Close-up of a baby rhino

Sleeping under the stars with a baby rhino - my unforgettable African Conservation Experience

I never thought that I would have felt so at home after travelling alone over 5000 miles away from where I live in England, but at Khulula Wild Care, I did. My passion for wildlife, conservation and a desire to work with animals took me to the African Conservation Experience website. After looking into all the projects I made my decision and it was all booked.

Living in a castle within a reserve which sees giraffes, ostriches and zebra amongst many other animals roam around already seems slightly surreal. Then to find out that my days in South Africa would be spent caring for animals such as serval and caracal cats, owls, a bushbuck, porcupines, a warthog, and the most adorable bushbaby to name a few. WelI I just don’t know why it took me so long to get out there for this experience.

At Khulula, we worked in teams to follow a schedule to ensure all the animals at the centre were fed and cared for. In between this we could do other things, for example, sunbathe, spend time with the animals, use the swimming pool, or just catch up on sleep. We would sometimes have lectures in which we would learn about things such as hand rearing antelopes or caring for carnivores and giraffes. We also went on trips out. Some were animal related like taking blood samples from crocodiles, visiting Kruger National Park and a chimp sanctuary. Other trips enabled us to experience more of the South African culture included going to a rugby match and a music festival in the closest town of Nelspruit.

During my time there we had the chance to learn how to use a dart gun. I soon learnt that hitting a target with this was not a natural talent of mine. However, with the winner (the one to hit closest to the bulls-eye) receiving a day off to relax, I think the pressure just got to me! Another thing I soon learnt is that warthogs give you a mud bath, not the other way around, no matter how hard you try to stay clean.

My last week at the centre saw the arrival of several baby ostriches, and a baby white rhino. We had to prepare a safe and sturdy enclosure before he, Bobby the rhino, arrived. This was very physical work and under the South African sun it wasn’t always easy, but the rewards always made it worth it. After Bobby, whom was around 3 months old at the time, had settled in, we arranged shifts between us to keep him company. He had come to the centre after his mum was found dead and Bobby was left to fend for himself. He therefore hated being left alone, and so we, all the volunteers, became his family.

As well as day shifts there were night shifts, which became a very bizarre experience. In couples we would sleep out under the stars with Bobby (and his friend, Billy the goat, who arrived with him at Khulula Wild Care). Unfortunately the night it was my turn the heavens opened with heavy rain, thunder and lightning. This meant we had to move Bobby into the next enclosure, which had a roof, and thankfully the other volunteers came out to help us. Two humans trying to move a 150 pound baby rhino in the dark is even harder than you would think!

He was understandably disturbed by the thunder during the night and a restless rhino in a small enclosure is not ideal when you are trying to sleep. Once I was woken to find Bobby’s face just inches away from mine. It turned out that he wanted to urinate in the spot where my head was, I’m just grateful he allowed me to get up and move first!

Being able to spend this time with such an amazing animal along with everything else that happened within the month I spent in South Africa made it completely unforgettable. Not a day or night went by when I didn’t appreciate the wide range of animals I was surrounded by, the sky being completely filled with twinkling stars or the perfect sunsets every evening. I can’t wait to do it all again as soon as possible!

Leanne Parsons