Group of ACE volunteers relaxing around the campfire

When I started writing my testimonial I was overwhelmed, there was and still is so much I could write about. Collating it all is near impossible.

Volunteering under ACE was such a privilege. From the second I was considering volunteering to when I arrived safely back in Singapore, I was met with so much exuberance by the ACE team. I would discuss my thoughts and plans with Petra and she had helped to advise me on which projects would be best for a more comprehensive understanding of wildlife industries, which will go on to help me in the future. I was given the options to email and/or call, which allowed me to involve my parents in the decision making. Booking and payment was very flexible, which really helped me. Due to the uncertainty of covid, I had postponed the trip from December 2020 to June 2021, and had even only finalised dates a few weeks prior to travelling. I felt very safe, and covid regulations were followed at each project to the best of their abilities. In fact, throughout 2.5 months of travelling between 4 projects, I had never once felt sick.

Whilst in South Africa, I was able to contact the ACE team 24/7. Martin guided me every step of the way as I travelled from one project to the next, even helping me as I checked into flights and sat for covid tests. I felt incredibly safe throughout my trip, and knew I was being very well looked after. I was explained how each of my projects fit together, and how they progress together – from relocation and mass capture to a big 5 reserve and open system in Botswana. I learnt that every step in conservation is crucial, and very intertwined with one another.

I spent 2.5 months across 4 different projects, each of which were so incredible and different from one another. It is insurmountable how much I had learnt about the culture, language, politics, myself and of course, wildlife. It was a completely priceless experience, and one I will always remember.

I first went to Phinda where I stayed for 3 weeks. I had an amazing time and learnt a vast amount about the culture, wildlife and politics! The very first day I had there was action packed, and very exciting. Due to a Phd student’s research project on elephants, I was able to take part in 2 elephant recollarings. I was given the task to help measure lengths and circumferences of their tusks, legs, back and trunk. I was also incredibly lucky to have helped with their pangolin work, which was my first time seeing them in the wild! I had felt, and still feel so inspired by Phinda and the work that they do. The vet was called in quite a few times to help with the procedures – one of which even included rhino dehorning! He was very sweet and explained everything that he did to us, including the proportions of drugs used for the darting. I had even learnt about their intensive anti poaching and security efforts. While at Phinda was also the first time I’ve ever flown in a helicopter which was so amazing! We monitored the animals on a daily basis – their behaviours and population – which is incredible as you are able to see their progression, behaviours and any abnormalities. The team were very respectful and ethical towards the animals – it was as hands off as possible which I had really enjoyed. They taught us everything they knew about the animals, it was all very exciting to learn about. Alike all the projects, any question that I had, no matter how stupid it may have been, was eagerly and enthusiastically answered.

I then went to the Shimongwe Veterinary Experience for 2 weeks, where I was again very welcomed. I learnt about the need for farming and the various views on hunting. I hadn’t thought about the absence of predators in an area and the increasing need for relocation to be able to manage the ecosystem and carrying capacity. We would help to feed the animals on the farm during quieter days and on others we would assist the vet. They ensured we were comfortable and helped us throughout every step of mass relocation and darting. Because it was far more hands on than Phinda was, it took me some time to adjust. The team at this experience tried their best to minimize stress and create simulating experiences for the animals during relocation and on the farm. We had worked the most with buffalos and zebras while I was here. I was able to help with administering antibiotics, vaccinations, antiparasitic spray and liquid as well as the intravenous reversal drugs when relocating buffalos on multiple occasions. We had also spent 3 days completing a mass capture of 90 zebras and 21 blue wildebeest, which is a massive operation. I was able to see it from multiple perspectives which truly allowed me to see how everyone works together for the benefit of conservation – from being in a helicopter, the trucks and running on the ground to close the tarps.

The team was very welcoming, and ensured I was learning as well as having a good time.

After the veterinary experience, I had spent a week in Botswana doing monitoring and research. It was very exciting as we were camping in the bush. I never realised how much I would love bucket baths! I had learnt a lot about tracking – even being able to tell the gender of the animals apart based on their tracks! They had so many educational books at this project where you could read in your free time to learn even more, and in a lot of detail about specific animals or even about becoming a ranger. I learnt about natural remedies such as the use of devil’s claw in medicine. I feel like we learnt the most about elephants, how to tell their genders apart based on their body appearance and tusk size and width, as well as their age. It was very interesting because we watched different herd dynamics at play, and what each specific action meant. We were very immersed in wildlife, and even had elephants, hyenas, hippos and possibly lions come by our camp at night! They had taught us a lot of survival skills, and shared personal experiences such as encounters with lions on foot! On the final day we went for a scenic flight over the okavango delta which was insanely beautiful. It was amazing to see so much nature, and completely untouched. We were 200 meters high watching herds of elephants and antelopes.

My final experience of 2.5 weeks was at Care for Wild rhino sanctuary which was incredible to be given the opportunity to work with such amazing animals. The day would typically start with feeding the rhinos, cleaning the enclosures, weighing food and placing the bedding. We would also help to feed the hippos and lions occasionally. The work we were given was always a lot of fun, and the people I met whilst at this project were great! I never realised I would find so much joy in shovelling poo, digging mud wallows or tying branches into bundles (for the black rhino’s food). We had lectures by staff where we were able to learn in more detail about the rhinos, the rewilding process, scorpions, and so much more. There were a few vet procedures as well, and we were able to easily speak to the staff or vets who would answer any questions we had. It was an incredible experience, and I was lucky to have been there for the release of a few rhinos into a nature reserve. At the same time, it was also quite difficult as you see these rhinos in stress and pain. They have all been rescued, but due to injuries, many are still receiving ongoing treatment. The work that is done in this project is so crucial to understanding and conserving the species. It’s unreal to be able to work so close to such threatened animals.

Throughout this entire experience I have learnt an insane amount, made so many incredible memories and met so many inspiring people. There was never a dull day. It’s an experience I hope anyone even slightly considering it will undertake. It has made me very excited to learn more when I begin university! It’s been a few weeks, and I’m already wishing I was back there.