Length of Trip
Three Weeks in Africa Caring for Rhinos
I made it. January 2017. To the Care For Wild project in South Africa I applied for in 2012. I deferred the opportunity the first time around to move to London instead. Luckily for me, African Conservation Experience (ACE) still had my application from last time so I didn’t even have to reapply!
For anyone interested in volunteering at Care For Wild, I can confirm this is a genuine project dedicated to the care of rhinos. The money you pay as a volunteer for this experience (which includes food and accommodation) is invested into better equipment, improving the living areas and conditions for the rhinos, food, medicine and up to 60 staff to ensure 24/7 security. And they’re only the things I’ve seen for myself.
What to expect and what NOT to expect:
- a fence or barricade between you and the rhino
- to work hard and get dirty EVERY day
- one trip into town per week
- cold showers unless during set times
- bugs and LOTS of them
- to hug and sleep next to rhinos
- to take loads of photos and post them on social media
- to party – there is no alcohol allowed on this project except for special occasions
- to travel outside the project during your volunteering period except for 1 day at Kruger National Park
- an extensive induction program – learning is on the job under supervision
I will never EVER forget the rhinos. The sounds they make, the look in their eyes, the way their skin feels, the way the babies sleep next to each other, the way they walk over to you for their milk. I’ll never forget the people I met there either.
Flight to Johannesburg
Flying from London to Johannesburg is long but not as long as back home to Australia. So after the stress of making sure I’d packed everything I needed in the bush, around 20km away from the closest town, I finally relaxed during the flight. Total flight time 10 hours. I flew with Virgin Atlantic and scored 3 seats in a row to myself which meant SLEEP! It was perfect because the flight departed at 6:55pm on Monday and I was arriving in Johannesburg around 8am Tuesday morning and needed as much sleep as I could get.
When I arrived I lined up at customs, showed them a copy of my volunteering paperwork and after answering a few questions I was allowed through to pick up my bag. An ACE team member was waiting for me in the arrivals area holding a sign with my name on it. We stopped quickly at MTN to get a local sim card before heading upstairs to meet the other volunteer and Martin from ACE.
It was really interesting listening to Martin as he helped set our expectations for the experience. After finishing our coffee and chat, Martin showed us to the shuttle bus that was taking us and around 10 other people to Nelspruit. The bus left Johannesburg Airport at 10:45am and including a quick stop along the way, it took us about 3.5 hours.
A Care For Wild staff member picked us and another volunteer up to take us the rest of the way to the Care For Wild project. The first animals we saw on the reserve were impalas. The surrounding rolling green mountains were beautiful and part of me wished I was there for a holiday. A glass of wine on a balcony with that view… yes please!
I will never EVER forget the rhinos. The sounds they make, the look in their eyes, the way their skin feels, the way the babies sleep next to each other, the way they eat and drink, the way they walk over to you for their milk, the way they gallop like a horse and the way they play fight with each other using their horns. I’ll never forget the people I met there either. I happily donated my work boots to my new friend and hard-working staff member who will put them to better use than I will in London.
The journey home to London took about 16 hours of travel time plus time waiting around at the airport. ACE booked the shuttle bus with CityBug to Johannesburg Airport (about 3.5 hours) and I booked my own flights with Virgin Atlantic direct to London (about 10.5 hours).
Torn between looking forward to getting back to London and leaving the babies, here’s what I WILL miss the most and WON’T miss the most:
- feeding the baby rhinos
- seeing Emma and Molly’s heads sticking out of their pond (hippos) and hearing a ‘splash’ at random times during the day
- working as a team with fellow volunteers
- eating well and not having access to junk food
- tasks like raking grass in a field under the hot sun
- sleeping in a bunk bed
- sharing a room with 3 others
- cold showers (though they were heavenly on some days!)
I guess the question you might be asking me at this point is – would you go back? Would you recommend it to others? The answers are yes and yes. Yes because after getting to know the rhinos, it would be amazing to see them again and their progress. And yes because as long as you’re physically fit, go with the expectations that you’re not there to cuddle the rhinos and every day you’ll be working hard, then you’ll have a life-changing experience. Most importantly, your daily efforts and contribution financially as a volunteer will change the lives of the rhinos there too.