Wildlife Conservation In Action

It’s 5AM, the sun is just showing its face on the horizon and Makalali Game Reserve, part of the Greater Kruger Park in South Africa, is waking up. Not that it ever sleeps because the night is full of action and life but not for me or the other volunteers. We sleep like the dead as it is hard work at this conservation program in the middle of Big 5 territory.

This morning we track one of the Cheetahs and on our way to a distant corner of the massive reserve we encounter all sorts of beauty, impalas with new born babies, lilac breasted rollers, a pond full of honking hippos, nyala peacefully browsing, a group of kudu drinking at the dam, a hyena with a full fat belly lying next to a waterhole with a kudu carcass in it. 

After a while and stopping several times to use the telemetric device to scan the environment we get closer and closer. The luck is that this cheetah is collared, and we can pick up the signal miles away. Finding it however in the thick bush and slowly reappearing greenery after the first rains of this season is another challenge. Sam, our guide and ranger, get out of the car and leave us waiting in the heat. It is me, Lars from Sweden in his 60’s, young Alex from the US and Emma from the UK in the open Landrover. We chat a bit about how exciting this place is and why they decided to volunteer at Siyafunda Conservation Projects. Lars puts it very clearly; you can pay hundreds of US dollars in the fanciest lodges or drive around yourself in the neighboring Kruger Park but nowhere else can you get off road when animals are spotted like in Makalali and you can sit and watch a Leopard, pride of Elephants or Lions so close up. The time you have to sit in the bush and observe is what makes this place so special he continues. The walking, which is done several times a week, under guidance of experienced guides is amazing. You are so aware and conscious about the surroundings, birds that fly up, the sounds of the bush and the possibillity of walking into any animal, small or big makes it a thrilling experience. 


monitor and track


Sam returns and we drive for a couple of hundred meters through the bush, over rocks and through dense scrubs to find the Cheetah lying in the shade of a Knob Thorn tree. It has a better idea of how to deal with this 38 degrees Celsius heat then we do, and the shade is all that offers some coolness but it is amazing to sit and watch this majestic animal so close.

Siyafunda is special, the location in a Big 5 game reserve, the volunteer accommodation with comfortable rooms with private showers and toilets, the kitchen and meals where volunteers take turns to cook, the dip pool to cool down, their education center with a wide display of horns and skulls to learn more about the animals. I could go on a little while but let me leave that to you rather when you go to this amazing conservation and wildlife experience.  I learned new things today, how the black spots on an Impalas hindlegs are actual glands, how the black ‘M’ on their bum attracts the bugs and ticks so they can clean them off easier with their teeth. Sam, our ranger is full of amazing stories and his enthusiasm and love for the bush radiates and a big part of the feel and results of this project lies with its staff and the dedication to capture all the data and details and share that with Anti Poaching units, the University of Cape Town and other institutes who use their data to do valuable research.


makalali reserve


I love the bush and all its animals, small and big and I know many others do as well and if you think about your options; an expensive safari for a week in a lodge or self drive through Kruger or volunteering at Siyafunda for a week; I would take the last option any day. It works out cheaper as well and you will have so much more real bush experience then on any safari. Ok, maybe no folded toilet paper and chocolates on your pillow but who needs that when you want to experience the bush in a real exciting way.

See you in Africa


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