon.

Working in the pristine Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park felt like a scene from Out Of Africa.  I was lucky enough to carry out my study on three groups of cubs at the project, and spent numerous cherished hours with them.  The data I collected was invaluable; nowhere else would I have had access to such important raw behavioural data. It was also very humbling to know that my work would eventually be in aid of a pioneering conservation project, and to see the passion of the people working there was inspirational.  Every day staff and volunteers were raring to go, smiles all round.

I would not hesitate for a second to recommend ALERT’s Facilitated Research Program. If someone is looking to pursue an education or career in conservation, this is the program for them.'                            

Hannah Rae Kokes, MSc,  Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

'The experience I have gained researching with ALERT is difficult to come across anywhere else in the world, let alone the United States.  ALERT has provided me with a larger study group of lions than I would find in one place in the states, and being in their natural habitat provides for environmental conditions true to what wild lions would most likely experience.  This has been my first experience working with a conservation organization, and it has broadened my perspective of the amount of work saving species entails.

The researcher Yvonne was very accommodating.  Her warm personality helped make my first major research project an enjoyable one!  She always listened to any questions, comments, suggestions, or concerns I might have, and she often asked my opinion during research, which made me feel especially welcomed and respected.  In fact, she helped me feel so at home researching with ALERT at Antelope Park that it felt painful to leave, like I was leaving a dream-job.

I would not say I have gained a “once in a lifetime experience”; rather, I think it has been something much more valuable.  I learned so much about lions, research, and Africa first-hand that I feel inspired to return to Zimbabwe and travel elsewhere as much as possible.  I have made friends from around the world, memories to share with friends back home, and dreams of future research endeavors with ALERT and other global conservation organizations.  Those four weeks were more than just an addition to my resume, CV, or graduate school application; they were an affirmation of my calling in life.  A career in feline conservation seems closer to a reality than ever before, and I know it is worth channeling my passion and knowledge toward.'

Natalie Payne, Kentucky Wesleyan College, USA

‘I think this has been a great experience for me in terms of enhancing my practical experience of conservation.  I was able to participate in different types of survey and data collection, and familiarize myself with various pieces of equipment and different data entry sheets.  The researchers, Bob and Angie, were very receptive of my ideas and research, and really made an effort to ensure I had everything I needed.  They were excellent and I enjoyed being able to work alongside them both.

Elephant and giraffe surveys were definitely a highlight. It was a great experience to be in the park so often, and to have seen some of the amazing wildlife on such a regular basis. The camping trip into the park was also great – being able to see elephants in such huge numbers at the waterhole, and also hearing lions and hyena during the night.

I feel like this was a very useful experience, and I hope that some of the knowledge and skills I have picked up during my stay will be very useful in the future. It was also lovely to meet some great people during my stay. It has also made me really want to return to Africa!’

Emily O’Regan, Bangor University, UK

‘The highlights were going in the vehicle to the lions with Emma, the researcher. I never got tired of watching the lions and doing research.  One day was never the same as the other.  I learnt something new almost every day.

I think people who have been to the project should continue spreading information, both about ALERT and the situation of the lion populations.  I noticed when I came home, that talking about what I did, not many people knew that lions are actually disappearing.

I gained lots of experience.  Not only have I learnt a lot about lion behaviour and field work in the bush, but also that the work of animal conservation is mostly done out of passion and contains a lot of challenges.  But I now know even more that this is a field I want to work with.  Another reward is the contacts I have established that both have helped me to decide what is the next step towards my dream job and also being great support for new projects.  I definitely felt part of the team.’

Emma Sopelsa Hall,  Linnaeus University, Sweden

'Collecting data with ALERT has really reignited my passion for zoology.  I love being in the field and this experience has made me want to do a PhD focused on lion behaviour and conservation.

One of the highlights of the experience was being able to see the lions hunting and learning how best to hunt.  I knew that was the idea before I came, but it’s hard to imagine hand-raised cubs being able to hunt and then you see it and it’s so stunning.  I feel like I could watch lions every day for the rest of my life and never get tired of it.

As well as lion behaviour, I also joined in on an elephant survey, which was really interesting.  It was nice to get an idea of the other work ALERT is doing and to get a chance to experience some different research than what I’ve been exposed to at university.

What have I gained from carrying out my research with ALERT in Africa?  I’ve gained memories that will last me forever.  I’ve gained excitement for my final year of my degree.  I’ve gained the drive to continue to do a PhD.  I’ve gained fantastic friends.  I’ve probably gained a lot more…it was the experience of a life time.'

Olivia Halloran, University of Glasgow, UK 

'This experience has given me the ability to do independent work, to learn how to obtain sufficient data collection for a competent analysis and to face all the challenges with the right mood.  I felt confident in carrying out data collection thanks to staff knowledge and the researchers’ professionalism which helped me face different situations.  Seeing how emotionally invested everyone is, makes me understand the importance of believing in ALERT.  The principal researcher made me feel really part of the team and I hope that my study will help the organisation.'

Camilla Broggini, Universita Degli Studi Dell'Insubria, Italy

'Before I even arrived at university I knew that I wanted to do my dissertation on lion conservation in Africa. After months of searching in my second year, ALERT’s facilitated research program in Livingstone, Zambia, provided the perfect opportunity for me to pursue my passion for lions, and somehow make it fit within a Geography dissertation!

My research was broad, allowing me to get a full overview and experience of the project. ALERT ensured I was able to interview a range of people including: a national politician, a head chief, local farmers and a group of school children with their headmaster. Being able to have in-depth and honest conversations with such a variety of people, inside and outside the project, was an incredibly rewarding, invaluable and unique experience, and one that wouldn’t have been possible without the organisation and support of ALERT.

The opportunity to carry out your research within a structured framework, in Africa, with your work also contributing to an exciting and critical conservation project, is not something worth missing out on. Why do a dissertation at home, when you can do it walking with lions on the banks of the Zambezi river?'

Chris Goodman, Oxford University, UK

‘The research I carried out with ALERT enabled me to get to know the lions personally - their different characteristics and personalities.  I was able to collect data on a range of lions of differing ages and to get assistance and help from the lion handlers and other members of staff when needed.  The fact that I could participate and help out with the research on the Ngamo Release Pride greatly improved my field research skills and helped me gain more experience in practical conservation.  I learned how to plan and carry out my own research proposal and how to adapt to the environment and set-up once in the field.  I felt very much part of the research team and I felt that my input was welcomed completely.  I met a lot of interesting people and made new connections and friendships; developing communication skills and general life techniques of living abroad in a foreign country.’  

Caitlin Cant, University of Glasgow, UK

‘I learnt a lot more being in the field than I have in any class at University.  For example, I learnt about the difficulties studying in the field and the harsh realities of conservation and controversy.  I have gained a lot of understanding about the challenges of conservation and research in a country like Africa, while gaining valuable research skills and effective data collection.  Although I was undertaking my own research, I feel my data could one day help contribute to understanding the release of lions into the wild.

Some of the highlights of my placement were meeting new people and making new friends, gaining valuable research and data collecting experience, and elephants randomly coming onto the office premises!’

Alice Southam, University of Sussex, UK