It was time for a break. A proper break – a three-month sabbatical after over 30 years of working and bringing up children! Time also to start putting something back.
We wanted to start by experiencing some wildlife conservation in Africa to understand what it involves. But where to start?
Let’s Google that… and we found ACE… From helping us work out which volunteering experience would suit best, to making sure we knew exactly when and where to be in country, we found the level of service from ACE to be exceptional. So much so that we want to continue helping them with their great work supporting meaningful conservation projects in Africa, with the right type of volunteer.
Context – the preparation…
During the 90’s, I spent several years working for Guinness and living in three different African countries, during which time I had the opportunity to see a lot of wildlife. From lions on the savannah, to gorillas in the forests and have as a result, had a long-held ambition to spend more of my time helping conserve wildlife. When my best friend from Australia told me of his sabbatical year travelling the world, I realised I should take a proper break too. I’d also got together with a new partner, Sue, and wanted to share some of the wonders of Africa with her and she to her credit, wanted to do “something different” as well! So we planned a three-month break in Namibia and Botswana, as a mixture of travelling around and wildlife conservation volunteering. For the latter we looked around a few organisations offering opportunities to do volunteering work, with a view to doing mainly practically-orientated research, which involved spending time in the field; watching, counting and observing predator species. We felt a difference immediately when talking to the team at ACE about our options. As a result our plans were modified, we decided to split our time between several projects and the trip was confidently booked.
In the run-up to our departure, we were provided with helpful “Pre-departure support” – from ‘kit lists’ to 'what to expect in terms of accommodation'. For us this had been slightly complicated as we aligned our local self-drive trip to fit around the volunteering stints, and we got enough info on this to be able to do this in sufficient detail.
For the Okavango Wilderness Project, we were met at the airport by KT and Ora, who seem to do everything on the project, from taxi and cooks, to game spotter and wildlife expert. A couple of great guys who really help us get the most of our time on the project! We drove the two hours back to camp and settled into our tent. Basic facilities, but just what we had expected and the simplicity made it feel more authentic. Bucket showers and heating the water for it on an open fire.
The next morning we set off on our first transect drive, following a set route to count the animals we saw and record them, to track over time how the numbers changed. It was fascinating, not only identifying different species but learning about their tracks and behaviour from Ora, who is a goldmine of practical knowledge, learnt from a lifetime in the bush.
Our last week, at Care for Wild, in South Africa, was very different being care, rather than research, orientated. It enabled us to see a different side of conservation volunteering and learn about the situation with rhino poaching and what is being done to help the rhinos remaining.
So in the end, we learnt so much about the variety of things involved with wildlife conservation. The response and support from ACE on the ground in SA was amazing and if you ever get the chance to spend some time with Martin and the team, it’ll never be enough - they know so much and are so passionate about what they do!