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Volunteers' Stories


Helen Purdy          


Conservation: Rhino Capture Voluntary Project in Limpopo, South Africa


On 14th September 2011 I left the UK for my first ‘non-vacation trip’ abroad. I’d chosen to join a Rhino Capture project in the Limpopo region of South Africa followed by a week spent on the Zulu Cultural Tour in KwaZulu-Natal. My main aims on the trip were to see lots of wildlife, push myself out of my comfort zone and have the trip of a lifetime. I certainly did the first two although not so sure about the last one as I’ll explain later.

I arrived tired but excited and was met at the airport by Anthony’s wife Emma and Elisa and taken on the long drive back to Umkwali. We arrived just after sunset and I had my first taste of the wonderful unpredictability of the place when we were held up en route by a buffalo who didn’t want us to pass!

In daylight I got to see the camp properly following an introduction to the wake up system comprising the hornbills, francolins and babblers! As an experienced camper I loved Umkwali. The twin tents are small but sufficient and the open air bathrooms are delightful. The hot water usually comes from lighting the attached donkey but we managed hot showers courtesy of the hot morning sunshine – very environmentally friendly! The communal area is furnished with comfy chairs along with the dinner tables and has a library of books and magazines kindly donated by previous guests. It’s lit by paraffin lamps at night when the volunteers add twinkling head torches to the glow.

The kitchen is fully equipped with all the non-electrical essentials including a gas operated fridge and the cooker complete with kettle and toasting pan. Louis produces delicious lunches and dinners Mon – Fri and us volunteers try to meet his standard at the weekends. Fish finger Mondays become legendary within camp and the vetkoek is a treat too!

Daily Routine
Each day starts by clambering onto the truck at 6.30am following the optional breakfast. Some people make the most of the toast and cereal while others choose to emerge bleary eyed straight from their tents to the truck.

The basic routine during my stay was to report at the main house first thing to hear the day’s plans and for those wanting to charge batteries to drop them off at the stables. Our main first task was to feed the roan and sable antelope so we loaded up the pickup with pea grass and feed bags and drove to drop it off at the boma. The rest of the morning was usually spent tracking the animals ie the rhino and or the buffalo. On the way we’d also check the waterholes and due to the recent arrival of the rhinos we were taking extra care to keep an eye on them. Sometimes we’d do fence checks to ensure the electric fence was working and to fill any holes dug underneath by the less satisfied residents.

Riding along on the back of a bakkie or the safari truck was very relaxing; just tootling along with the wind in your teeth and camera at the ready for any wildlife surprises. I particularly enjoyed the faster rides on a decent bit of track standing on the bakkie but it was just so good to be in the open air all day every day.

Following lunch at 12pm the volunteers usually had a siesta until 3pm during which people would shower, wash clothes, read books or sleep. Our group took to having a group nap where we all lay strewn around the floor.

The afternoon session started at 3pm and usually involved more animal tracking. Often Anthony would take the afternoon trip and we would end the session with a visit to track and, if we were lucky, to sit with Rebecca the cheetah. She is so beautiful and enigmatic and it’s a real privilege to be able to get close to her. You really do have to pinch yourself to remember that she’s a wild animal who just tolerates you because of Anthony’s time investment and hard work.

Special Times
I had a fantastic stay at Umkwali due to the people, the wildlife, the scenery and the sunshine. It would have been great anyway and the rhino capture and relocation was an amazing experience but I was fortunate enough to have the added pleasure of a trip in the helicopter on the game count. Having always been wary of even banking in a plane I was a tad apprehensive about the helicopter ride and especially of embarrassing myself by throwing up. I needn’t have worried though because after the first 30 minutes of flying I was even able to let go of the seat next to me! After that it just got better and better and even when we banked around with my shoulder facing the ground through the open door I loved it. (Incidentally I didn’t even notice the banking on the plane journey home!)

I saw amazing sights on the flight such as sixteen giraffes running together and a couple of brown hyena and although Howard the pilot wasn’t so keen I enjoyed the spectacle of the gemsbok hurtling along.

There were other highlights during my stay such as hiding from poachers in an electric storm, looking after Eli, the orphaned eland and, of course, there was the notorious chicken incident too, but there’s not enough space here to do them justice.

I absolutely loved my time at Umkwali on this project, I even stayed on an extra week and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone. It’s a beautiful, relaxing, fascinating, enjoyable introduction to South Africa for anyone who is happy to live simply and to muck in with whatever is happening. The days have a basic structure but the unpredictability of life on a game reserve keeps things interesting.

You are well looked after and Anthony is very generous with his time, knowledge and patience, but beware his sense of humour and any suggestions of tasting animal dung are best taken with a pinch of salt!

So was this the trip of a lifetime? I don’t think so, this is just the start…

More Information about your Trip with Travellers

List of ALL PROJECTS in South Africa

Sedation for Rhino

Rhino capture

Volunteer and Rhino