Africa gets under your skin. Everybody in ACE knows that only too well – for most of us, that’s why we love what we’re doing! And it’s wonderful to follow someone else through their journey from planning a trip to experiencing the country and wildlife first hand falling in love with Africa themselves.
Here Sharon Ringel takes us through her very own life-changing experiences at the Phinda Wildlife Research Project earlier this year:
“My Phinda Research Volunteer Experience was my first trip ever to Africa and one that has left me with incredible memories to cherish forever. I was drawn to Africa after watching television programs on Game Reserve Management, and was enthralled by the work they were doing to conserve and manage wildlife there. I fell in love with the Rhino specifically and just had to go see them in their natural habitat and get a better understanding of what their plight is like there. I chose Phinda to also work with the Big 5! I was not prepared for what I was about to experience, as I underestimated the impact a trip like this can have on your life. It has changed me in so many ways!
My first day at Phinda I met JR (the resident Wildlife Monitor), who I and the other volunteers would spend the next 3 weeks with. On our first monitoring patrol through the reserve we saw an 8 member herd of Elephants. There was a matriarch with a radio collar on and several other adults and calfs in the group. They were walking right next to the vehicle, so close you could have touched them. It was a particularly neat discovery to see how quietly they navigate through thickets or on roads, with barely a sound. I learned later during my trip how hard it truly is to find these majestic animals despite their enormity. I was next surprised to see how protective they were of their young. It was hard to get a glimpse at first of the young calfs, as they were often at the underbelly of their mom or between several cows. Being my first ever interaction with Elephants, I was beside myself with excitement, it was more than I ever expected on day 1. I had no idea what more was in store for me over my 3 weeks there, and every day was even more exciting than the last.
Over my 3 weeks there I learned to use telemetry equipment to track Leopard and Ele’s, to identify tracks of Lion, Leopard, Ele’s for tracking purposes, participated in Biopsy darting on Lion, and Rhino, participated in a Lion tranquilization darting (for DNA collection so 2 young males could be sold to an interested party) and I learned to identify Rhino through ear notching count techniques. We collected valuable data on animal counts, GPS locations, as well as sex, age and size of them and catalogued this data in their archives. The research we were participating in was primarily long term data collection, and observation of animals on the reserve (health, watching for injuries, snares). The data we collected is used by the reserve to control populations, predator/prey balance, monitor habitat requirements and maintain reserve biodiversity. I was also fortunate enough to be able to spend an afternoon with the Anti-poaching team on the reserve and was enthralled with their commitment and dedication to their cause, despite its dangers. During my time at Phinda I observed almost every type of animal on the reserve including the Big 5, as well as Kudu, Nyala, Impala, Giraffe, Warthogs, Hyena, Waterbok, Crocodile, Hippos, Zebra, Duikers, Vervet monkeys, Jackal and many special birds including Marabou, Burchells coucal, and Bee eaters. It was a breathtaking 3 weeks and I met some tremendously special people along the way!
“Coming home was very emotional for me! I had so many special moments and memories while I was at Phinda, that by the end of this trip I was in love with all the animals and those working relentlessly behind the scenes. With a heavy heart I left, teary eyes and all, and arrived home with a new found love of South Africa and their incredible animals.
Now I know…. Africa is a place I will visit again! “
Sharon Ringel, Phinda Volunteer, Feb – March 2012