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Volunteering in South Africa – Big 5 Wildlife Safari Adventure!

Volunteering in South Africa – Big 5 Wildlife Safari Adventure!


Volunteer in South Africa – Big 5 Wildlife Reserve

Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa

For my GoEco experience, I volunteered on the Big 5 Wildlife Research and Conservation project in South Africa. For three weeks, I stayed on a private game reserve. I have never grown so much or learned as much as I did during such a concentrated period of time.

 

Upon arriving, I was terrified. I was 18 years old and had never traveled anywhere alone before, let alone engaged in transcontinental travel alone. I had no idea what to expect for the next three weeks. Almost immediately, I learned that nothing could have enriched me more than traveling and volunteering, the abrupt thrust into the unknown that mandates meeting new people, understanding new cultures, trusting, collaborating, listening, and learning.

Each animal had their own personality.. This is Neo

Each animal had their own personality… This is Neo

 

Mother and cub posing for the photo!

Mother and cub posing for the photo!

I had the best volunteer team, but everyone will tell you that, because if you find other individuals volunteering on the same project as you, you know they must share the same passions and ambitions. Every day, we went on one or two game drives through the reserve and I experienced Africa’s most raw and potent beauty.

Seeing the beauty of Africa on the game drive!

Seeing the beauty of Africa on the game drive!

A few Zebras watched us with curiosity as we drove by

A few Zebras watched us with curiosity as we drove by

Every day, I saw the sun rise and set on the reserve, the most dramatic sun cycle I’ve ever seen with vibrant hues of ruby, tangerine, and crimson. Every night, we drove back to the base under the most resplendent night sky, where stars were so plentiful and luminous that only an extra spotlight was needed to keep an eye out for animals.

Dramatic sunset over the reserve

Dramatic sunset over the reserve

Light fell so dramatically over the reserve

Light fell so dramatically over the reserve

During game drives, I learned how to track and monitor the animals’ behavior and record the information on specific data sheets to be sent to other organizations, such as ALERT for lions or Space for Elephants. Because of the data we record of these individual animals, experts can follow the progress of entire species in the region, all part of a collaborative effort to conserve endangered species. The guides are extraordinarily knowledgeable, and I learned a vast amount about the animals, the land, the language, and the people.

A smiley elephant walks by to catch up with his herd!

A smiley elephant walks by to catch up with his herd!

 

Half of the North Pride resting in the middle of the road

Half of the North Pride resting in the middle of the road

I stumbled into another giraffe!

I stumbled into another giraffe!

With unbelievable expertise, my guide would maneuver through the bush and situate us right next to the animals. We followed a pride of lions as they embarked on a hunt, watched elephants play at the waterhole, and even discovered the elusive leopard, the hardest animal to track, and sat with him in a clearing for an hour while we studied him.

North pride stalking their prey

North pride stalking their prey

A unique Leopard sighting!

A unique Leopard sighting!

Two days a week, we also did conservation projects within the park, including re-digging a dried-up waterhole for the rhinos and clearing the lion boma of invasive plant species that were killing the native plants. Although this work is labor-intensive, it is crucial and offers immediate gratification. During one morning’s work on the water hole, we witnessed a flat, brown clearing transform into a hollow perfect for the rhinos to drink, allowing them a safe waterhole free from competition from the elephants.

The main watering hole where most of the animals drink

The main watering hole where most of the animals drink

 

Giraffes engaged in a neck fight

Giraffes engaged in a neck fight

Three weeks in Africa was a revitalizing reminder that this world is absolutely beautiful and wildlife is so incredibly precious. The contrast from hectic, stressful, busy life in New York granted me such unusual perspective. The Big 5 Wildlife Reserve is a safe haven of this planet untouched by man, unmarred by our self-centered lifestyle. I spent hours in my mornings and afternoons driving through the most extraordinary wildlife and scenery and spent every hour in between learning from international volunteers.

Mufasa takes a drink from the watering hole

Mufasa takes a drink from the watering hole

A lion watches us closely through the grass in his hiding spot.

A lion watches us closely through the grass in his hiding spot.

 

Another dramatic sunrise over the reserve

Another dramatic sunrise over the reserve

 

Whatever volunteer project you might be considering, do it. There are opportunities and places and people that will leave us all breathless, panting under the stars, gasping in the face of a sprawling new land, desperately trying to inhale as much of the moment as possible. This world is huge. It’s ours. But this world is also in danger, and we are responsible for fixing it. A vast majority of species are endangered, biodiversity is at risk, and the natural splendor of this planet is in jeopardy. Thrust yourself into a new situation, give, learn, grow, and give some more.

Get involved and begin the journey of your lifetime! Click here for more details about the Big 5 Wildlife Reserve in South Africa!

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