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African Conservation Experience

About

African Conservation Experience is working to create a brighter future for Africa’s wildlife. By bringing together people from around the world to join real conservation projects, they’re turning a local challenge into an international movement.

Since 1999, they’ve helped thousands of travellers realise their ambition to work hands-on with African wildlife, learn from conservation experts, and have a positive impact on the natural world. They offer unique experiences and personal guidance before you book. But above all, they empower you to make a lasting difference to Africa’s wildlife.

Founded
1999
Headquarters

Unit 1 Manor Farm Churchend Lane
Charfield
Wotton-Under-Edge
GL12 8LJ
United Kingdom

Reviews

Default avatar
Katharina
6/10
Yes, I recommend this program

For the volunteer work at Care for Wild I have mixed emotions and cannot fully recommend it to just everybody. I will go into more detail in the following.

Volunteer Work: One works for about 8 hours a day, which mainly includes hard physical work (cleaning the bomas and haying) while the rhinos are in another area. If you have any problems with knees, back, hay fever or dust allergy, probably best not to go there because you‘ll be confronted with it all the time. It’s hard work, so one should know that beforehand. Staff jokingly calls volunteers slaves and honestly that‘s what it feels like sometimes.

Interaction with Rhinos: One gets to bottlefeed rhino babies through a fence 2-3 times a day for about 5 minutes and that’s about all the rhino interaction that one gets. There is no time to just watch the rhinos, or even pet or play with them. This is definitely in the best interest for the rhino! However, pictures on Instagram and Facebook are very misleading as one can see staff members petting and playing with them. But as a volunteer the only interaction one gets is during the 5 minutes when feeding the babies through the fence. There is only little time to observate the rhinos behavior. Again, I completely understand why it has to be that way but the marketing on Instagram is misleading and should maybe be improved, as well as the wording on the website about the volunteer work.Sometimes staff will take you on game drives for about one hour after work, which is very nice and rewards you for the hard work.

Accommodation: Very basic and tiny cabins for 3-4 people (about 6m^2) with bunk beds. Showers are full of mould and there’s quite a few spiders and bugs in the room. One can hear every word the neighbors say as well so definitely bring ear plugs. At night it got down to 7 degrees (September) and that’s the temperature we had in our rooms as well. Most people caught a slight flu because it was so cold and we only had ice cold water in the shower for about one week, which has been fixed after contacting someone from ACE who got CFW staff to fix the issue.
The place puts an emphasis on the rhinos rather than on volunteers which is definitely the right way, however I just try to give new volunteers a better insight before they arrive.

Food: Good food is provided three times a day. It’s usually meat and a side for every meal. If you want less meat and some veggies instead you should opt for the vegetarian option beforehand. Water is provided as well.

Management of volunteers onsite: Staff is really nice but they‘re not trained to manage people. When it gets down to pick things that the volunteers want to do, the one that screams the loudest gets to do the best things. This encourages competition and also bullying. The staff doesn’t really care about those things/ or doesn’t know what to do about it, but that’s probably because they‘re busy with other things. There should be someone who really looks out to distribute things equally amongst volunteers and also encourages a positive vibe within the group.
I found it very disappointing that one half of the group was able to experience the release of rhinos into the wild, where others didn’t even know about it. There was a trip planned for half of the group and staff was told to keep quiet about the release of the rhinos, which has been planned for a long time beforehand. Afterwards people bragged about what they experienced and made a show out of it. This was very upsetting and frustrating for the other half of the group, who wasn't fortunate enough to experience this. It should be either that all volunteers get the chance to experience major events or none of them!

Further, staff should take more care about people bullying and spreading negative energy, rather than just watching it happen.

Management though ACE: The manager is really nice and tries their best to meet everyone’s needs. Two people wanted to leave care for wild earlier than planned and it was no problem at all.

To sum up, if you want to donate to CFW then do it because it’s for a great cause and they definitely need the funds. If you want to volunteer there, maybe take above mentioned aspects into consideration.

