I have chosen South Africa thinking of the endless open savannahs where lions and elephants roam freely. We have all seen this classical landscape in countless documentaries not to mention the Lion King. Although we all associate this with Africa in fact such pristine landscape is more and more difficult to find and significant number of native Africans have gone through their life never seeing a giraffe. Therefore, when an opportunity to volunteer as a research assistant in Game Reserve came about I did not hesitate to accept it.
I have spent three weeks in Dinokeng Game Reserve, north of Pretoria and a week in Sodwana Bay. During my stay I have been conducting ecological surveys to assess the Reserve and help management. As the Reserve is located just outside human settlement human-wildlife conflict is a challenge – animals, especially elephants, tend to break out of the Reserve and while doing so pose a threat to local communities and well as themselves. Surveys that I was a part of – game transect, roadkill, vegetation survey and camera traps allowed to assess animal distribution and main issues causing that such as the fact that majority of water supply is located in the human settlements. Such findings in turn allow action such as introducing new water sources for animals. Game reserves are just a fraction of natural habitat that animals would inhibit therefore proper management and constant upkeep is crucial to sustain the reserves that are often the last safe space for animals to live in.
The most important aspect of my volunteering was contributing to a change. The African landscape that we all grew up admiring is disappearing in front of our eyes. Human expansion and pollution have left only remaining of what Africa once was. Game Reserves are sometimes the only wildlife oasis in the landscape dominated by man where big game is no longer safe. Rhinos – one of the classic mammals associated with the continent can now only be found in enclosed and highly protected parks, there are no remaining in the wild. The rangers are in constant battle with the poachers risking their lives every night – to save a species that been on the earth longer than humans from myths and legends about its horn. It breaks my heart to think that when I return to Africa there might be no rhinos or elephants left due to human poaching.
The month abroad has developed to be much more than volunteering experience. Being part of the game reserve, sleeping in the middle of wilderness with nothing but tent keeping you away from jackals, seeing the sun rise over the Indian Ocean and living the way that is a everyday reality for local people makes coming back to previous lifestyle impossible. Disappearing into African bush makes all your problems seems insignificant and appreciate the small things in life that you keep for granted. I feel really grateful for this wonderful experience and would recommend an international volunteering experience with no hesitation.