Wildlife Act offers wildlife conservation volunteer projects in South Africa! This is your opportunity to get real experience in endangered wildlife conservation in Zululand, and have the ultimate South African wildlife experience while volunteering abroad. Volunteers work at game reserves alongside wildlife monitors tracking animals as part of larger conservation projects. Volunteer teams are small with, there are no more than 4 volunteers per reserve, so you have one-on-one time with the monitors, gaining true conservation experience.
- South Africa
Morning: Most mornings we woke up before the bird did, and I expected that as I don't usually get up easily in the morning that this would be a problem for me, but I was wrong, as every day was so exciting we all couldn't wait to get on the back of the bakkie/ute/van and go to experience another adventure. We usually started the day at 4:30am to leave the camp by 5am (sometimes for special events we left earlier) and started our monitoring of the African Wild Dog Pack to try and locate where they were and what they were getting up to.
We'd drive around the park and use the telemetry equipment to locate the collars around the alpha females neck. In between looking for the pack, we had the most amazing encounters of all of the african wildlife rhinos, giraffes, zebra, many many impalas, lions, elephants - you name it we probably saw it! The monitors were so wonderful in telling us their stories about their animal encounters and sharing their knowledge about these wonderful creatures. Their love for nature and the environment was clearly visible in all the monitors we had as they would tell us about the different vegetation that we came across and what their medicinal uses were (if any) and we were taught about the different animal dropping and spoor. It was really amazing how each individual monitor had so much to share with us.
When we found the pack, we would sit and observe their behavior in the pack. We were lucky enough to spot them sleeping alongside the road so we could see them perfectly and observe their beauty. We were trying to see who the alpha male was in the pack as it was a newly formed pack and the roles hadn't been clearly defined and as it was mating season this would now become evident. To the monitors' surprise, the female they had suspected was the alpha female (lead hunter), wasn't and the youngest female in the pack was the alpha and the oldest male was the alpha male, the strangest combination.
It was truly a magical experience getting to follow this pack around. On the days that we didn't monitor the pack we got to change the batteries and the SD cards in the stationary cameras that were disbursed in the park for a specific cheetah census that was being done. It was exciting being able to step out into the bush, knowing that wild animals were not far from you, and knowing that by what we were doing we were contributing in a tiny way to research and conservation.
When we returned to camp we could then either catch up on a little sleep, wonder around the camp or spend some time going through photo's or whatever our hearts desired. We were however also give the task to consolidate the data capture on the various camera's for the previous leopard census, that we had to complete as a team at the end of our stay at HIP, so we did that in our own time at our own pace.
Afternoon: Usually the afternoons started at about 2pm when we got back into the bakkie/ute/van and continued monitoring for the wild dogs. If we were changing the cameras that day, we would cover the entire park and would set out early in the morning to be able to get across the park to all the cameras. Generally, we would not monitor during those days as our Pack (Crossroads Pack) generally resided in the HluHluwe side of the Park. On one occasion though we were asked to monitor for the other packs in the park on one of our camera days. We would generally return to camp by about 5pm to start preparing supper and lunches for the next day.
Evening: The evenings were spent preparing food for the night and the next day and making sure we were ready for the early wake up the next morning, but also we got to socialise and chat to all the other researchers in the camp, as they too were preparing food in the communal kitchen. It was so interesting learning about all of their research and the projects that they were doing and what they were finding out. These are all such passionate people and all so willing and open to share their stories.
The people that reside at the Research camp have built up a great little community and invited us into their community with open arms and we were invited to braai's (bbq) and any other social gathering or event that they had organised. It was really awesome. Some nights were also used for us to be informed about things that we were going to be doing the next day so that we knew exactly why we were doing what we were doing and how it impacted the research and what exactly we were doing, what to look out for etc so we knew exactly what to do and why.
Highlights: For me, the whole experience was one big highlight - the people were warm, friendly, helpful, informative and caring. There are too many wonderful experience that I will never forget, learning so much about the African painted dogs, seeing a few month old baby rhino, being so close to nature and just having my appreciation for nature and the wonder of it reinforced again and again. My love for nature has just grown in leaps and bounds and I will truely never forget my experience in HIP.
Also it was great to meet other wonderful people from all around the world, and hear their stories and get to know them and befriend them. The whole packaged experience is just one not to miss out on. I will definitely return to the HIP Park any chance I get!! I miss the stillness in the morning before the sun comes up and the bird start waking up and the quiet in the evening when nature goes to rest, the unbelievable sun rises and sun set. It is just spectacular!
