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African adventures for environmental geographer

Posted on 14 July 2015

Enduring cold showers at sunrise, making fuel briquettes from zebra dung and even coming through a bout of malaria may not sound like everyone’s idea of fun, but Environmental Geography graduate Sophie Pierce, 21, took it all in her stride while on a course placement in Africa.

Sophie Pierce

Despite the hardships, Sophie, from Thames Ditton in Surrey, rates the placement to the Kuti wildlife reserve in central Malawi as the highlight of her time at York.

Sophie travelled to Malawi for her dissertation investigating human-wildlife conflict, working mainly with a small type of antelope called a duiker, but also with zebra and lions displaced from Rwanda.

She should have been there for three months, but her illness curtailed her adventure by a month.

“I think it was me being a bit silly not taking all my tablets” she said. “I was quite poorly. I started having hallucinations. I went on safari and on the last day I started to get the shakes. It got to the point where I wanted my mum.”

Sophie went on to make a full recovery thanks to the initial treatment she received in Malawi and when she arrived back in the UK.

And she has nothing but fond memories of her time in Africa, despite the early starts, lack of home comforts and illness.

She admits she “stumbled” across the idea of travelling to Malawi for her studies after attending a lecture on zoos and animal conservation by Dr Andy Marshall in the Environment Department at York.

“That one lecture made me think, yeah, why not? I’d never been to Africa and I thought it would be amazing to link my dissertation with travel, new experiences and a new culture.  I just stumbled across this one.”

Her placement culminated in a 8,000 word dissertation.

“When I was actually out there the dissertation kind of changed and I looked more at the relationship between the fringe communities and the Kuti wildlife reserve itself.

“It turned out the park were doing lots of good things for the communities but the communities were still in uproar. They were upset about the animals coming to eat the crops and damage the buildings. There were good things the park was doing but I concluded by saying there needs to be more community run projects.”

Sophie says she now hopes to pursue a career in wildlife conservation. “York has been amazing” she added. "The course has been fantastic with a huge range of different modules. The social life has been great too. I have made life-long friends.”  

Sophie Graduates with a BSc in Envrionmental Geography (First Class Honours) on 17 July.