Recently, two members of the team here at The Great Projects travelled over to the brand new Kariega “Big 5” Volunteering Project in South Africa and had an absolutely incredible experience! Michael and Connor did so much in a short space of time that it was tricky to remember it all, but luckily lots of notes were taken during their time there. Connor has written up what their time on the project was like, so without further –ado; take a look at what 24 (and a bit) hours at the Kariega “Big 5” Conservation Project can be like!
12.22 – Arrival At The Volunteer House
After a long car journey in the hot African sun, we were delighted when we saw the volunteer house coming up on the horizon. As we drove through the safety gate, making sure to lock it behind us as we went of course, Helena the volunteer programme manager informed us that the volunteer house had been recently renovated. Upon closely inspection we saw how well the renovation had gone and could see why we had been told the volunteers were delighted with their digs! After exploring the house and taking in the spectacular view from the garden we sat back with a refreshing cold glass of water and waited for the volunteers to return from their morning activity. There were definitely worse places to sit and wait!
We didn’t have to wait long and a herd of ravenous volunteers returned and stampeded straight into the kitchen to make their lunch. As this was happening we got the chance to meet Jarrett the volunteer coordinator and could immediately see why this project is so popular. He is a happy, helpful and extremely articulate man who explained the answers to all of the questions we had in a very clear and concise way. Exactly what you need in a coordinator when there are always 10 enthusiastic and inquisitive volunteers peppering you with conservation questions! One answer in particular piqued our attention, and that was to the question of what we would be up to in the afternoon…
14.01 – Exploring For The Elephants
Once lunch was finished and everyone was full we all headed out on the afternoons activity, and we were told we would be trying to track down the resident elephant herd! With Michael and I bringing the number of volunteers up to 12, we split off into two vehicles to see if we could spot the elephant family!
After driving for 20 or so minutes without any luck, we got a call over the radio from the other volunteer vehicle stating that they had heard some rustling in an area of thick bush that sounded suspiciously like an elephant. Without hesitating Jarrett told us to hold on as we were about to be going on a “Ferrari Safari” and he was not wrong… The Land Rovers used to transport the volunteers don’t look like they would be very quick, but with a potential elephant sighting on the horizon Jarrett definitely got it moving in top gear.
After a rocket propelled journey to the area of the reserve we had been told the elephants may be in, we arrived and were forced to stop by some very welcome guests. I’ll let the pictures do the talking from here on as we got an elephant experience like no other.
We found ourselves in the middle of the herd with around 25 elephants patrolling the area.
There were elephants of all ages here!
You don't realise just how big these beasts are until you see them up close.
Thankfully though they were a lot more interested in the surrounding foliage than us!
20.05 – We Went On A Night Drive And Ended Up Learning About The Stars!
With a delicious dinner demolished, the group was told we would be heading out on a night drive so everybody jumped back onto the vehicles and we once again set out into the bush. After driving around for 30 minutes without spotting much animal life apart from a very skittish hare and duo of unfazed zebra, Jarrett instructed the two cars to pull up alongside each other in an open clearing. His next instruction was simple, as it was to just sit back and look up at the night sky.
Now, if you’ve ever been lucky enough to see an African sky at night, completely free of the light pollution that is so commonplace in the Western world, then you will know what I mean when I say it is a sight that takes your breath away. The picture above you is akin to a kaleidoscopic dot-to-dot, and you will be able to truly appreciate the vastness of space in a way that you may never have done before. Once the various calls of “ohh wow” and “I’ve never seen a sky like that before” had died down, Jarrett began imparting some cosmic wisdom onto his silent and very attentive volunteers. Jarrett’s impromptu astrology lesson captivated everyone from the moment he showed us how to navigate our way back via the stars (thankfully we never had to put this into practise!) right through to the moment he told us the origin story of the Scorpio star sign. We’d come all the way to Africa to see the animal life but we’d got a little star struck in the process! This was not a bad way to end the night!
09.00 – Finding The Elephants Round 2 … Or So We Thought
After an extremely well deserved night’s sleep we were up bright and early and raring to go for a 9am start. We initially thought that we were going to track the elephants to see how far they had moved overnight. This plan was going well until we received another call over the radio stating that volunteer help was urgently needed. As soon as the “over and out” call come over the radio, Jarrett summoned the troops and we all sped off on another “Ferrari Safari” to get to the source of the issue and find out what all of the fuss was about.
5 minutes later and with a thick layer of dust covering all of our faces from the road, we arrived at the location, which by this point was a hive of activity, and were greeted with the sight of a helicopter. After some hectic discussions with other members of the in country team, Jarrett came over and informed us all that a buffalo had escaped from the reserve last night and was currently relaxing in a nearby farmers field. The helicopter had done the hard work for us and located the huge animal, so now all that was left to do was to dart the 800kg buffalo, carry it onto the waiting transportation truck and then transport it back to a quarantine boma in the scorching African sun. Easy right…..
With a good idea of where the buffalo would be found, we were able to head off post haste and soon caught up with the beast. We had to take it slow once we were on the farmer’s land upon which the buffalo had decided to set up home as the team in the helicopter still had to fly over and dart the belligerent bovine. In a scene reminiscent of a Bond film, the pilot soon flew overhead and with expert skill his co-pilot tranquilised the animal in question. Once the sedative had had time to take effect we were given the all clear to go in and we were met by a busy yet organised scene.
Emily, the vet at the project site, was preparing the various pieces of equipment and medicine that would be needed to safely transport the buffalo back to the Kariega reserve. She soon called the volunteer team over and allowed us to get very stuck in! One volunteer was given the task of holding the animal’s large head up straight to ensure it was able to breath, and two others were instructed to grab a syringe each and, under careful instruction from Emily, give the bull the medicine it needed. You get the chance to get hands on on most volunteering projects, but this one was taking it to new levels!
Once all of the necessary medicine had been administered, it was time for things to get a little physical. In the heart of the African bush there is no fancy equipment for some jobs and all that is needed is a bit of elbow grease. This was certainly the case when it came to lifting the buffalo! Firstly the volunteers (with the help of a team of strong local men) had to roll the buffalo on its side to get a stretcher under it. Once that tricky job was done it was time for the volunteers to really earn their keep. 10 volunteers, 2 Great Projects sized helpers (well 1, someone had to take the pictures.....) and some additional help from the in country team to lift an 800kg buffalo. Could it be done? Of course it could! The pictures show just what team work can do for you, and I think we can safely say that volunteering doesn't get more hands on than that! We left the buffalo to begin its journey back to its temporary quarantine boma and the group headed off to begin the next activity knowing that they had had a massive impact on the wildlife at Kariega.
14.22 - A Relaxing Boat Ride To Finish The Day
After the excitement and exertion caused by the unexpected buffalo relocation earlier in the day, everyone was ready to relax a little and catch their breath with the afternoons activity, and that is exactly what we were able to do. We were heading off on a boat ride down the Kariega River, and this would give us all a chance to enjoy lunch in a very picturesque setting. As we set off we were able to see the diversity of Kariega’s landscape first hand. We left behind the vast open plains of the reserve and were soon immersed in the plant rich banks of the river.
As we drifted through the meanders of the winding river we were able to spot a plethora of bird and animal life on the banks, and with the sun setting in the distance it was the perfect end to what had been a pretty full on, but amazing 24 (and a bit) hours.
Even in the short time we were at the project site we were able to help make a difference and leave a conservation shaped mark on the project, so if this sounds like something you would want to do as well then take a look at the project page and ask us any questions you may have! Just imagine the difference you will be able to make with your fellow volunteers in a 2-week volunteering trip! The opportunities are endless!
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