'It was a privilege...an experience I have learnt much from and will remember forever' - hear what our competition winner, Laura, has to say about her time in Namibia!

'It was a privilege...an experience I have learnt much from and will remember forever' - hear what our competition winner, Laura, has to say about her time in Namibia!

Posted by Leanne Sturrock on Jul 21, 2018

Back in December, Laura became the lucky winner of our ’12 Days of Christmas’ competition, bagging herself a selection of festive treats – and a trip to the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary! Shortly after winning her prize, Laura decided to book a place on both the Neuras and Kanaan aspects of the trip, meaning that her trip to Namibia would soon become an even greater adventure. Read on to learn all about her time spent volunteering on these fantastic projects!

The Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary

In January I won a competition to go to the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary nature reserve in Namibia. Totally unexpected and amazed, I re-arranged my work schedule and organised the trip for that coming April. Having stepped off a long-haul night flight, I was so excited to finally arrive at the farm, just a 40-minute drive from the Windhoek airport. Within minutes of arriving at the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary, I was standing inches away from five friendly, purring cheetahs. Which was an awe-inspiring greeting, and an amazing start to my three weeks in Namibia. I was so excited to be put in Eland, a tent right next to the cheetah enclosure. I could watch these big, friendly cats lying in the sun, from the seat on my tent verandah. That evening a heavy illuminated sky rolled in for my first African sunset.

Amazing sky in Namibia

I had just under a week at the farm working the various scheduled tasks: enclosure building; food prep; animal enrichment; feeding the big cats and wild dogs; and I was lucky enough to get to go on a cheetah walk - a truly magical experience. Working with Johannes to help re-build the baboon enclosure was great fun. Mixing and pouring concrete, and fixing fencing and thatching, to make a permanent home for these primates. It was really rewarding to see it completed. I had just enough time to meet the coordinators and the animals and to learn about the practices and workings of the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary farm. It was interesting to learn that many of the coordinators had once too been volunteers and had loved their time there so much they never returned home! Understandably so: it was such a productive and fun environment, for people to engage with serious work whilst overseas.

Hanging out at the Lappa by night (canteen/bar) I got to know the locals, including a baby baboon called Natascha, a baby warthog (my favourite), and the star of the show, a very busy porcupine, called Porcupino. Eventually, I decided to head down to Kanaan that coming Saturday, which turned out to be a great thing.

Kanaan

The eight-hour drive to Kanaan was fascinating, watching the vegetation change from small trees to shrubs, to grasslands, to sand, until we arrived at what looked like a Martian landscape. Endless orange sands, desert plains and distant hills stretching as far as the eye could see, and no water to be seen anywhere. This is one of the most unique places I have ever been to, and I absolutely loved being in the middle of nowhere. With no signal of any kind, we were totally cut off from the outside world. We really were right in the desert. We hiked the plains and hills around Kanaan, checking camera traps, with only essential items in our rucksacks: sunscreen, water bottles, sunglasses, cameras. Coming across nothing but tiny plants, the occasional carcass, or a miniature snake, and expansive vistas. We drove standing on the back of the truck, watching trails of dust kicked up by the wheels, whilst spotting oryx and springbok, jackal and desert fox. On our third day, it turned out the weather had followed us, the clouds filled up the sky, biblical rain poured down all afternoon.  30ml fell in a few hours - more than the total year's rainfall in 2017.  It was so spectacular.

Evening sky in Namibia

Namibian sunset

Suddenly, there were rivers running through the desert! Karl and Kai were pretty happy: Kanaan hadn’t seen rain like this in over eight years. Dormant seeds and desert plains were about to come alive. Over the next few days, we watched the orange sands start to turn green. They knew that rain like this would change everything for the ecosystem. Later in the week, we saw hundreds (148!) of oryx grazing on the greening plains. The horses kept running off for days on end, without needing to return home for food. Then Karl’s collared hyaena showed up one night near the lodge, which he was very excited to see.

Hiking up the rocky hills at sunrise and riding horses over the desert plains at sundown were dreamlike experiences I’ll never forget. Likewise, sleeping out under the starry skies of the Southern Hemisphere (with group anxiety about hungry leopards!) drifting off to sleep surrounded by new friends, listening to Karl’s astrological stories. My very favourite activity in Namibia was the fence work at Kanaan. We were tasked with removing old wire boundary fence which had previously been erected by the old farms, and which now made up the Kanaan nature reserve. These old internal fences not only prevented animal migration but often killed animals that got entangled in them. I thought the idea to remove the old fences and weave them into new animal-friendly ones was really smart.

Neuras

The following week we headed back up to Neuras, which felt like a world away from Kanaan. The landscape was more shrubby and green, with a varied terrain of canyons and river beds where the animals could hunt, eat, and hide in. Even though there was limited Wi-Fi, we were connected back to the outside world by the tourists visiting the lodge, and via the proximity of the capital, which was still 4 hours away. We hiked about the nearby canyon with a GPS, learning how to spot different animal tracks and marking trees. We completed game counts, monitored camera traps (spotted a wild leopard!), entered data, and climbed inside a live bat cave. We fed the cheetahs, cleaned their enclosure, and spent an evening drinking beer with them at sunset. We also spent a day or two bottling up the vineyard’s new rose and the 2018 red wine. We learned all about winemaking and how the vineyard hopes to support and enable the conservation work at Neuras.

Neuras dunes

We went on two fantastic day trips whilst at Neuras: one was to Sossusvlei, where we climbed the world’s 4th highest sand dune in 40 minutes.  We also went on a spectacular hike through a canyon in Naukluft National Park. Douglas spotted fresh rhino scat, which he was very excited about. We left him looking through the undergrowth and went off to navigate through a canyon with a totally unique array of flora that grew in its microclimate. We followed this up by diving into some turquoise pools and waterfalls set in the middle of a nearby forest - a total paradise. The hikes in and around Neuras are majestic.

Cheetah at Neuras, Namibia

Learning in the field with the co-ordinators (Douglas and Karoline at Neuras, and Karl and Georgie at Kanaan) was a brilliant and direct way to gain an understanding of how conservation works with the animals in each location, the connected ecosystem, and this relationship to the surrounding community, and also the farm. Gathering and entering data, and the daily upkeep of tasks for these research sites, enabled us to be involved with front line animal conservation work in Namibia. It was very inspiring to be involved with, knowing of its immediate cause and effect. The challenges of human expansion will continue to place huge stress on the survival of these animals, which is why both the conservation and the outreach work conducted at the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary is so integral, to both the animals and the communities, and their ability to look after each other and symbiotically benefit from their shared eco-system.  It was a privilege to visit the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary farm, and Kanaan and Neuras research sites, which provided an eye-opening overview into the workings of this innovative conservation project in Namibia. An experience I have learnt much from and will take forward with me in my work and remember forever.  Thank you to The Great Projects!

Has Laura's time in Namibia filled you with a sense of wanderlust? Find out how you can take part on each of these fantastic volunteer trips by heading to the Namibia page now!


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