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Rhino Kariega South Africa

From the Field

Volunteering in Africa: Conservation and wildlife research in South Africa

January 26th 2017

Tagged: Conservation, Ethical Volunteering, South Africa, Wildlife

Volunteering at Kariega Game Reserve

I spent March 2015 at the Kariega Game Reserve. The project was focussed upon conservation and wild life research in the reserve.

We were picked up in Port Elizabeth on a Monday and were taken by mini-van 150 kms to the North East to the reserve. It was a straightforward journey as the road was tarmac until we reached the entrance to the reserve.

Our accommodation was a comfortable bungalow with 4 bedrooms, a lounge, dining room and kitchen along with 2 bathrooms in a small grassed enclosure surrounded by fencing to protect us from the wild life. There was a tree where we could climb up a ladder to a platform that could be used for viewing wild life that came close to the bungalow. This was particularly useful on the guide’s day off, each Sunday, when we were restricted to the enclosure for the day.

Maintaining the garden, cleaning of the accommodation, and washing clothes was carried out by Kariega staff on a daily basis. The volunteers were expected to cater for themselves. Provisions for the week were provided with a suggested rota system for cooking the evening meal together with potential meals and recipes to cook. Volunteers proved to be very adept at coming up with interesting evening meals and indeed supplemented the food provided when they visited the local town Kenton-on-sea. We all catered for ourselves at breakfast and lunch; cereals, bread, fruit, eggs, bacon, salad etc were provided. There were also provisions for a braai once a week.

Our guide, Francis, provided an induction on our arrival and on the Tuesday morning we were straight into the routine. Each Tuesday, Francis would take us on a game drive to familiarise all new volunteers with the reserve. It was a good time for photography.

Activities each week depended upon the weather, the requests from the resident full time researchers and the conservation tasks outstanding.

Typically one morning a week was allocated to a game count along a pre-set route, 2 mornings a week allocated to conservation tasks, which included road clearing and repair, cutting down invasive species of tree, pulling out small bushes or saplings, and helping create a new garden at the main lodge. There was a weekly trip to a local school at the village of Farmerfield, to help with the education of young children, a night drive, and game drives when camera traps were checked. Less regular activities include a once a month bird count.

During free time we had opportunities to swim or canoe in the Kariega river, swim in a pool, walk up a stream and swim under a waterfall.

Saturday was a rest day and there was opportunities to travel in the area. Trips could be organised to nearby game reserves such as Addo Elephant Park, horse riding in the dunes by the sea, visits to Kenton-on-sea and its beach which was beautiful.

One evening a week we would go into town to shop at the supermarket for drinks and food. We would then either go to the beach restaurant or a local bar for pizza and beer plus wine.

What were those special moments:

1.       A herd of elephants at a waterhole: as the ground dries after the wet season the elephants will always spend part of the day by a waterhole. From a good vantage point it is a wonderful sight see a herd of 30+ elephants approaching the waterhole and then enjoying a wallow in the mud and/or a drink. The cameras are working overtime.

2.       Lion hunting: I witnessed an attempt by a lioness to catch an impala, and the male lion catching a warthog

3.       Rhino mother and calf: a few years ago 3 rhino were attacked by poachers and their horns hacked off. One of the rhino survived, Thandi, and 3 months before I arrived she had a calf, Thembe. Seeing the young calf with its mother along with the interaction between the 2 was special. One particular day we saw the 2 animals by a mud hole and watching Thembe play in the mud with the encouragement of his mother was a delight.

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