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 3 different Africa 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 3 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. So we set off for Namibia in high spirits and very excited about what we were about to experience. We spent the first couple of weeks on our own traveling around Southern Namibia before starting our first volunteering project at Na’an k/use, where we were to spend the next month. Our first few days were at their ‘farm’ – a wildlife sanctuary around 30kms from Windhoek, where there are up to 80 volunteers at any one time. Although the induction at Na’an k/use was engaging in terms of conservation, we were happy to move on a couple of days later to our first volunteering project at Neuras Wine and Wildlife sanctuary. Here we were able to get involved in many research orientated activities, from game counts and setting camera traps to analysing the photos from the traps and doing maintenance jobs on site. The team of researchers and lodge managers made us extremely welcome and in fact obviously went out of their way to ensure all of the volunteers got the most out of their experience there. We also spent time on another research project a few hours further south, where the subject was Hyaenas, rather than leopards.
After that month we continued our ‘self-drive’ journey around Western and Northern Namibia, passing through Swakupmond, Damaraland and Etosha, then crossed in to Botswana to join our next volunteering project in Maun. 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 2 hours back to camp and settled in to 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.
Help save the rhino at the largest specialist rhino care centre in Africa
Explore a variety of animals in the Okavango Delta, home to the largest elephant population on Earth