Last year in July I decided do quite an adventurous thing, I decided that I was going to volunteer with Wildlife ACT in Zulu-land, helping to protect and monitor endangered species on a game reserve. Wildlife has always been a massive passion of mine and it had always been something that I wanted to do. Before going I had only been on a plane since I was 3, had never travelled alone and had to have loads of injections.
When I arrived at the airport I had a few lengthly goodbye’s to my family and since I had to travel from Manchester to Paris, Paris to Johannesburg and Johannesburg to Richard’s Bay I was worried my bag wouldn’t go straight there. Everything went really fast and quick apart from the waiting times at the airport and I was very nervous at each one, especially at Johannesburg since I had to collect my bag and transfer it. Within Johannesburg airport you have porters as well that sort of prey on travellers, asking to help you carry your bags and such, however they do expect money. If you hadn’t had a clue of these people before coming to the airport it is very easy to be roped into their help since European airports don’t allow this. On the last flight to Richard’s Bay, it was a lot hotter than I expected. I managed to get a SIM card at the airport so that I could text home and use data when I wanted. I would recommend doing this as it’s all prepaid and taking your old SIM card out means you won’t be charged at all for international roaming. I remember looking down from the plane onto South Africa and I thought the land was harsh and barren in places, you couldn’t imagine humans living under the persistent sun. It was winter, in July, so the land is very dry and you could see smoke from fires and blackened ashes of crops which were scattered across my view. Shanty town houses were always reflecting the sun, making the thousands of houses light up like cats eyes, seemingly dangerous. There was occasional rivers which were stark across the dirt too.
In the airport waiting bay I had also met someone volunteering for Wildlife ACT so I was quickly comforted at the fact that I wasn’t alone in my journey. When we arrived at Richard’s Bay and had collected our bags the volunteers were quickly greeted by the wildlife monitors, we were all each assigned to different reserves. I got told I would be volunteering on Hluhluwe Game Reserve and I would also be with the girl who I met at the airport. She would become my roommate and also still is a very close friend. As well as me there was four other girls and being 18 at the time, I was the youngest. We had to get up early between 4:30 and 6:30 to monitor the wildlife. We had a short presentation on Wildlife ACT, on what they do and that they focus on wild dog, cheetah and black rhino but wild dogs would be primarily the focus. We bought some food from the shop that is part of the Reserve and it soon became clear that wine is very cheap! And there is always lots of peanut butter! I didn’t bring that much cash on me, about £200 into Rand and I still had money left. I tried to make the most of everyday even if I was up early the next morning, I spoke to someone about lion call outs and anti-poaching as well as life in this part of South Africa.
The mornings, especially at 4:30 are very cold which is a shock because by midday you get so hot and me being me did get sunburnt on the second day. When monitoring you aren’t always successful which also isn’t a bad thing as each day we did see something new and toke many photos of every animal which we saw. We travelled to the Imfolozi Park a few times, one was to set camera traps to monitor the interactions between Genet’s and Rhino and the last time was to monitor the Lion Pride, which was the only time we managed to find them but it was so rewarding and thrilling. On the way back to camp that day we also got 100cm from an elephant which was incredible but also quite scary. Before volunteering, I didn’t know much about Wild Dogs and I have to say after monitoring the Crossroads pack I came to have my favourite, Shaggy, and also came to love them as they each had their own personalities and position within the pack which was great to watch. Every day also isn’t just going out to monitor, there was also a lot of computer and paperwork that has to be done such as going through and filing camera trap photos as well as identifying the dogs daily. We did great a lot of free time too such as having BBQs and going to the pool!
Due to staff training days all the volunteers had a meet up in St Lucia. I really enjoyed this as it meant we all went to a restaurant such as ‘Sand and Dune’ and filled ourselves with as much as we could. Wildlife ACT had set us all up at a Backpackers called ‘Bibs’ which was really comfortable and again I shared with my lovely friend. We did manage to see wildlife also since we went on a estuary ride and saw hippos, crocs and assorted birdlife. We had also signed up to whale watching in Richard’s Bay but since the waves were at a 45 degree angle we had to turn the boat back. I would have loved to have seen them but we had a great car journey there and it was nice to look around Richard’s Bay. The best part, for me, staying at ‘Bibs’ was the Zulu Dancers that came and we all had a free drinks by the fires. The atmosphere was amazing as well as spending time with everyone.
Overall, I loved my time with Wildlife ACT and was so grateful with who I got to spend it with. I’ve made some lifelong friendships for sure that I will treasure and I just hope that one day I will be able to go back and visit again. I also found the whole time I was there so rewarding and exactly how I imagined it. I really believe Wildlife ACT are contributing their best to saving endangered species around the world. If you were interested in volunteering or even donating please check out their site at www.wildlifeact.com. They are also on Facebook and Twitter too.
These are some of my favourite photos from volunteering, photos not to be reused without my permission:
Thanks for reading and if you have any questions please email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would have loved to have wrote so much more about my time and would be happy to give advice on anyone thinking of volunteering.