A group of ACE volunteers and staff gathered around a camp fire at night time in the African bush
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Olivia Shrimpton: female volunteer with bird

Olivia Shrimpton

🇬🇧 United Kingdom

Length of Trip
14 Nights

Project Year

I’ve always wanted to take a meaningful trip to southern Africa. When I came across African Conservation Experience (ACE), I knew they were the right company for my adventure. When you first contact ACE, you will speak with a wonderful consultant who will talk to you about your goals so that they can help you choose the perfect project. They even connected me with a previous volunteer so that I could hear about their experience, which was incredibly helpful! 

Upon arrival in South Africa, you're greeted at the airport by an ACE representative and you get to meet other volunteers right away.

I always felt supported and safe with ACE, and they were always available to answer any questions, no matter how small, both before and during my trip.

I chose to split my two-week trip between two projects - Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and Phinda Wildlife Research Project. I loved every second of this experience and if I could do it again, I’d definitely volunteer for longer and maybe even explore some other projects! Next time, I’d spend at least two weeks at each project to fully experience everything they have to offer.

At Moholoholo, the day starts at 6:30am with animal rounds. I was responsible for the servals and giant eagle owls. This involved cleaning their water bowls, removing leftover food, and cleaning up their poop.

You learn so much about the animals and their personalities.

Breakfast is at 8:30am, followed by a team meeting at 9:30am where you discuss any concerns and plan the day’s big tasks. One of the daily highlights was caring for Gloria, the baby hippo, and I was even lucky enough to spend a night caring for her.

The work at Moholoholo included cleaning out the big cats (cheetah poop stinks!), preparing for new arrivals, and other essential tasks. These jobs gave a great insight into the daily operations and the care required for the animals. Afternoons were filled with activities like helping to look after animals that required specialist care or feeding baby animals. There was always something to do.

Evening rounds started at 4:30pm, which included prepping food for the animals. This could get messy, but with rubber gloves, it was manageable. After the animals were fed and the meat room was cleaned, we enjoyed dinner together as the sun set. The group I was with was fantastic!

We had a lot of fun getting involved with the work and also on excursions like a meal at a nearby restaurant and a night sleeping under the stars in the bush.

This experience included taking shifts to patrol the camp, making it an unforgettable adventure.

During downtime, you could explore and spend time with the animals. Over 40 different species are being cared for at the centre, including porcupines, honey badgers, warthogs, lions, leopards, cheetahs, African wild dogs and so many more! I loved spending time with the green wood hoopoe, and the southern yellow-billed hornbill that they currently have - both of them had great personalities. Moholoholo is a special place dedicated to animal care and conservation.

The more you invest in your experience, the more rewarding it becomes.

In contrast, the days at Phinda were filled with game drives and observing animals in their natural habitat. During my time at Phinda, I observed over 85 different species! There were giraffes, zebra, rhinos, elephants, lions, waterbuck, buffalo, geckos and Nile crocodiles amongst so many others! Spotting big animals like rhinos and elephants sometimes was a challenge, however, that made it even more thrilling when one did appear. Our guide was a keen birder, and we identified over 40 bird species during my one-week stay, including a martial eagle and a malachite kingfisher.

At Phinda, we also identified and recorded data on animals.

I had the unforgettable experience of tracking a pangolin which is one of the most elusive animals in Africa.

I formed a great friendship with two other wonderful volunteers and we spent our downtime chatting and cooking together. We even had two braai's (a South African style barbeque), adding to the fun. 

My time in South Africa was incredible, filled with amazing people and unforgettable animal encounters.

Highlights include looking after the orphaned baby animals, feeding worms to some very eccentric birds, doing a sleepout in the bush, finding and following a pangolin at Phinda, and seeing a wild Bateleur eagle in the wild after helping to care for one at Moholoholo. 

If you’re considering a project like this, go for it! Approach it with an open mind and a can-do attitude.

Say “yes” and ask “how can I help?” to everything. The hard work at Moholoholo, especially all the poop scooping, is rewarding as you see the positive impact on animal rehabilitation. You’ll feel the importance of your contribution and the difference you make.

I loved every minute of my time in South Africa and I'm already planning to return for more projects!