Group of ACE volunteers relaxing around the campfire
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Volunteer with a sedated black leopard

Kellyann Iannone

🇺🇸 United States

Length of Trip
21 Nights

Project Year

During my experience with African Conservation Experience (ACE), I visited two very different projects, the Shimongwe Wildlife Veterinary Experience and the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.

At the Shimongwe Wildlife Veterinary Experience, I was able to compare the clinic in South Africa to the one in America where I work every day. It was awesome to see the different products they used, and the different procedures they did on small animals. Some of the work was scheduled, but others were call-ins, and it was fun to see the differences in the daily lives of the vets.

I was also involved in some field clinical procedures like rhino horn trimmings, which were amazing.

The vet went up in a helicopter and the volunteers waited on the ground in the back of the vehicles with the rest of the team. Once the rhino was darted, we raced off to find it and waited for it to be fully sedated. We then blindfolded the rhino and put earmuffs in to keep the animal as comfortable as possible during the procedure. The vet then trimmed the horn and gave the reversal drug. 

The vet does a great job explaining the procedures and educating the volunteers.

It's very cool to be able to get close to the rhinos and see these animals in person. I was also able to help monitor respiration rates, which was amazing! I was lucky enough to witness horn trimmings for white and black rhinos, and it was interesting the learn about the differences between them.

On a side note, driving in the back of the vehicle was awesome and a whole different experience in itself - you definitely have to hold on!

I was also fortunate enough to observe veterinary work with pangolins, which was an absolute privilege as they're a very elusive and vulnerable species.

When injured pangolins are found, they're brought into the clinic and the vets give them fluids and nutrition as well as some medications to renourish them, because often they've been starved and dehydrated. The vets try to get them back to peak health before releasing them to various rehabilitation centres. It was incredible to witness this important work!

The work at Moholoholo was a bit different compared to the Shimongwe experience. We would get up early each day and care for the animals which included activities like preparing their food, feeding the animals, cleaning their enclosures, or creating enrichment activities for them. I got to learn all about the animals and understand their behaviours, which was a very cool experience!

This experience has changed my perspective on wildlife veterinarians. I got to see how hard the vets work, especially as they are on call all of the time for any emergencies.

It’s allowed me to compare with my work back home, and I now understand the different challenges that they face in South Africa.

Both types of work are very difficult, but it’s great that I now have the experience and understand both perspectives.

I’d definitely recommend this experience to other volunteers. You get to observe plenty of procedures and really watch and learn how the wildlife vets do things both in the field and in the clinic.

You get to see things that you’ve most likely never experienced before and learn from the wildlife vets and why they are so important. 

My advice would be to be prepared for early mornings! The vets need to do lots of the procedures as early as possible to avoid the sun and the heat to make it safe and comfortable for the animals. But, this is all part of what makes the experience so exciting!