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Phinda Wildlife Research Project: 28 November - 12 December 2023*
Well, I practically never respond to requests for feedback about the places I’ve been to, not because I am a nasty, uncommunicative, miserable person, but simply because, well, after you’ve come back home, somehow your “normal” life completely engulfs you again and doesn’t leave much time for reflection. But this trip to South Africa really was something completely different…
The whole experience stayed with me, I can still feel, see, hear and smell the sights and sounds of this wonderful country and, instead of gradually forgetting it, I am already starting to plan another trip for 2018!
Moholoholo was a fascinating and engrossing mixture of the extraordinary and the mundane. Everyone who has ever looked after animals knows that you do the work not because it is always phenomenally exciting – it can be hard, difficult, repetitive and pretty ordinary. But you do it because you care about the animals, you want to provide them with comfort, you want to make their life as good as it can possibly be and you simply love being with them. And all the time you’re there, little bits of magic happen, you are so close to the animals, some of whom you have never seen before, every day brings something new, something extraordinary, an unexpected, never experienced before sight or sound.
Moholoholo is a really good “starter” volunteering experience for people who may not have done anything like that before and are a bit worried about how it is all going to work out. You are very, very well looked after and you get a really “rich” experience and come in close contact with a really wide variety of animals. And you won’t quickly forget a bushbaby landing on your shoulder on your way back from dinner, a fearsome honey badger lying on its back without a care in the world, falling asleep at night to the sound of lions roaring and hyenas laughing outside your window, watching a baby vulture’s first days under the protection of its caring parents and desperately trying to spot a cerval in the long grass who you are pretty sure is right under your nose but you can’t see it because they are so infuriatingly good at “melting” into the background.
Volunteering at Moholoholo was also an important experience because it made me think about what wildlife conservation really meant and made me question my understanding of how it really worked “on the ground”.
During my time in South Africa I have met and talked to so many wonderful people involved in wildlife conservation in many different ways, asking loads of questions about the reality that wildlife conservationists face, the problems they have to deal with, the real big issues that determine the success or failure of what they are trying to do. Their commitment and belief in what they do is simply inspirational. Some of what I saw and heard was heart warming, some was difficult and made me feel uneasy but I came out with at least the beginnings of better, more informed, understanding of the real challenges of wildlife conservation. And that is really important to me: we have ideals to inspire us but we need to understand what it really takes to even come close to making it all happen in real life.
What else can I say? A huge thank you to the whole team and… I will be back next year!