“My name is Dionne Smith. I recently travelled to South Africa through African Conservation Experience. I would like to share my experiences with you.
Fundraising for my trip was part of the deal. I found this to be challenging in these times of economic recession. However, some of my successful efforts included a car boot sale, a raffle and donations from friends and family. The largest amount I raised was when my high school principal allowed all the pupils to wear a sports jersey of their choice instead of the school uniform for one day. The pupils had to pay two euro for this day of fun. I had given a talk to promote my task the day before and my passion must have come through because this resulted in most people donating more than two euro. I raised over one thousand euro with little effort. I was thrilled when the day finally arrived to begin my African adventure.
I travelled to Mpumalanga, South Africa on the 19th of April 2011. The name of the reserve is called Kuhulula Wild Care. It was located up on a mountain with a beautiful view of the wildlife around. We stayed in a castle overlooking the nature reserve, which where home to many animals including giraffes, monkeys, zebras and many more. It was also home to many sick animals including a white rhino, caracals, cervals, owls, antelope, porcupines, bush babies, fox, tortoises and ostriches. They are all being cared for at the centre and eventually will be released back into the wild when they have fully recovered.
The owner of the reserve is called Petronel and she gave me such a warm welcome that I immediately felt a true sense of belonging. The days were very structured rising at 6.00 am every morning and working till 9.00pm. There was a brief every morning at 7.00 am to prepare for the day. Volunteers were allocated the animals they were to care for during the day. I got new animals to look after every day!
One of the most amazing animals on the reserve was the baby white rhino named Bobby. A poacher had killed his mother and we were looking after him here. He needed to be fed a special bottle formula every 4 hours. Feeding a white rhino a bottle is something I will never forget along with many other things I experienced on this trip. Along with Bobby, I helped look after the porcupines, the cervals, the tortoises, the fox, the crows, the owls, the monkeys and many more.
On some days, we had lectures covering hand rearing wild animals and how to administer medical aid to the animals. One of my favourite lectures was learning how to dart an animal for medical treatment. We also got the opportunity to practice with real dart guns using targets.
It wasn’t all hard work, the volunteers also had an opportunity to have some fun. We went on a horse-riding trip, where we trekked up the mountains of South Africa and the view was spectacular. Another trip we went on was to a local crocodile reserve. I got to handle crocodiles and ended up with a pretty nasty bruise and cut on my arm as a crocodile struggled to get free of my grip.
An outstanding experience for me was when we visited the Kruger National Park. A lion came right up to our safari truck and we had to remain still and quiet. It was breathtaking to see. We also saw giraffes, buffalo, elephants, warthogs and rhino. Nearing the end of the day we saw a lioness stalking her prey!
Back at the reserve, every day was a learning experience. All the animals were fantastic to spend time with especially the monkeys. I had a lot of fun with them. They were really friendly. They took everyone in as part of their pack. They would climb on top of your head and start grooming you and they were extremely curious. They would try and open your mouth to see what was inside, play around with your eyes and nose and if you were not careful try and pull your piercings out if you had any.
As friendly as they were you always had to show them who was boss. They were at the adolescent time of their lives so if you told them they couldn’t do something they would get angry. They were just like bold teenagers. They would always try and take things out of my pocket like my camera or watch and if I would take it off them and say no they would get angry. But after a while they realized that I did not take any nonsense. Most of the time they were really sweet animals and would love cuddles and sucking on your ear lobe.
By the end of my trip, it was extremely sad to go. The volunteers came from England, Australia and France. We all gelled really well and by the end of my trip it was really difficult to say good-bye. My whole trip to South Africa is definitely something that I will never forget and the information that I learned there is etched into my memory forever.
It would be my ambition to return to repeat this experience as soon as I can raise the money.”
Dionne Smith, Dublin, Ireland