Close-up of a duiker baby

Wild Gap Year

In my last year of secondary school was when I had to make the big decision, do I jump into a college course or, do I take a gap year and do what I’ve always wanted- work with wildlife!

I discovered African Conservation Experience in September 2012 while attending the Higher Options event in the RDS, Dublin. Straight away I started researching them, I couldn’t believe how many projects there were! I had to make the decision, what did I want 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, what they got to experience! Care For Wild specialises in the rehabilitation of injured and abandoned infant animals, mainly rhinos. I spent 12 weeks at Care For Wild from September 3rd 2013 – November 27th 2013 and every single 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 being alone in the big bad world. It probably took me about 2-3 weeks to settle in properly, on my third week I got tick bite fever, not fun! It’s just like a bad flu, but I survived and after that week, I never looked back.

It’s so hard to put into words 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 in my life. 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 a sister to me, she has such a beautiful soul and a passion for her work, she made me feel so welcome, she is so busy but always finds time to help you and make it fun! Sam, coordinator, like myself born and raised in Ireland, out of my 12 weeks in South Africa Sam was my team leader for 9! Sam is a team leader that makes you want to work, to do your best for these animals, he makes you remember why you travelled all that way, to make a difference and be the mother that these animals need!

It’s impossible to put into words how I feel about my experience in South Africa, I think about it all the time. 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, United Kingdom, America, everywhere! 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