Morning: During my time with Wildlife ACT, mornings consisted of waking early, somewhere between 3:30 - 4:30 am and grabbing a quick breakfast or snack before hitting the road in the open-topped vehicles for around 4-6 hours. These times varied depended on which park I worked in or the distance we needed to go that day to locate the wild dogs.
While this was extremely difficult at first, I grew accustomed to those early mornings and soon looked forward to waking up, having the chance to be in the park before any of the tourists, and to watch the sun rise over the mountains or woodlands - something many people rarely get to witness. There is just something extremely special about African sunrises and sunsets that is impossible to put into words - it has to be experienced. Those early mornings, as hard as they might be were never taken for granted!
Afternoon: After the early morning drives, we usually were able to take a short break. Volunteers would then either make breakfast if they hadn't already eaten, read, take a nap, or just relax with the volunteers and staff.
On some occasions these breaks didn't last long or would be cut out completely. Instead, we would go on other game viewing/monitoring drives for elephants (Tembe National Park) or cheetahs (Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park). The elephant drives would take around 3 - 4 hours usually and we were able to see some of the most amazing elephants in Southern Africa. For instance, one of the first elephant monitoring drives, we saw the largest tusked elephant in Southern Africa - 2.9m long each!
Once a week at Hluhluwe iMfolozi, we left early in the morning and traveled around the entire park to check on the cheetah cameras, replace batteries, and collect the camera chips so that the images caught on film could be viewed and identified. This usually took the majority of the morning and afternoon. On occasion cheetahs were seen in person, while other times they were only seen from the captured photographs. Either way, it was very rewarding! Returning from these afternoon drives between 2 and 3pm, we usually had a couple hours of relaxation to eat, etc. before heading out for the night drives.
Evening: Evenings as a volunteer were typically similar no matter what park you were in. We would leave the camp at around 4pm and head out to locate the dogs again returning around 7 or 8pm. Since they are most active during the dawn and dusk, this is why early morning and late night drives are so important for locating them. Often times in the evening the dogs could be seen on a hunt! They would stroll out into the middle of the road where we could see them clearly before darting back into the thicket after locating prey.
While in the vehicles, we were in constantly in charge of using the radio telemetry devices, swapping around so that everyone had a chance to use them and learn how exactly they worked. We would hold the devices above our heads and carefully listen for the unmistakable "beep...beep...beep" of the telemetry signal once the dogs were found in close proximity to the vehicle.
Highlights: The highlight of my experience while with Wildlife ACT was being able to get unbelievable up-close and personal with the wild dogs in Tembe Elephant Park. On several occasions, the dogs would come lay out in the middle of the road relaxing until the scout of the pack would inform the others of a located prey animal.
They were so beautiful to watch and as they are basically harmless to people and exceptionally inquisitive, you quickly form an attachment to them and become emotionally invested in their survival. One instance specifically, I witnessed an entire wild dog hunt, from the time they located the prey and heard the scream of the animal being taken down, to the feasting and settling down for the night after a great meal!
Highlights: In terms of time spent volunteering, it's hard to narrow down one single highlight. Sleeping out at one of the hides, seeing the painted dogs for the first time, being mock charged by a black rhino, and being only a few metres away from a lion stand out. I was also lucky enough to be part of a collaring and release of the painted dogs, which was incredible to see and help out with. It was great to be so close to the dogs and really feel like we were helping out with some of the conservation efforts to save them.
The overall highlight for me was just time spent with the people - both the volunteers and the monitors were amazing, and it was great to be around such friendly, welcoming, passionate people. My best memory in particular was a day trip to St. Lucia, where we got to swim in the Indian Ocean and relax on the sand dunes discussing the trip.
Morning: We generally woke up and headed out in the back of the truck around 5AM to track the painted dogs via their radio collars. We'd spend the morning driving around to locate the dogs, who were often far away, but we'd always stop to check out other animals on the side of the road as well! Once we either found the dogs, or had an idea of their location, we had the rest of the morning to view other wildlife, perform any important tasks (ie. investigate cheetah sightings), or just head back to camp to relax.
Afternoon: Depending on the reserve, afternoons were spent doing different things. Generally, volunteers had time back at camp to relax, read a book, cook up lunch, and do some chores around the house. This ranged from anything to painting the walls to cutting up firewood. There was plenty of time left over to relax in the sun, or play a round of cards. Occasionally we'd spend an afternoon at a hide overlooking a waterhole, where we always saw plenty of animals and had great photo opportunities. We usually headed back out to do evening monitoring around 3PM, however we would sometimes leave early if something came up (for example, trying to locate a specific pack of painted dogs, or feed the dogs in the boma).
