When I was 16 I took part in my first volunteer experience with African Conservation Experience (ACE), where I volunteered at Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. Here I met the fantastic project team who helped widen my sheltered view of conservation. I discovered that there is much more to conservation than is shown on TV, and the most important factor in saving our planet is education. Helping spread awareness, and working with local people to help protect wildlife areas is vital, and Moholoholo strives to achieve that.
I have fond memories of Moholoholo, gaining hands-on experience caring for the wildlife that was brought into the centre. For example, an injured serval was nursed back to health and was released back into the wild while we were volunteering. You gain such an amazing feeling of relief and joy being a part of a real-life success story. Moholoholo is definitely not a glorified safari, the work here requires commitment and hard work, but it is incredibly rewarding.
The experience of not only helping an animal survive its injuries but also playing a part in it having a second shot at life in the wild, is what made me realise I wanted to be a vet. I knew I had to come back one day!
Six years after my trip to Moholoholo, my interest in conservation medicine grew. I am now a vet student and I wanted to explore this passion further as a possible career path. I saw that ACE offered Shimongwe Wildlife Veterinary Experience, which is tailored towards veterinary students and practising vets, and it really appealed to me.
I would recommend this trip to non-veterinarians too, as it gives any volunteer a good experience and an insight into what real wildlife vet work is like.
Your daily work is varied at the vet project, from caring for domestic animals to working with wildlife in the bush. I had a fantastic experience getting involved in the relocation efforts - this is when we moved species like kudus and waterbucks between reserves.
The highlight for me was when we were called out to a nearby lodge to help a rhino with an injured tail. We got to take part in the process of tranquillising and treating him.
Throughout my journey, the ACE staff were professional, efficient, and transparent; from the initial talks on the phone, all of my transfers, and the overall experience in South Africa. The ACE in-country team met me at the airport when I landed, and provided me with more information not only regarding the project I was visiting but also the bigger picture of how wildlife vets in South Africa help with conservation.
It was amazing to learn more about the complex challenges faced in conservation, and that things aren’t simply right or wrong, but that there are a lot of grey areas when dealing with the conservation issues faced daily. ACE lifted the veil on these issues, and I felt like I was getting an unfiltered look allowing me to form my own opinions.
I would definitely travel with ACE again, and I’d love to volunteer at a variety of projects that they work with in the future! I feel like I could return time and time again and never stop learning.