What would you improve about this program?
Clear information beforehand what the work will be about (Cleaning) and that there will only be little interaction with the animals. Better management of the volunteers so that everyone gets to experience the same things.
Response from African Conservation Experience

Dear Katharina,

We at African Conservation Experience greatly appreciate all feedback that we receive.

We pride ourselves on the high level of in-country support that we provide all of our travellers with and thank you for acknowledging this. Our Rhino ratings tab is as you say an indication of the level of physical work that a project requires and as you mentioned the Care for wild rhino sanctuary is indeed a genuine working project that provides volunteers with the opportunity to be part of the team as opposed to being a spectator. The projects focus is 100% on rehabilitating the rhinos orphans coming into the centre back into the wild which is incredibly rewarding. We regret that it was not clear to you that we see, and between ourselves, refer to the volunteers as the unsung heroes of Care For Wild Rhino Sanctuary. We have taken your feedback seriously and have discussed this with our team. We want to thank you for your hard work and we'd love to see you back, possibly at our Phinda project. :)

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Mallory
8/10
Yes, I recommend this program

ACE was extremely helpful with getting to amd from my flights, i never worried about my travel while with them. My time at Chipangali was excellent, really felt like i was learning a lot and making a difference. I was glad that we were given time each day with the animals and that we were able to also have free time to rest and have fun before and after dinner. Also was greatful that we were allowed to be involved more in specific areas of interest if we wanted to. The research trips were information and the rhino walk was certainly something that i would do again.
The rooms were nice and spacious and had good storage. There was always snacks available even between meals so there was never a food issue. They were very informative and gave good directions.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
When we went on the rhino walk seeing the cave paintings and hearing about how old they were was quite a shock
Response from African Conservation Experience

Thank you for your feedback and for rating us so highly. We are so pleased that you had an amazing time and found ACE to be supportive of your conservation trip. We pride ourselves on getting to know all of our volunteers and ensuring that the projects they join align with their individual aspirations.

African Conservation Experience supports our projects in many different ways. The physical and financial contributions from you and your fellow volunteers bring invaluable support to enable year-round resources for the much-needed work; ACE has also been a key partner in setting up many of our projects including donating sizeable grants and interest-free loans. Our experienced and qualified team on the ground regularly visit and meet with the project management on-site to discuss the programs, and develop ways in which the project can be improved for volunteers and assist with staff training. This long term and continuous support has meant that our valuable conservation projects have been able to increase the impact they have on conservation and wildlife.

Thanks again for your feedback Malory, we wish you all the best and everyone would love to see you back!

Default avatar
Jamie
2/10
No, I don't recommend this program

My trip to the Blouberg clinic with the African Conservation Experience was very poor. There was both an opportunity to go and see a lion and a rhino during my stay which the team members couldn't be bothered taking us to. On top of this, the meals weren't all covered, the vets never explained what was happening (why we were doing certain things to the animals) and there were in total anywhere between 6 - 8 people sharing one, small 2 bedroom house and one bathroom.
I was lead on to believe that this would be a great adventure, that I would be 'kept on my toes' and was doing great work to help wild animals. All I saw on this trip were farm animals, far from what was promised, and the overall value of the trip was not acceptable. $4,300 and they couldn't even cover all meals.
DO NOT trust these people with your money, they are vultures.

What would you improve about this program?
Deliver on what you promised.
Response from African Conservation Experience

Thank you Jamie for your feedback. Whilst we are disappointed to read your comments, we do appreciate your point of view and thank you for taking the time to provide your feedback.

