Close-up of a duiker baby

Wild gap year

In my last year of secondary school, I had to decide whether to jump into a college course or take a gap year and do what I've always wanted- work with wildlife.

I discovered African Conservation Experience (ACE) in September 2012 while attending the Higher Options event in the RDS, Dublin. Straight away, I started researching them, and I couldn't believe how many projects there were! I had to decide what I wanted to do in Africa. Join a research project, do a vet programme, do a game ranger course? Then I saw it: Khulula Care For Wild!

I was so captivated by the pictures I saw, the jobs the volunteers got to do, and what they got to experience! Care For Wild specialises in rehabilitating injured and abandoned infant animals, mainly rhinos. I spent 12 weeks at Care For Wild from September 3rd 2013 to November 27th 2013, and every day had an unforgettable memory.

I won't lie, I was scared and homesick, and it's tough! I'm the youngest of four; it was my first time alone in the big bad world. It probably took me about 2-3 weeks to settle in properly. I got a tick-bite fever in my third week, which was not fun! It's just like a bad flu, but I survived, and after that week, I never looked back.

It's hard to describe what an amazing place Care For Wild is. First off, the people; I owe absolutely everything to Petronel Nieuwoudt, Angelique De Klerk, and Sam Browett. These are three of the most amazing people I have ever met. Every morning, Petronel, the owner of Care For Wild, would find some way to inspire me. Just by her stories or pep talks, she has so much strength and passion for what she does I would be lucky to have a fraction of it! Angelique, Petronel's right-hand woman and coordinator, was like my sister. She has such a beautiful soul and a passion for her work, and made me feel so welcome! She is busy but always finds time to help you and make it fun! The coordinator, Sam, was born and raised in Ireland - like me! Out of my 12 weeks in South Africa, Sam was my team leader for 9! Sam is a team leader who makes you want to work to do your best for these animals. He reminds you why you travelled all that way: to make a difference and be the mother these animals need!

It's impossible to describe how I feel about my experience in South Africa; I always think about it. I've always loved animals, but now I know that I need them in my life. I need to work with them!

Care For Wild has given me some wonderful memories, being a surrogate mother to baby baboons, bottle feeding baby antelopes, kissing rhinos on their big squishy noses, having vervet monkeys play with my hair, or getting so close to lions that you can feel them breathing on your face. Of course, I cannot forget the friends I made there, all the way from Australia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and America. The people I met made me love it even more.

Taking a gap year was the best decision I could have made! It made me who I am today.

By Lauren Morriseey, ACE Volunteer