Dances with Cheetahs – a month volunteering in the African bush

Recently, Khaya Volunteer Projects received some feedback from a young lady named Seraina Rioult-Pedotti, who signed up for a month-long volunteering stint at the African Bush and Wildlife Experience project, and had the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of Southern Africa’s creatures great and small.

This project is located on a 27 000 hectare nature reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa; almost 300km from the nearest major city and tucked deep in the heart of the majestic, primeval mountains and plains of the Great Karoo. It’s breathtaking and an absolute must-see for nature and wildlife lovers worldwide.

Prior to European settlement 200 years ago, great migrations of springbuck, black wildebeest and eland passed through this area. The area was also home to a large number of Cheetahs – the Ferrari of the African Bush! The cheetahs were recently re-introduced to the area after a forced absence of 125 years.

Fenced farming (before the area was turned into a nature reserve) stopped the natural wildlife migrations, and prevented the cheetahs from following their natural hunting instincts, thus contributing to their endangerment as a species, and upsetting the age-old natural rhythms of the area. The staff at the African Bush and Wildlife Experience work tirelessly to reverse the effects of man on the landscape by pulling up fences, rehabilitating the land and reintroducing game in a controlled and sustainable manner. Volunteers get to help them track and study the wildlife of the area, and gather vital information to assist them in maintaining the right levels of diversity in the ecology.

Volunteer tasks at this project include tracking radio-collared cheetahs from a vehicle and on foot by using telemetry sets; researching the shy nocturnal Aardvark; studying the remarkable adaptational abilities of vervet monkeys (a rainforest animal which has acclimated to the arid Karoo); and witnessing game captures and introductions which ensure that correct sex ratios are maintained.

Truly the adventure of a lifetime. We posed some questions to Seraina about her volunteer experience. 

  1. How did you find out about Khaya Volunteer Projects and why did you choose us? 

“I found out about Khaya through a Google search for wildlife volunteer projects in Africa.

I chose the program because it offered exactly what I was looking for and it was inexpensive.” 

  1. What was the best thing about this particular volunteer program for you? 

“All the new experiences I gained that I never could have gotten elsewhere. It was definitely a leap out of my comfort zone, but it was so enriching and I had fun and was happy the entire time. The coordinator of the program, Carmen, was easy to get on with and she was experienced in what she was doing, making it an easy and comprehensive transition to reserve life and work.” 

  1. What was the worst thing about your experience? 

“The worst thing was the all the problems we had with the water pump and geyser, which didn’t influence my experience, but it would have been nice if the problems were fixed more promptly.” 

  1. What life lessons did you learn from your volunteering experience? 

“I don’t think I specifically learnt a life lesson, as I believe life lessons are things you learn over a long period of time through multiple experiences. However, one that was certainly emphasised is that to grow and continue learning, you must step out of your comfort zone, no matter how hesitant you may be at first. Adventure opens your eyes to places and things and people and ideas that you will never find in the comfort of your own town or even country. Nothing is better than personal experience; seeing and reading about something will never compare to being in it.” 

  1. What would you recommend for us to improve on? 

“Khaya Volunteer Projects, particularly Sam, did a great job with helping me organise this trip and providing me with the information I needed. And, as mentioned before, Carmen was a very good coordinator. It would be helpful in the future if the program and its coordinators were better supported by the reserve, as I think part of the reason it is struggling at the moment (I was the sole volunteer, despite it being spring break for many students in the Northern Hemisphere) is due to neglect.” 

  1. Would you recommend this project to friends? 

“Yes, because I had a wonderful time and I learned so much. It was truly enriching.”  

 

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