"The experience was very enjoyable"
Mark Lyness, from the UK, volunteered for 2 weeks in August
The experience was very enjoyable. The location is very idyllic and peaceful and a great place to get away from the pressures of everyday work. The cabins were of excellent standard, and although remote, it was only 20 minutes in an Uber to the coast.
The mornings were mainly about the feeding of the wolves and involved the cutting up of meat, weighing and placing in individual buckets for feed. The meat was out of date and donated by supermarkets. I was aware of this task, but the smells and flies was not something I was expecting and took some time to adapt. The benefit was of course getting close to feeding the wolves. One wolf had cubs and this was a joy to see and to get closer to them over the 2 weeks. During my stay one elderly wolf became ill and had to be euthanised. This was stressful for the team of Phillipa and co working and we supported them during this time.
The feeding, observing and replacing the water each day was the most enjoyable. In the afternoon you effectively did labouring work around the complex. The cutting of bushes down, cleaning drains, lifting tree trunks, clearing fields of stones etc. it was hard work but enjoyable.
Would I do it again? I liked the wolves and the experience and I felt like I got to understand more around the life of wolves and also around the horticultural aspects of running a wildlife centre. However, for my next adventure I might just find an animal that is a plant eating species!
"I fell in love with the wolves, the nature, the landscape, the food, the warmth of the Portuguese sun and the people"
Previous Volunteer Mayté Heymans from Belgium
There were a few activities in which I participated as a volunteer. Let’s start talking about activities concerning the wolves: removing meat from the packaging, dividing by weight and size and then putting the meat in the freezer; defrosting the meat when it’s time to feed, preparing the meat for the wolf (removing small bones or air pockets and cutting into the right size); administer medication to the meat under supervision and the eventual feeding of the wolves. Another task concerning the wolves is observation. The observation of the wolves is also very important, you need to make sure the wolves are healthy and happy and are not showing strange behavior or indications that they are sick. Twice a day you need to give the wolves freshwater (sometimes thrice a day when they decide to take a bath).
The second main task was terrain and forest conservation. This includes cleaning the bushes and foreign trees to reduce the risk or spread of forest fires. Sometimes you will also need to trim the vegetation in the wolves’ enclosures.
You work closely with the staff and they are committed to guaranteeing the safety of both human and wolf. They are very concerned and sweet people. Upon arrival you first get a tour and they explain more about the vision and purpose. They take the time to give you a lot of information about Iberian wolves and their habitat, this is very informative. I learned a lot about the Iberian wolf and the beautiful country of Portugal.
You also get days off, the staff is very friendly and they have some good tips about what to do and where to go. They helped me with bus and train hours to make transport as smooth and worry-free as possible. This way I had the unique chance to see this beautiful country from the eyes of a local.
The center is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. I love to hike and did it many times. I can find rest and peace here, for me it feels like entering a bubble, secluded from all the stress and negativity in the world. You live simply and wander the eucalyptus and cork oak forest as much as you like, in this place I found true peace of mind. Clear nights are excellent for stargazing. In the right season the dark is swarming with fireflies and most nights you can hear the wolves sing, all of this gave me a surreal feeling from time to time. Also, within walking distance you can reach the ‘Tapada Nacional de Mafra’ which is also very beautiful. You can study the wolves as much as you like, and maybe even create a bond with some of them, it is such a great opportunity to get close to these majestic animals and learn everything about them. Also, by Uber or bus, you can visit some amazing places, some famous and big and some small and only known by the locals.
You work together with other volunteers from all over the world. It’s a great opportunity to make new friends or forge a stronger bond with the friends you take with you. I met people from all over Europe, Australia and Mexico. I met truly wonderful people and some of them became cherished and loyal friends. It’s a great opportunity to learn about other people’s cultures.
Every week you get two days off, mostly this is the weekend but it’s also possible to choose any convenient weekday. This gives you the chance to go sightseeing and discover the secrets that Portugal has to offer. This way you can experience the country, food, architecture and people. Or just stay at the center and relax or take a hike. I also love the staff, they give you such a positive vibe, I admire them for the people they are and the challenges they conquered.
Something that I think can be an issue for some people is the preparing of the meat. The meat that’s being used is no longer edible for humans, so expect it has a strong odor. Be prepared to see some gore, depending on the kind of meat, things can get a bit bloody. If you don’t feel comfortable with this kind of task, don’t worry, they will never force you to do anything. You can also prepare the medication that goes into the meat or weigh the meat and put it into the right buckets.
Personally, I think it is a big plus to have a decent physical condition when applying for this adventure. The terrain and forest conservation activities can demand a lot. Of course, you work at your own speed, but you will do this kind of work a lot so be prepared and the tools you use to do this are simple and not motor-driven (shovels, axes, scythes, etc.). Don’t underestimate the heat in the summer, if you can’t bear heat maybe consider applying in the ‘colder’ seasons.
The ‘wooden house’ has a cozy, earthy and warm ambiance, it’s bright with plenty of windows and it does not get too warm during day time. The beds are good and fairly comfy, maybe a bit hard but that’s a personal opinion. There is a room with bunk beds and a room with two separate beds. Both bedrooms are big enough and there is also some storage space. The house gets cleaned and the bath and bed linen gets changed every week, so if you dislike toweling off with the same towel for a week bring some spare of your own. There is a bath and shower with plenty of warm water. The living room had a desk, a big dining table, and two sofas, there is also an old television and a video player. There is a clean kitchen with plenty of kitchen utensils and a big fridge. Twice a week you can get the chance to go for provisions, so remember to bring enough food to last a few days. You also need to share with the volunteers from the other wooden houses so it would be wise to appoint one person from each cabin to go food shopping. There are enough utilities to cook some really delicious and sophisticated meals if you’re a skilled cook. What I like a lot is that in the right season you can also find some edible herbs (like oregano and rosemary) growing in the sanctuary and surrounding areas.
I would highly recommend this project. I fell in love with the wolves, the nature, the landscape, the food, the warmth of the Portuguese sun and the people at the center. In this place I experience real contentment, it feels like I can come to this place and leave the hassle of daily life behind. I love the work, all of it, it keeps me in shape, and I feel very satisfied after a day working outside in full nature. I love to stargaze and hear the wolves sing in the morning with a cup of hot tea. I love to just sit a while and observe the wolves. It gave me the opportunity to meet some awesome people and at the same time, it gave me the opportunity to be truly alone and find some rest.