iC Dingbat

Spotting Species: Abroad in Africa

Story by: Alex Ojerholm '14


Sergei Poljak '14 (right) on the Etosha Salt Pan in the Kalahari Basin of Namibia.
Sergei Poljak '14 (right) on the Etosha Salt Pan in the Kalahari Basin of Namibia.

Lions and ostriches and zebras—Oh my! 


For Sergei Poljak ’14, spotting these species was all in a day’s work during his study-abroad program in the Kunene region of Namibia in the fall of 2012.


Poljak and nine other students spent three months camping in tents and going on daily excursions into the bush and nearby communities to gather wildlife research for Namibia's Ministry of Environment and Tourism.


The group spent their days going on game counts and point counts, reporting detailed observations on the species they spotted to gain a better sense of wildlife density in the area. Poljak memorized more than 200 species for the fieldwork. “There weren’t many animals we didn’t see,” said Poljak, an environmental studies and philosophy double major from Branford, Connecticut.


For Poljak, the trip was more than just an opportunity to go on a three-month safari. “I was basically learning the ecological processes of Africa,” said Poljak. “It was right up my alley.” 


Memorable moments included accidently running into a young male lion on a bird-watching trip, rescuing a baby zebra that had fallen into a ditch, spotting a juvenile leopard, and observing a pack of hyenas feeding on a zebra.  


Managed by Round River Conservation Studies, an ecological research and education organization, the trip had one Namibian and two American leaders who taught the students wildlife research techniques. “The Namibian leader was one of the best people I have ever met in my life,” said Poljak. “His indigenous knowledge of the area was spectacular … and he could survive alone in the wild.”


“It changed my perspective on the world,” said Poljak, “Being in the bush for months, seeing the way wildlife existed with people and the way conservation was done. … It was great.”



Alex Ojerholm '14
Princeton, Massachusetts
Major: Economic-Mathematics | Minor:...