I decided to take a sabbatical for about four months, and this was the perfect opportunity to travel long distances over an extended period. It also allowed me to work in conservation and get veterinary experience with species I have never had the chance to work with before. I was originally looking at some other volunteer-type programs, but I found that African Conservation Experience (ACE) was the most focused and specialised in Africa, which is what made me decide to go with ACE.
The staff at ACE did a really good job describing the projects and helped me understand what each one was like, and they made sure to tailor the trip to my interests.
They took the time to understand exactly what I was looking to do, and all the different aspects I was looking to experience. It exceeded expectations.
Phinda Wildlife Research Project was my first stop, and the game drives here were one of the biggest highlights of the whole trip. To see all that wildlife out there in the wild, and getting my hands dirty helping track them was very new to me - so it was a great learning experience too. Also, getting the chance to meet all the other international volunteers was enjoyable. I feel like we became good friends through our shared experience and time together.
The social aspect was such an additional benefit.
My next stop was Okavango Wilderness Project, which was fantastic as you got to be out in nature - which was a key aspect for me. I chose to go to Botswana as it allowed me to experience living in a tent while exploring the wilderness of the delta and seeing all the wildlife out there. I enjoyed the camping experience, as even though at that time of year it did get fairly warm, the showers could run cold to really help you cool off.
My time out in the Okavango was an awe-inspiring experience for me. Everything was incredible, from being out in nature, hearing the animals through the canvas tent, to even having elephants come through our campsite.
The Shimongwe Wildlife Veterinary Experience was the standout moment of my trip. It offered me an opportunity to work with and treat species I had never encountered before, while also exposing me to a new approach to veterinary medicine. Coming from a background as a small animal oncologist in Silicon Valley, observing the practices in South Africa with big game species was an incredible learning experience.
It allowed me to appreciate both the differences and similarities between my daily work and the work of wildlife vets in South Africa.
I would recommend volunteering with ACE, as it was valuable to be able to speak with the staff on the phone before booking to hone in on which projects I would be most interested in. It has been a really good experience, and ACE has been great at taking care of their volunteers. For example, I changed a few things in my itinerary at short notice, and they were seamless in updating everything for me. I also liked how they met me here at the airport to ensure that the transfers go smoothly.
I took note of how ACE dealt with their volunteers, and I appreciate them being so flexible and supportive to make sure I had a good experience.