Rhinos in Namibia
Photo by Brian Taylor

Working with communal wildlife guards, Round River student research crews conduct wildlife counts to ascertain population numbers and trends to inform wildlife management decisions.

Roughly twice the size of California with fewer then 2 million people, the Republic of Namibia resides in southwestern Africa between the frigid waters of the southern Atlantic Ocean and the vast expanses of the Kalahari Desert.

Since 1998 Round River students have provided wildlife research and community-based conservation assistance to the residents of the 28 million acre Kunene region of northwest Namibia. One of the last true wildernesses remaining in southern Africa, the Kunene is a distinctive ecoregion home to many endemic species, diverse bird species, and desert adapted species like black rhino, elephant, lion, cheetah, leopard, mountain zebra, giraffe, springbok, oryx, and kudu.

Equally as rich in cultural diversity; the Damara, Himba, and Herrero people live throughout this region, mostly raising goats and cattle and growing small gardens. Organized into communal conservancies these communities are tasked with managing their communal lands and wildlife resources.

The communal conservancies of the Kunene are putting forth great effort and making progress in conserving their wildlife. To further facilitate these efforts, Round River believes a multi-level conservation strategy is needed. Towards this end, presently, working in close collaboration with the central 5 Kunene conservancies and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Round River students are conducting game counts and working closely with the conservancy game guards to receive and provide needed training assistance.

The productive and rich wildlife populations of the Kunene Region are subject to pressures from subsistence and trophy hunting, livestock grazing, human conflicts, and tourism. By assisting with the wildlife counts, Round River students are providing vitally important information to best sustain these wildlife populations.

Currently, there have been NO cases of the Ebola virus in Namibia or any neighboring countries. The affected countries are over 2,500 miles to the north. 

Our blog provides an ongoing log and history of students’ experiences over the years. There is no better resource to understand what a Round River Student Program is like and what to expect.

Program Dates

  • February 18 – May 12
  • September 19 – December 12

Program Costs

  • $17,130 includes tuition, room and board, project research fees and equipment, ground transportation, and evacuation insurance
  • $750 Westminster College registration fee

Courses Offered

  • Natural History of Namibia
  • Introduction to Biological Field Methodology
  • Applied Conservation Biology
  • Humans and the Environment
  • Human Impacts on Ecology

The time I spent in Africa on the Round River study abroad wildlife conservation program was an opportunity to get outside of my comfort zone and examine the world around me from a different perspective. This program offered me an experience I literally could not have gotten anywhere else. The stark landscapes we lived in and the diverse cultures we worked with made the time I spent abroad one for which I still have yet to find a fitting description. 

– Ben (Colby College 2010)

What to Expect

Operating from Wereldsend, our remote field camp situated in the red rock desert of the Kunene Region, the student research group must be mobile, traveling to work in the five conservancies in the region. While in the field, the bush camp may be moved every one to four days. The mornings are spent conducting game counts by vehicle and foot with the local conservancy game guards, while afternoons are for academics, data entry, and/or moving camp. Camping with the game guards provides for incredible opportunities to interact with local Namibians and learn first hand about local culture, history, and language. The group often returns to the relative comforts of Wereldsend between field trips to regroup and cover academic materials.

In 2014, students may participate in any or all of the following field activities:

  • Conducting game counts with Conservancy game guards
  • Providing computer training to Conservancy game guards
  • Implementing camera trapping studies
  • Providing environmental education activities with local school children
  • Exploring Etosha National Park and the Skeleton Coast National Park

A Round River experience is not for those looking to be catered to as a tourist but for those wishing to learn and contribute. Our remote field camp at Wereldsend, is a very special place where many research biologists who have spent time there will attest. Much to good for tourists, this is a true Africa research field camp. Over the course of the semester field season, the research group must be mobile, traveling to conduct game surveys in the five central conservancies, moving camp every one to four days. Mornings are spent conducting the game counts with the local conservancy game guards by both vehicle and foot. Afternoons involve academics, catching up on data entry, and/or moving camp. Camping with the game guards provides a unique opportunity to interact with these very knowledgeable local Namibians and learn first hand about their culture, history, and language. The group often returns to Wereldsend between field trips to regroup, visit local sites of interest, and cover academic materials.

Our academics complement the field research, and are designed to be interactive and hands-on. Students spend time each day working on their field journals, reading and discussing relevant articles with the group, having lectures from program instructors, and working on assignments and essays. Guest lectures may also add to students’ understanding of conservation in the area. Each student also produces a final written research paper, focusing on an aspect of the project.

Around camp, students help with tasks such as building fire, cooking, cleaning, and maintaining equipment. Because wildlife is very abundant, everyone must follow guidelines to ensure the safety the group. All Round River programs are unique and no one program is the same as the last. Our local partners often guide our research, and as a result, students may assist with various projects. Students consistently gain valuable field method experience, become familiar with a vast number of species, learn field research techniques, and gain a good understanding of community-based conservation in Namibia.

Because this is a research project and not a canned student field study program, schedules change frequently and everyone must be flexible and adapt to changing situations. Such is the reality of community-based conservation in Africa. For those willing to be challenged and flexible, this experience offers an incredible chance to gain diverse perspectives on conservation in southern Africa.

Student Projects

Fall 2013

Determining Group Composition of Six Focal Species in the Kunene Region, Namibia. By Madeline Norgaard & Taylor Wells.

Benefit Distribution Plan Questionnaire Assessment of Torra Conservancy, Kunene Region, Namibia. By Jessica Mohlman & Wyatt Mayo.

Wildlife Monitoring Using Point Counts in the Kunene Region of Namibia: Review, Opinions and Recommendations. By Mallory Plummer, Leah Powley, and Marina Watowich.

Spring 2013

Validation of Round River Conservation Studies’ Locality Estimates of Animal Populations in the Kunene Region, Namibia. By Lisa Nehring & Mike Steele.

Migration patterns of Kunene Region conservancies: a comparison of the wet dry season of 2011 and the dry wet season of 2013. By Ellie Liota & Katherine McClain.


Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Please apply early for the best chance of being accepted into the program of your choice.