It is clear from your comments that you did not enjoy your veterinary placement and we’re sorry to hear that. We ensure that we have an in depth conversation with every one of our travellers before they book their conservation trip to ensure that the placement they choose matches their expectations. After conversations with our sales team, including deciding between various projects you chose one of our veterinary placements.
During your placement you were exposed to valuable hands-on veterinary experience with a team of real vets. Work that you were involved in included chemical immobilisations to treat wounds, disease testing and parasite control. The team also work with production animals, something I believe you were keen to have exposure to and did. The busy team of vets that you were working with go out of their way to give students as much access as possible to all of the veterinary cases that they have. If on a rare occasion students are not able to visit an animal, this is for very specific reasons and not because the vets cannot be bothered. Working with real vets in the field, who will never undertake unnecessary procedures means that your workload will be varied and educational but the types of work and the animals you are working on are never guaranteed.

All meals, as well as your accommodation, internal transfers and 24/7 support from our in-country team are all included in our placements. The only exception to this being if you visit a local restaurant during your free time.

From the time that you set foot on South African soil you had 24/7 support from our in-country team. They are available to all of our travellers to ensure that they get the most out of their experience. It was not until your day of departure that they heard from you, which meant that they were not given the opportunity to either address your issues or to move you to a project which better matched your expectations.

Our vet placements provide valuable hands-on experience to our travellers, many of whom are considering veterinary as a career option or are currently studying veterinary sciences and wish to gain some real experience with African wildlife. We have been working with the vets you were placed with for 8 years and whilst we understand that it was not what you wished it to be, we have received much positive feedback from previous travellers.

We do wish you all the best in your future career. Both us, the vets and people on the ground could see your passion and they truly wish you all the best.

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Kyle
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Traveling with ACE to the Okavango Delta in Botswana was an amazing experience. I traveled to Concession 43 in June 2017 to work on a elephant and predator study, which included several days stay on an island in the Okavango.

While there we worked with local researchers to measure abundance of a variety of game on the concession. This included lion, leopard, gemsbok, roan, wild dog, and many other species. During my stay we saw several hundred elephant, something that is now impossible throughout most of Africa.

The typical days were variable, and usually included several hours of game drives to conduct line transects to collect data for use in a multi-year survey of the area. This trips can be rough at times, as the trails are unkept and the temperature changes dramatically throughout the day.

The team I worked with was excellent, and ACE's expedition staff is second-to-none. The staff is highly experienced in conservation work and knowledgeable of the region. Planning the trip and arriving on location was easy, as their office staff was helpful every step of the process.

I highly recommend traveling with ACE to the region. The trip was unlike any other, and a valuable experience for conservationists and adventurers alike.

Default avatar
Pamela
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Chipangali and actually felt much safer in the country than I anticipated before my trip. One of the little stories I would like to share (and there are many) is that whilst myself and another volunteer were busy cleaning the lion cages on a really hot day which was a great experience in itself working so close to these majestic animals but in a very safe environment because of the lock down system within the cages - we returned for a lunch break to find 5 of our fellow volunteers all in the pool outside the main house. They had 6 hand reared ducklings with them in the swimming pool giving them their first swimming lesson and they were lining them up and having them race to the other side of the pool to declare the winner of the duck race. There was something so funny and yet caring about it in a sanctuary that has so many charismatic animals - these lovely baby ducklings were bringing so much joy and were equally cared for.

What would you improve about this program?
I did find the days fairly chaotic but that's the nature of working with wildlife your day depends on what is happening at the time and can change very rapidly - however we did seem to get mixed messages from different staff at times at to what was happening - its no big deal and nice to be spontaneous but for the volunteer who likes a routine it could be a bit of a shock

Programs

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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with African Conservation Experience in South Africa?

Whilst studying at Kingston Maurward College, we had an ACE representative come in to do a chat and show us some of the projects they do. They are a wildlife center which focuses on the care and conservation of wild animals.

I have always dreamed of going to Africa to work with the famous Big 5, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. The project offered the chance to visit Chimp Eden and Kruger National Park, which is a once in a lifetime opportunity!

They are a trusted, well-known volunteering company with many projects to choose from, which made me believe that I would be safe whilst on my trip. The representatives helped me and a group of friends from the moment we applied, and promised to help us throughout our experience too.

