The following is a guest post written by Anita and Graham Turner who volunteered at the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary.
We’ve always wanted to visit Africa to see the amazing scenery and wildlife, and with our children now grown up and flown, we realised the time to actually do something about it was now. However, we both agree we’d really like to do something more than be spectators on a typical safari holiday, that we’d like to be much more involved and directly useful, and after a lot of research came across The Great Projects, which offered the sort of experience we were looking for.
After listening to what we were after, Nikita was able to suggest that the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary probably offered the greatest opportunity for hands-on work, helping with their efforts to protect and safeguard the wildlife, and also integrate that aim with the needs of the local people. It turned out to be a perfect recommendation, and we had a fabulous trip, experiencing so much more than we could have imagined and giving us some incredible memories!
On arrival, and after a brief orientation, we were shown to our ‘tent’; considerably nicer than we had expected, it was more like glamping than camping.
We were assigned our group (usually only about four people while we were there) and the rota was explained - each day divided into morning and afternoon sessions, with the groups moving through the different activities in turn.
It transpired that our first activity was one of the highlights – walking the cheetahs!
It was a real pinch-yourself moment; here we were, out in the bush, walking with cheetahs! Talk about starting the fortnight off in a good way! The two cheetahs were very chilled and just wanted to lie about and play with each other, but on some of the walks with other people, they would chase the zebra or antelope that were nearby – incredible!
The Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary is home to a large number of rescued orphan baboons, and they are taken out into the bush morning and afternoon, accompanied by a group of volunteers.
Walking the baboons is quite an experience and something we did four times; you get to be an honorary baboon for a few hours each time. They climb up to sit on your shoulders which is lovely, but when three of the bigger ones decide they want to sit on your shoulders while you’re walking they can get rather heavy (and remember they aren’t toilet trained!).
Graham had a full head and body grooming a couple of times including going in the sleeve of his polo shirt, which did get rather baggy. Old clothes are a must, preferably something you’ll be happy to leave behind.
Another highlight (of many) was the opportunity to ride horses in the reserve and get up close to the wildlife: giraffes, zebra, springbok... They seem to accept the horses more readily and you can get very close – we were privileged to be able to ride amongst a large herd of giraffe, and you feel more part of the place when on a horse and not just a human intruder.
When cleaning and feeding the small animals you get to watch how the animals interact with each other, which was very interesting. We learned so much. In our time off we would often wander around and just watch them – there was so much to see and take in. There are a couple of domestic goats and a sheep that wander around as they please – quite the characters!
Lying in bed in the morning and hearing a lion’s roar in the distance was pretty special. Going out in the back of a 4x4 with buckets and bins of meat to feed the roaring lions - and the cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs and other carnivores – was even more amazing. It was particularly fascinating to see how the wild dogs take the food and see the pack hierarchy in action.
Of course, the aim if possible is to be able to release the rescued animals back into the wild, and while we were at the sanctuary there were two elephants released and two cheetahs too. It goes to show what an amazing job they do to get the animals fit and healthy and well enough to cope on their own.
How wildlife and humans manage to co-exist is an important aspect of the work done at the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary, and we spent time helping to set camera traps and analyze the data recorded by them, to help understand the habits of the various species and the number of animals in the area.
A trip out to visit a farmer whose land is crisscrossed by leopards was most enlightening and gave us optimism that the potential for conflict between us humans and the wildlife we share the world with is being addressed by research and cooperation such as this.
As a treat, we took the opportunity to spend one night at the Lodge and I would highly recommend going there if you can fit it into your stay. It was a complete indulgence, and very reasonably priced for the volunteers.
Everyone at the sanctuary was very friendly, welcoming and helpful. Meeting new people, working as a team and then chatting at the campfire in the evening discussing what we’d all done during the day was great.
If you are thinking about going and volunteering at the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary, all we can say is ‘do it’. Just throw yourself at each task with everything you have and grasp every opportunity to get involved. We had a fantastic time, and are sure you will too!
PS. As an aside, Graham is a professional artist, specialising in painting historical subjects, but inevitably he found our trip to Namibia totally inspiring. Amongst his paintings from our adventures in Namibia are a study of Alfie, one of the youngest baboons we were involved with, and the two cheetahs we walked.
Full details of these paintings can be found on our website.
For now, however, check out Graham's stunning painting of little Alfie!
We give great thanks to Anita and Graham for their contribution, and we hope you are feeling inspired! Learn more about the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary today.
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