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YouTuber fundraiser sponsors fossil hunt trip for disadvantaged kids

Two university students have used their large platforms on YouTube to raise money to fund a research trip for disadvantaged young people in South Africa.

Ben Thomas is a University of Portsmouth palaeontology undergraduate who also has more than half a million subscribers on YouTube. He began making videos on the platform when he was 12 years old, showcasing his passion for natural history and particularly dinosaurs. Last year, the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg asked Ben to use his profile to raise money to fund a research trip in the Karoo Basin for young people who weren’t able to afford this essential part of their degree by themselves. The Karoo region’s geology dates back almost 300 million years and has been home to the discovery of new species of dinosaur such as Massospondylus, a six-metre-long sauropod which was a giant herbivorous reptile.

Along with fellow YouTube creator Doug James, a history student at the University of Southampton, the two were able to raise more than £10,000 for the Therapsid Researchers’ Initiative for African Karoo Study 2021 expedition (THRINAKS) by encouraging their fanbases to donate to the crowdfunding campaign. Ben and Doug were also invited to the month-long research trip to document it for a YouTube series, the first episode of which is due to be released this Sunday 14 August.

Ben commented:

“As a palaeontology student myself, I understand the frustration of not being able to afford to get out on field trips, so I’m delighted to have been able to help other students who might not get this opportunity at all. It has always been a dream of mine to be part of the team on a real palaeontological expedition and this time I will also be able to share the highs and lows of the whole experience with my YouTube followers.”

Dr Julien Benoit, Senior Researcher in Palaeontology at the Evolutionary Studies Institute of Johannesburg, added:

“During this field trip into the South African Karoo, the students, as well as Ben and Doug, were taught how to prospect for fossils, excavate, make a plaster jacket, log, map and GPS mark fossils before transporting them back to our collections where they will be stored and catalogued. This was a unique opportunity to discover the amazing richness of the Karoo extinct fauna and flora, and learn how much sweat, tears, but also comradery is hidden behind every fossil discovery.”