Arava Desert, Israel
I always thought about volunteering in Israel and found the Desert Wildlife Program at random on the internet (I had never heard about GoEco before). I had been to Israel before, but never to volunteer. I love animals and I am studying biology in France to become a vet. So, this project seemed to be perfect for me. That’s why I decided to do it for four weeks in July.
Right from the beginning, you meet other volunteers from all the projects in Israel at the Jerusalem orientation with Yan, the coordinator of the volunteers in Israel. We did a tour of the Old City and I really enjoyed it (even though I had already been there). Later we went to Abraham hostel to sleep and the next day we would all separate to go to our respective programs.
The reserve is a safari where ostriches, oryxes, Addaxes and donkeys live and a place which looks like a zoo, where animals are in cages (raptures, vultures, owls, porcupines, lizards, turtles, snakes, foxes, fennecs, jackals, hyenas, wolves, parakeets, caracals, leopards, sand cats, wild cats, sand rats….).The volunteers’ apartment is next to the safari (we can see the ostriches everyday), but we have to cross the safari to go to the place where we work (about 10 min by car).
A typical day
We woke up at 5:30 to be ready at 6 in the morning, when one of the rangers took us to the reserve. We crossed the safari every morning to go there, and it is very nice at sunrise.Then, the volunteers separate into two teams: One does “the tunnel” and the other does “the predators”.
The tunnel team: We dealt with nightlife animals (bats, mice, rats…) and the porcupines, the sand rats, the turtles: we had to clean cages of ones and feed others (turtles, bats..). We also clean the windows and the toilets.
The other team (the predators): we were not allowed to touch any animals, except for shauli, a little fox educated as a dog and extremely cute!
So we entered the cage of the predators (the small ones-no volunteers were allowed to go in the wolves’ cages or the hyenas’) and we had to clean old food or excrement. Sometimes the animals were in the cage while we were doing it (foxes, jackals, birds, fennec, cats..) and sometimes we cleaned the cage while the animals were in another cage next to it (for the most dangerous animals like leopard or caracals). We also feed the birds (raptors, parakeets). It took approximately 2 hours doing this.
Then, we did the dishes of the animals (cleaning the plates…) and we made food (cutting vegetables). All the food for the predators was done by the rangers. It was very surprising at the beginning to see dead animals like chicks or cows, but then you get used to it and it’s fine.
Sometimes you feed the safari: this is one of the greatest things!!! You collect the hay and you scatter it all over the safari. You’ll see all the animals gathering to the car to have food and so you have to jump in the car. Sometimes you have tourists watching you and it’s fun.
Rangers can also give you other work like cleaning and apartment, building a fence, painting a fence, fixing a fence on the floor, cutting bushes… You have a lot of breaks in the day, when you can eat, have a coffee, chat, and drink water ( the most important thing to do!!) In the evening, you can go to the night feeding if you want (between 8 and 9 pm), where the majorities of the animals are fed (predators+ porcupines). The day ends at 2 pm, when the rangers bring us back to the apartment. You can stay the whole afternoon or you can go out to Eilat or Yotvata (the closest kibbutz).
Others Activities During Free Time
The reserve is between two bus stops, and it is pretty far away (30 min walk) so rangers usually took us to the bus stop. Then, it is about 30 min to go to Eilat. Sometimes, we also hitchhiked and we never had problems, people were always very nice, but it is still not very recommended to hitchhike…
We work on the reser from Sunday to Thursday, so we usually spend the weekend visiting places around the reserve. You can go to Eilat (35 km) or to Timna, or even to Jordan. Some went to Petra, but I didn’t have time to do it so I went to Wadi Rum, which is a Bedouin camp. We (6 volunteers) did a hiking tour in the desert and then we spent the night under the stars! It was really worth it!
I usually went to Eilat after work also, but you’re often tired and too lazy to move…
All this experience was amazing, not only for the contact with animals, but especially for the relationship with Israel. I really learned even more about Israel thanks to the amazing team of rangers who work there, and for that this is an experience I truly recommend, as an Israel-lover. If I could, I would go back there and spend even more time than 4 weeks (which is too short, really!) – Naomi