Evening: Evening monitoring was primarily spent locating the painted dogs to ensure their health. We'd also head out once a week to change the batteries and memory cards on the camera traps, and we'd spend the night going through captured photos. We would often stay out to view the sunset, and drive back to camp in the dark, which gave us a great opportunity to see nocturnal animals (leopards, hyenas, and plenty of genets!). Once back at camp around 18:30, everyone pitched in to help prepare dinner. We often sat around the fire talking, or took a night to play poker or other card games.
Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Wildlife Act in South Africa?
- To travel responsibly and to support a local which was making a real difference
- To educate our sons, be involved and close to the animals
- Safety for ourselves as lesbian parents, and our sons.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Sue: Getting up at 4.30, off at 5am to monitor the African Wild Dogs in the back of the truck (very cold). Monitoring the dogs by radio frequency and then trying to get a visual siting. This meant either waiting for a "visual" of the dogs, seeing the sunrise over the reserve (just beautiful). One of our sons took a book to read, as this could take a couple of hours. If we couldn't get a reading, then we would try to find them. This was great fun, off road, stopping to see other wildlife including Rhino, Giraffe, Wildebeest, Eagles (we saw 5 different varieties on our 2 week trip). Back to camp for lunch and rest, then off again doing the same thing until nightfall.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Sue: It was a lifetime experience, and we all felt we got as close as we could to African wildlife during our 2 week stay. I think it has impacted on our sons personal development and given them a different way to view things and to connect with their environment, responsibly.
I can not praise enough the people who work for WildlifeAct. I was in contact with Bronwen on a regular basis for nearly 6 months with various questions about clothing, costs, and food. They are totally professional, care for the animals they are trying to protect. They deserve our support to make a real difference.
Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Wildlife Act in South Africa?
Gale: I had always wanted to visit S. Africa, primarily to see the environment and animals. I like unconventional travel experiences and feeling like I'm more than a casual observer/tourist. Partly because of that, I found I would be making the trip alone. For myself and my family/friends back home, I needed to find an opportunity that would provide some structure, was affordable and put me up close and personal with the animals. About 10 yrs ago I volunteered abroad and decided to check on working with a conservation project in Southern Africa. After much research and comparisons, I selected Wildlife Act based on the type of project (wildlife monitoring in 4 reserves), location (transportation, health concerns, safety), review of their website & Facebook for information on mission, goals, stability, affiliations, volunteer program and recommendations. After contacting them with some additional questions, I was confident it was the right choice for me.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Gale: I spent two weeks at the Thanda Reserve where we used radio equipment to monitor black rhino, cheetah and Wild African Dogs. During my stay, the focus was on the African Dog pack. The very first day included an informal yet conscientious discussion about what we would be doing, expectations, how to use equipment and safety.
Each day we conducted morning and evening drives (0500 or so in the AM and 1630 or so in the PM - I was there in April). Just as it sounds, we drove areas of the reserve doing radio monitoring and observations. The first day we encountered a herd of rhino which we photographed, identified with a reserve field guide to the specific rhinos on Thanda, took GPS coordinates, generally watched and enjoyed. The Wildlife Act Monitor, Michelle, was very knowledgeable about the animals and the bush environment, so she was able to explain what we saw and did as well.
We also had responsibilities in the camp and did small jobs as needed. I watered the garden and planted a few things as well as repaired a small window pane in the kitchen that had fallen out or been removed by monkeys (they took the bananas and apples one afternoon) and a gate among other things. Finally, we all pitched in on afternoon and evening meals. I was lucky as the guys in my group liked cooking. A couple of evenings we went to a small pub for dinner. We enjoyed our evenings together, but knew the alarm would be going off at 0415!
How has this experience impacted your future?
Gale: This trip reignited my passion for working in not-for-profit. My job situation was changing and I have decided to leave the corporate world, spend some time traveling (back to S. Africa with Wildlife Act in late March). I was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease about 6 yrs ago, but had pretty much been in denial about it. This trip helped me come to terms with my diagnosis and future. So much so that my goal is to encourage and facilitate volunteer travel for people in the early stages of a diagnosis, especially Parkinsons, MS, ALS, etc. It helps give perspective, makes you stretch and gain a sense of purpose and strength. I'm not sure exactly how, but I want others to feel energized and empowered as I did upon my return.
About the provider
Wildlife ACT actively advances wildlife conservation by conducting ongoing projects on reserves in South Africa. Wildlife ACT performs conservation services free and completely relies on volunteer support. Interested volunteers are encouraged to visit the Wildlife ACT site to learn more.