Experiences From A Wildlife Volunteer

Elephant Volunteer

Written by Alma Wallin Hedén, Hanna Träff (both from Sweden) and Elise van der Heijden (The Netherlands).
Ever since the first day on our project we have been feeding the elephants, Kidibone and Selati. It was a little bit scary at first, but it only took that first day and it had grown on us. Now we love it when they chase the vehicle to get their trunks on the pellets one before the other. Cleaning the elephant boma was also a part of our duty, but even this dirty work didn’t put us off, especially with Corne, who was always great fun to work with! Meeting the elephants in the evenings, before they go into the boma, you really get to know their personalities when they show off their tricks for treats!

Recently, the farmers surrounding the reserve have had trouble with a caracal that has been killing their lambs and sheep. It seems that this caracal is no longer killing just for food, but it is simply killing for the sake of killing. We had to go out at night on a bakkie and drive around the property to search for it. It was really exciting even though we didn’t find it. Because standing in an African night, in total darkness and hearing the lions roar is a memory that will last forever!

The other daily routine, a bit more frightening, is providing the cheetahs with dinner. At first they look like cute little kittens, but as soon as they smell the meat they turn into the wild predators they are and always will be! Cutting the meat was also a part of this routine and having Elise on our side was a big contribution to the team when it came to that. Hein tried to convince us that you could be safe inside the cheetah’s enclosure as long as you show that you have authority and confidence. By taking us inside Inyanga’s enclosure with nothing more than a branch and a couple pieces of chicken he proved his theory right. What a thrill!

One day Hein and Corne took us up to the mountains in a valley, to teach us how to handle rifles. We got to shoot at targets from 30 metres and 100 metres with a 0.22 and a 0.308 Calibre, respectively. The whole thing was exhilarating but Hein’s compliments on our shooting made it even better! After the introduction to rifles we had to bring our skills into practice, when it was time to feed the snakes that are starting to feel hungry now that the temperature is rising. Unfortunately, summer time isn’t good news for every animal on the reserve, this time several small birds were unlucky… It felt bad, but sometimes it’s the law of nature!

Snakes weren’t the only reptiles whose appetites were awakened by warmer times, now also the crocodiles were ready for some food! Luckily, a local farmer could provide us with some chickens so we went to pick them up.

With the reptiles becoming all active again in summer, one of them, the Cape Cobra, even managed to escape its enclosure, but it didn’t get far and quickly got caught. After we discovered our talent in interior decorating and design the snake could be returned into its brand new enclosure!

Other important tasks in a game reserve to keep the animals and the guests happy, is general maintenance. Our duties in that area have been conservation work with planting trees. To make this gardening a little more exciting we got to plant them in the lion enclosure, so one of us had to keep an eye on the lions throughout the planting. Furthermore, there were a lot of roads that were flooded and muddy so they were a risk for the game drivers to get stuck in. In order to prevent that, we had to fill them up with rocks collected on the reserve. Also, with the cheetah release coming up, we needed to put up signs on fences all around the property about both the risk of dangerous animals and the voltage.

Something else we have really enjoyed doing in any and all weather conditions, was feeding Lucerne and pellets to the giraffes, buffaloes and rhinos. It was amazing to be so close to these animals and just watching them eat and behave naturally.

Last, but definitely not least, we would like to mention how welcoming and caring Kim and Hein have been to us since day one! They have been so dedicated to making sure that we would be able to make the absolute best out of our stay in South Africa. We couldn’t have wished for better hosts, there is no way to thank you enough! Surely, we will not only miss the work and all the animals but also very much the people, the hospitality and of course all the wonderful ‘braais’ (South African bar-b-que)!

For more details visit EDGE of AFRICA wildlife & conservation projects.

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