Tell us a little about Imire and your role at the company.
Jane: Imire was begun as a farm in the 1950s by a Zimbabwean conservationist whose vision was to see Zimbabwe’s wildlife restored to the great levels it was in the past. He understood that game, including rhino and elephant, can thrive on what was previously just cropping and cattle farmland and that the community around conservation areas like Imire have a massive role to play in returning wildlife to the Zimbabwe bush.
Our vision is to show rural communities the benefits of game corridors and how they can use sustainable farming practices to improve their financial security as well as the well-being of the wildlife and environment they live in. My role is to create awareness of the situation concerning conservation in Zimbabwe, especially that of the black rhino and to show volunteers the real tangible impact of what they can achieve by volunteering at Imire, or even what they contribute by coming to Zimbabwe as tourists.
How did you get involved in the volunteer industry?
Jane: I worked in marketing for 12 years in the UK before deciding to take a career break in 2010 and going travelling. Whilst away, I volunteered on two wildlife conservation programmes in South Africa and did a FGASA Level 1 Field Guiding course - which sparked my interest in conservation and tourism marketing in general.
I then travelled through Mozambique and Zimbabwe and ended up helping at the lodge on Imire for 18 months, which is where this volunteer programme is based. It was all an adventure to get to this point and I am determined to get as many people as possible to experience Zimbabwe and Imire for themselves!
What makes Imire unique?
Jane: We believe Imire is unique firstly because of how it was founded - on solid conservation grounds and sustainable farming principles. We’ve acheived many firsts at Imire - habituating orphaned African elephants, becoming a breeding nucleus for foot-and-mouth free buffalo as well as nyala and the rare sable antelope. We have a proven and successful track record of breeding black rhino for release back into safe areas of Zimbabwe and our vision is to continue to promote the benefits of wildlife and human co-habitation in the rural areas.
Our volunteer programme is hands on, and we mean properly hands on - where else can you study the endangered black rhino so close at hand, have such amazing experiences with elephants and form relationships with many other animals? Because we only take a maximum of 10 people at a time, our volunteers are always active, always involved and become one of the family - Imire is still family owned, with three generations of the Travers family living on the game park and we believe this creates a special atmosphere which is hard to find in larger, more commercial programmes.
In your experience, what characteristics make a good international volunteer?
Jane: Patience, enthusiasm and flexibility are all key to a good volunteer, especially in Africa! Our volunteers will turn their hands to anything - whether its mucking out the rhino beds, helping vets with injections, carrying out snare sweeps or searching for white rhino’s on horseback - be prepared for anything!
How do you ensure your programs are sustainable and mutually beneficial for you, the community, and the volunteers?
Jane: Every project we undertake has specific and measurable objectives which are regularly measured by a range of Imire staff, managers, community members and volunteers. All volunteers give us feedback in the middle and end of their programmes and if necessary we will adapt the direction of projects and volunteer involvement.
Each community project is undertaken with the full support of the village heads, local council, schools and other relevant parties and we go through a full consultation to ensure that all parties buy into what we are trying to achieve. Our community projects are about empowerment not charity and we find that within the community there are enthusiastic people who will do their best to make each project a success.