Rebecca from the Dovetail team recently spent two weeks as a volunteer
on a wildlife conservation project in South Africa. Recognising an increasing
significance for eco-tourism and minimising our footprint in a sustainable
format, she was keen to give back what she could. Here she shares her
A wise man known as Aristotle once said: “What is the essence of
life? To serve others and to do good.” Living in a world where the concept of
self-gratification seems engrained, it’s even more important to look at the
bigger picture. I have long felt the call to volunteer, to give something back
when I have been so fortunate. In my case, I was moved by my passion for
wildlife and in turn, conservation. This was inspired by a recently found
love-affair with Africa.
I fell head over heels, with South Africa in particular, on my
first visit in 2015 to visit the renowned Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve. The magic and the atmosphere of the Bush
captivated me in an instant. And so, when I was fortunate enough to have the
opportunity to fulfil my dream to volunteer, the perfect project arose in the
form of a big five conservation project in the South African bushveld. This was
to be for two weeks, working six days a week, to actively contribute towards
ongoing research and assist with efforts to ensure a future for the country’s
incredible and varied wildlife.
We flew out with a sense of anticipation, unsure as what to
expect. We’d been warned that we would be fully immersed in the Bush: it would
be hot, hands-on and a true adventure. We arrived to the warmest of greetings
from the volunteer team and our fellow volunteers. Hailing from Britain,
Germany, Switzerland, France and South Africa, we a were motley crew yet united
in our determination to be of use, learn something new and get stuck in. This
is exactly what we did.
Rising early each day, it was straight out to undertake the daily
schedule of activities. Varied and exciting, each day offered a different
experience. We piled in our volunteer car, spreadsheets, compasses and
binoculars in hands, ready to go. Driving through the Bush with the familiar
call of the grey ‘go-away’ bird as the soundtrack, sun beating down, we
revelled in identifying what we could spot. Eyes eagerly peeled, we noted down
each and every animal as part of a broader understanding of prey movement, from
warthog to wildebeest. With bearings and co-ordinates, genders and age
recorded, this would collate to provide a valuable understanding of the local
eco-system. Another day would see us performing the same exercise with birds of
all shapes and sizes, quickly learning to identify their differing flight
patterns and calls.
We learned tracks and signs, reading the Bush to spot the impala
that had been running; the dung beetle which had been making his merry way; the
gentle plod of the elephant; or the swish of a vervet monkey tail (easily
mistaken for a snake at first glance!) We monitored the landscape, observing
the slightest movement – or a rush of movement as we were charged by an
impatient elephant who was not in the mood for our presence!
When we couldn’t spot these things, the camera traps came into
play. With a network of cameras capturing different angles of the Bush, every
two days we would head out to switch the batteries, change the SD cards and
excitingly, head back to review, categorise and log the images captured. The
excitement of spotting lions and leopards slinking past was captivating. When
one camera was mysteriously chewed off a tree, the images revealed playing lion
cubs as the culprits. They clambered over each other in perfect view of the
camera, as if they knew it was there. Each image would be crucial in mapping
the movement of the prey and predators in the area.
Reserve work was the Bush version of boot camp, taking our pick
axe and shovels in hand ready to remove any roots and rocks which were
hindering the process of building a new road. Collaborating as a team, yes it
was hot and heavy work, we were covered in dust and dirt, however we laughed
more than any other time.
Back at camp, a rota of cooking, cleaning and data management kept
us busy, forging new friendships over shared experiences. Two weeks flew by and
only reaffirmed my love of the wild.
efforts may only make a small dent, but in turn, we were contributing to a much
wider cause and helping to secure the future of various species, from big to small,
safe to deadly, beautiful to ugly! That provided a true sense of satisfaction.