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Volunteers' Stories




Wildlife Conservation Course in South Africa

What experience do you feel you are gaining?

 It's really hard to describe the kind of experience I got from this course with doing it any justice! This was my career break as a complete break from the hectic world of pharmaceuticals and healthcare companies and I must say that jacking in my job and going to SA to do the placements I did was the best thing I ever did!

I learnt so much about the bush, its flora and fauna, how to behave around wild animals respecting their personal space and also allowing them to behave at ease and that's definitely the best way to watch an animal, astronomy and basic bush survival skills, gun handling (which let's face it, it is very hard to get anywhere near a gun in the UK and I must admit I was very scared of the gun and just shot it three times just to get it all over and done with!), game capture etc.

I particularly loved the weekly game drives/walks in different reserves and quickly found that all the reserves are very different in terms of the animals that they have there and their habitats differ and as a result, the animal behaviour can vary. I had encounters with wildlife (e.g. sitting in a game drive vehicle in Shamwari GR in my first week in Africa and an elephant next to the vehicle farted really loudly while he was busy eating thorny acacia and I was immediately downwind of him! What an experience!) which have given me such fond memories that I will remember for the rest of my life - it's so hard to put it into words - go and experience it for yourself!

What is the best thing about your placement?

 I thoroughly enjoyed living in the bush for two months. I actually lived in a tent with the other two girls so we were in each other's pockets 24/7 but we got along fabulously and forged really good friendships along the way. Also, each week, we were subjected to weird and wonderful people in game parks, game capture, ostrich farms etc all in the Eastern Cape - to work with wildlife, you have to have a great sense of humour (or just be completely mad!) but also a fountain of knowledge too.

The people we met were all experts in their various fields but so friendly and down-to-earth with it that we learnt so much from them. One of the best things ever is to sit outside at night in Esingeni and just marvel at the wonderful starlit night - you could sit there and watch it for hours! I've never seen so many stars in my entire life! Absolutely amazing!

Would you recommend this placement to anyone else?

 I would recommend this placement to anyone of any background or age who has a thirst for knowledge when it comes to wildlife. You have to be keen to learn with this course but it is delivered by Wayne and his colleagues in such a way that learning's great fun and you take more in that way. A keen interest in Africa would also be a great help.

What type of person do you think this placement would suit?

 Someone who can live in a tent and put up with creepy-crawlies and getting dirty and sweaty. Anyone who is prepared to "rough it" in other words. I found that what you put in equated to what you got out of the experience and some of my best times were times when I was hacking at trees with a machete doing alien plant clearing - all three of us loved that and we really got stuck into it! It's an excellent stepping-stone to prepare you for subsequent placements in game reserves/elephant parks, etc since it taught you the basics of conservation and wildlife and then you could build upon that knowledge with practical experience with wild animals.

I was advised to do this course first before my next two placements and it was the best advice that Travellers could offer me.

Can you think of any improvements that could be made to the placement?

None at all apart from make it longer!!!! All three of us were threatening to chain ourselves to the tent on the day we had to leave! It was heartbreaking to leave Esingeni and Wayne, his family and Craig and all the other local friends that we had made. They really made us feel very welcome and part of their community in our two months there.

I guess one thing would be with the FGASA workbooks: we got our workbooks in our final week so we were frantically trying to get them all filled in in time to send off to Jo'burg - not an easy task! I feel that we would have benefited more if we had had the workbooks at the start of our course and we could have filled them in as we went along. But since FGASA have now ditched the open book workbooks, I guess this comment is no longer valid but it's a comment all the same.

Was there anything that you weren’t told before you went away that you think future volunteers should know?

 I would urge all volunteers to take their driving licenses out to SA with them and definitely hire a car - the transport links aren't great and the Baz Bus goes nowhere near Esingeni! Hiring a car between 3 or 4 people works out quite cheap and you can get around to quite a few places at weekends - we did the Garden Route, Hogsback, Jeffrey's Bay, PE and also to Louis' Bar during the week for much-needed beers!

Oh - DO NOT LEAN AGAINST THE ELECTRIC FENCE AT BORN FREE!!!!! It hurts when you get 10,000 volts going through you - all for me to lean in and get a better photo of a leopard....it worked though - my photo was good and I provided great entertainment for the rangers and a bunch of giggling German tourists - so not in vain then!

Can you describe a typical day?

 Wow - a typical day....there wasn't one really. This course is also weather-dependent (e.g. every time we were supposed to be looking for reptiles, it rained so we had to juggle our itinerary of the week around to fit in accordingly - we went reptile-hunting in the end in the bright sunshine and found.......a grumpy gravid Cape scorpion! Wayne prodding her with a stick didn't do much to lighten her mood!) so you need to be adaptable.

Each week, Wayne would draw up an itinerary and we would stick with it unless we had to change at the last minute. We would start our day at about 9am with a nature walk around Esingeni followed by a lecture and then some practical work. Lunch and then maybe a game drive in the afternoon or alien plant clearing instead or maybe fishing or shooting a gun - it all depended on what was happening. Wayne ensured that we covered all the FGASA course content easily in the 8 weeks that we were there.

Usually, our days were over by about 5pm unless we were doing night walks in the bush to go stargazing/night drives/camp out in the bush. There really is no typical day but an easy-going adaptable nature will ensure that you make the most of whatever the weather/wildlife will throw at you. Be prepared for Wayne to come tearing into the bush camp in his Combi early in the morning (I know he's a shocker for punctuality but this DID happen!) shouting excitedly "There's a burn happening up the road, let's go and see if they need a hand!" and you have to go, go, go (grab your camera first though....).

The real plus for this course is that you get a qualification at the end of it that is recognised as a qualification in Africa so if you did want to continue with a career in conservation or even job hunt in Africa, it's an excellent stepping-stone - that factor alone sold this course to me when I was searching for a conservation course. Wayne is also extremely knowledgeable - I don't think I could have wished for a better, genuinely in-love-with-the-bush guy to lead this course - he was the best!

We all felt perfectly safe with him at all times and even with some of the encounters that we experienced: getting hemmed-in by a curious bull elephant at Bushman Sands and not being able to move our vehicle until he had gone - he was sniffing us all with his trunk (scary but what an adrenaline rush all at the same time!), flatulent elephants at Shamwari, a very grumpy female leopard just inches from us at Shamwari etc, we knew that we were in good hands at all times even with a few narrow escapes!

One of my personal highlights was to see a lionness called Achee at Born Free in Shamwari. I had seen her plight on GMTV back in the summer of 2004 and she used to be kept at the Cypriot Embassy in Bucharest and they did this big campaign to move her from there to Africa and I had tears in my eyes to see her happy at Born Free with lots of room to roam. She's not totally free but much much happier and cared for than before. It was very moving for me to see her there after seeing her plight on the TV like that.

More Information about your Trip with Travellers

List of ALL PROJECTS in South Africa
ANIMAL SANCTUARY Projects in South Africa