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Phinda Wildlife Research Project: 28 November - 12 December 2023*
I have always wanted to visit Africa, and South Africa specifically for quite a few years. This is mainly due to the wildlife, food, and culture over there that I find really interesting. I looked at some different conservation projects and companies before looking into African Conservation Experience (ACE). However, ACE was the one that had the most recognition, affiliations, and understanding of what needed to be done in conservation.
It was clear that the money that was being spent was going to the right places, so it gave me the confidence that the experience would be something that I was looking for.
From the initial application process to arriving in South Africa, it was not long at all. I booked it within two weeks before getting on my flight, so it was an efficient turnaround from the ACE team. I had an hour-long call with a member of the ACE team, and they gave me great insight and guided me toward the most suitable projects for me. They really did an amazing job, and were so patient as I needed some time to look over all of the information before booking.
The projects really fulfilled my expectations! You can tell that there's so much to be done, and I think I saw pretty much everything that I'd hoped to and more. The experiences surpassed my expectations for sure.
In terms of travelling in a new country, with ACE you know that you're very well looked after. From the beginning through to the end, you are met at all of the transit points. The only travelling that took a long time was the international flight; after that, you are supported every second!
I always knew exactly where I was going, and I never felt like I was on my own.
I started at The Vikela Kruger Conservation Experience, where I worked with a very experienced ranger and their awesome dog Letta, who was a Belgian Malinois. Letta was extremely professional just like her owner. I really got to see the intricacies and requirements of doing conservation out in the field. We had a few rare sightings, including two Honey Badgers, which one of the staff who have worked there hadn't seen for over 20 years in the wild!
Honestly, there was a highlight each day in the sense that you're experiencing new things and learning in far greater detail than you could imagine.
I then went to Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. At the centre, I obviously was able to be a bit more intimate with the animals. A highlight from me was standing less than a foot away from a hyena, and looking at them so closely was a pretty insane experience. There was a great group of people who were very keen to work and had a very similar mindset. This made you feel united with what you were doing here.
Phinda Wildlife Research Project was my final stop, and it was amazing. It was super green, and the guides were extremely friendly and funny, they made sure that there was nothing that we missed. If there were any specific requests or animals that we would like to see they went out of their way to ensure that we tracked and found those animals after we finished our work.
We got to see a lot of big cats in the wild, which was really special for me!
It's been a great first experience in terms of venturing into the conservation world. I'd certainly come back and I'd always use ACE and any of their recommendations! They were perfect.