What made this experience unique and special?

Going to Africa was something I had never done before and Khulula Care for Wild seemed to be the perfect place for my first adventure! I was able to work with all different types of animals and many incredible people.

Khulula is placed within a beautiful valley, which inhabits wild animals such as warthogs, wildebeest and giraffe. We went on game drives in and around the site, and were able to see such animals and this was such a wonderful feeling. I was able to help build new enclosures for the animals and manage the reserve.

As a volunteer at the time, I was able to hand rear Serval Kittens which was an unbelievable experience; waking up early hours of the morning to go and give them their milk whilst they scratch you apart, and to be able to watch them grow and develop as they had they first meat was remarkable.

I found a love for rhinos whilst in Africa, which I never thought I would. But they're gentle giants who are in need of help and this made me become very attached to them as a species.

Each and every animal at Khulula had their own story and a reason for being there. Project manager, Petronel, and the other staff taught me everything there is to know about Africa and the animals. The place itself is so relaxing, but a lot of hard work goes into the running of it, this makes it so special.

How has this experience impacted your future?

I have always wanted to work with animals since I was little, but Khulula most definitely confirmed this for me. The idea of being able to help conserve and rehabilitate animals in need just fascinates me.

I learned so much from my month in Africa, it taught me to appreciate everything I have, to put myself out of my comfort zone and to also work hard at anything that is thrown at me. I also gained knowledge about all the animals I worked with which included birds, owls, lions, caracals, servals, primates, rhinos, antelope and horses.

I made many friends, who I am still in contact with currently and am sure they will be life long friends. This experience confirmed that I will most definitely be heading back into Africa for another adventure, and I will be going to work at Khulula again in the future!

What is one piece of advice you would offer something considering volunteering abroad in South Africa?

The main piece of advice I would offer is to be prepared for anything!! Things will go wrong and some events may be upsetting, but you need to be able to carry on without letting it knock you down.

I was struck by the horrible stories of rhino poaching and other animal injuries/fatalities which really effect me emotionally. But knowing that we were able to help these animals and their family members who were left behind, helped me to carry on working hard after the bad news. You have to be strong, and Africa brings this out your strength.

You must be truly dedicated and motivated if you want to work out in the bush of Africa as it can be very difficult, especially being so far away from home for some. You have to go out there optimistic and confident. I would also say to give 150% at whatever you do, and always say yes to any opportunity, even if you don't know if you'll enjoy it.

For example, I was feeling really tired on a game drive whilst we went out looking at old gold mines, and we were told that we can climb up this giant hill to see another mine. I of course said "why not!!" and went on up that hill to find the most beautiful view of the African landscape.

I was also able to jump into a freezing cold river! And I am honestly so glad I did these things otherwise I would of regretted it. My final piece of advice would be to enjoy every single second whilst in one of Africa's haven.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Lauren Locke

Job Title
Former Marketing Coordinator for the U.S. Office
Born and Raised in Asheville, NC Lauren has an M.A. in International Relations with a focus on Higher Education and Sustainable Development from NC State University. With a background in Study Abroad and Fair Trade Tourism Lauren has worked and studied on every continent. In the field, she has worked in rural development and early childhood nutrition in India, assisted with great white shark research and diving operations in South Africa and facilitated student programming in eastern Europe. She is a wealth of information on conservation issues as well as student involvement opportunities.
Female Headshot

What position do you hold at ACE and why do you like working there?

I am in the Marketing Coordinator here in the U.S. office. I feel lucky to work for a quality organization that is truly giving back to the greater good. I wholeheartedly believe in nexus between transformative student opportunities and community driven initiatives. ACE plays a special role in wildlife conservation in Southern Africa. As a small company, we have a close relationship with our volunteers and the projects. Its very rewarding to be a part of a company that works hard to promote sustainable practices and ethical relationships.

How are the volunteers supported when they arrive at their project?

