by Claire Vetori:
If you are looking for excitement, adventure and a lot of fun on your trip then African Wildlife Volunteering is a wonderful option. I have been a volunteer at a game reserve for four weeks now and it has exceeded my expectations. Being an ecologist, I was looking forward to getting up close and personal with South Africa’s wildlife and I have not been disappointed.
The main focus of each day is the family of lions on the reserve
Normally we would go out and find the male (he has a collar) at the beginning of each day and record the behavior of all five lions before moving on. This is my favorite part of the day. Even if you are not a morning person (I am not) I am eager to get up at whatever time necessary Wednesdays are the earliest starts before dawn as that is game count day. We are responsible for recording data on the game in two zones on the reserve which can mean counting every animal depending on the type of count. The impala can be very tricky to count. Binoculars are well worth investing in before you come.
Twice a week we spend time at the orphanage in Patterson so come prepared to give the children there plenty of hugs and organize fun activities. Last week we set up an obstacle course for them. Even something as simple as ‘ring a ring a roses’ brings out lots of laughter. One of the best days here so far involved helping the vet, William, dart two eland bulls before they were transported to another area. Things did not go quite according to plan with both animals escaping from the boma once darted and we had to take cover in the vehicle. The eland is the biggest species of antelope and it was a privilege to be so close to these animals. You learn very quickly that a call from William always leads to an exciting day. A lot of other activities also occur during the week such as game drives, maintenance work (alien vegetation removal, road maintenance etc) so bring some sturdy gloves and plenty of energy. You will be shown what to do for the practical work so do not be worried if you have not done this sort of thing before.
A trip here would not be complete without some sort of camping experience.
You need to watch out for the local wildlife of course including the off-duty rangers who like to play practical jokes on us gullible volunteers!!! You have been warned.
You have the weekends to yourself but it is easy to hire a car or organize to be picked up and dropped off at places by the local shuttle service. A group of us spent last Saturday in Port Elizabeth which has some fantastic beaches. Addo Elephant National Park is also well worth a visit and you can hire one of the game rangers to take you round in one of the safari vehicles. The local pub is just over the road and it stays open until the last person leaves. Food wise everyone helps out and you just need to remember to fill in the food order each week. You will meet a wide range of people during your stay which makes things interesting, but do not let that put you off as you often learn a thing or two. I am having a great time and I will definitely be coming back to Africa again and again. If you choose to spend time at the game reserve, I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.