Since I was a little kid I’ve been enchanted by our planet’s nature and wildlife. I remember how heartbroken I was when I found out how much of the rainforest was disappearing and how many species were going extinct. By now most of us are aware of the vulnerable state of our planet. Like me, you probably want to help, but at the same time its easy to feel powerless with the media hounding us with bad news. The first time I felt like I could make a difference was when I did volunteer work in my gap year. Now Activity International is giving me another opportunity to join a volunteer program. They have many projects all over the world, but one very close to my heart is Wildlife ACT. Every day these passionate nature conservationists work towards saving endangered animal species and their habitats. Spending a few weeks with these incredibly passionate and hardworking people is an unforgettable learning experience that will stay with you forever.
Life as a volunteer
Being a volunteer with Wildlife ACT you will be staying in one of their reserves for a few weeks. This means living in a camp inside the reserve with wildlife all around. I feel like this experience enriched my life, but if you’re looking for luxury you’ll be disappointed. So what does life in the bush entail? Think of basic accommodation, bugs that join you in the shower and very early mornings. Every day started at 4 AM and by 4:30 we were on our way. This does mean you get to see an epic sunrise everyday! Before sunrise we started tracking the African wild dogs, which was our most important job. Different animals were of interest, but the dogs have to be seen every day. There are roughly 500 wild dogs left in South-Africa. This particular morning we received a strong signal for the dogs and quickly headed in their direction. We reached a point where we could not drive any further and decided to wait there. After ten minutes it was that we realized the dogs had been laying in the grass the entire time. We only realized because one of them had gotten up to drink. We continued to watch them play and run around for a few hours. You may think we weren’t looking very carefully, but we definitely were (pinky promise)! Even when you’re using a radio signal to find collared animals, finding them can be a challenge sometimes! If you think I’m joking… try to find the elephant in the photo below. (I promise there is an actual elephant hiding in the bush there!) We had to check up on this elephant, because he had hurt his left back foot. Several times he sent us on a wild goose chase.
Don’t let the early mornings and scare you off though. Very often our work was rewarded with incredible sightings and amazing sunrises and sunsets. We were treated to lots of great rhino and cheetah sightings. One of the most special sightings was that of a cheeky little rhino calf! At one point mom and calf were only a few meters away from us. The little guy was curious and wanted to see what that big weird smelling thing (aka ‘our car’) was all about. As you can see in the photo, mom is dehorned so she won’t be of interest to poachers. Eventually they will probably dehorn the little one too. The horn is made from the same material as our fingernails, so removing it does not hurt when it’s done right.
Besides some awesome rhino sightings we also saw cheetah at least 6 times in my two weeks in the reserve. A few times we saw one walking right past our car, once with cubs and once on a kill. We helped make some ID kits for the cubs and checked up on a cheetah that had recently been transferred to reserve. I never imagined seeing this big cat so close up!
This is Zululand, not Disneyland
What I love most is that this organization is 100% dedicated to the wildlife. This is not a project just designed to please volunteers. You’ll be helping with actual conservation work and the animals always come first. Wildlife Act‘s slogan ‘This is Zululand, not Disneyland’ is very fitting. Even though petting lions might seem tempting, any place that lets you pet the animals is not doing real conservation. For all you Dutchies looking to do volunteer work, check out Activity international. They helped me plan my trip and they were super helpful! You can also go to one of the free information days by Activity International or click below to get some information sent to you.