ACE volunteers are given 24/7 on-site support from our ground team - led by our wonderful manager Martin. He meets every volunteer at the airport, arranges transfers and visits projects. He will literally take you to the hospital if you are sick, liaise with your family and talk you through any issues that arise. He is a truly remarkable human being and as an ex game ranger he has incredible insight into environmental conservation and historical conservation in southern Africa. Also, at each project there are volunteer coordinators to assist with the details of daily life.

How does your organization differ from other ones in the industry?

I cannot emphasize enough the ethical awareness in which we choose, maintain and support our projects. We seek to provide a fully supported placement for our volunteers but we also hope to communicate our primary purpose. Ideally, this is why we are chosen by the traveler.

We are not a “study abroad” or a “cheap safari”. We require our volunteers to give back in a very physical and personal way. We believe this creates a connection which inspires the conservation volunteer to bring a lifetime of awareness of such issues back to their home country which may further inspire others to get involved in the protection and preservation of unique habitats and species. We all know that Africa calls… as a company we hope to create a deep personal connection to the environment which will inspire travelers to return to Southern Africa and preserve the incredible biodiversity of the continent for generations to come.

How does your program support sustainable projects within the community?

ACE desires all of our projects have intimate links to the community in which they are located, as we believe this increases the sustainability of the operation. We encourage school groups and local media visits in order to increase the discussion of wildlife preservation in Southern Africa. All projects are locally owned and provide local jobs and generate income through volunteering tourism. We have also fully funded placements for local South Africans to take part in our placements and give interest free loans to our partners to develop capacity when needed. ACE has two specific partner projects that have a strong community education component.

Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage and Rehabilitation Center in Zimbabwe directs a program called “EPIC” in which they give wildlife presentations in the local schools. This has had a transformational impact on the knowledge and appreciation of the local environment. Superstitions against specific animals have been devastating to the populations. At these weekly visits both children and teachers are taught more about these African animals and are given the hands-on opportunity to interact. The presence of the foreign volunteers also increases the credibility and appreciation of the various species from a local perspective.

Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre has been a leader in wildlife preservation for 40 years. They are open for public tours and regularly have local school groups on tour. One of their most recent success stories involves education of local farming communities in order to save leopards who were threatening their livestock populations. Now, farmers will call the center to capture a leopard in order to relocate it into a protected area where it will not pose a threat or cause conflict. Previously, these leopards were simply killed, as they were seen as a direct threat to farming and its livelihood. Moholoholo has rescued over 15 leopards this year in response to local calls.

What responsible volunteering traits does ACE represent?

As a small team ACE works tirelessly to support conservation initiatives in Southern Africa by sending international support in the form of paid volunteers. ACE is the longest running wildlife volunteering organization in all of Southern Africa, having been in operation for over 16 years. ACE is primarily a conservation organization with a secondary purpose of eco-tourism. ACE does not own any of our partner projects and we encourage all sites to hire only local staff. In addition, ACE only support projects that give real and tangible value to wildlife conservation. In this way, ACE is able to truly support local organizations by providing both physical and financial assistance.

In this capacity, conservation travelers have an in-depth, hands-on, intensive experience with qualified conservationists in the field. This allows for personalized understanding and awareness of conservation issues which the traveler then brings back to their home country. Additionally, ACE ground staff fully support the volunteer throughout their placement in an unprecedented capacity. We assist with all transfers, give 24/7 support to both projects and volunteers for issues on-site as well as medical emergencies. The goal is for international travelers to have a safe and supported opportunity to experience wildlife conservation in Southern Africa, while knowing that they are absolutely having a positive impact both in energy and funding.

What does the future hold for ACE - any exciting new programs to share?

ACE has big plans for the future. We opened a US base in Berkeley, CA in July 2014 so that projects can be presented to students from the Americas. In the future, ACE hopes to build connections and diversify in South America to extend project placements to the Amazon and the Galapagos.