I visited Limpopo in South Africa last summer to volunteer on a private game reserve in researching wild animals, with a specific focus on the Cheetah. It all started with me wanting to do something in my summer away from university, so I googled volunteering abroad and GVI popped up. I did my research, picked out a project and it was on the up from there! GVI had so many different projects going on worldwide, but I have always watched wildlife programs on the television and thought: “Who doesn’t want to be that person up close to those animals?” and so off I went!
I am 22 years old and enjoy travelling, but have never volunteered before. I studied Environmental Sciences here at UEA, followed by an MSc in Climate Change, still, at the beloved UEA. In this ever changing environment faced with continual and degrading environmental challenges, I was ready to take up this opportunity and contribute to the mitigation of just one of the many challenges; the conservation and protection of South African species.
When I arrived in South Africa, I was greeted by the GVI science officer who drove myself and three other volunteers onto the reserve and into base (which we later called our home!). All I could see was what looked like dead trees, but little did I know a month later I would be leaving the reserve knowing every single species of tree with descriptions of their characteristics. Let me tell you, they certainly weren’t dead, but thriving! Base is like a big communal house with all the usual amenities, albeit basic. There is a large whiteboard in the corridor with the weekly timetable of activities. Each day goes something like this:
Wake up at 5am and out the door by 5:30am on our first game drive of the day. We all have jobs to do whilst on drive such as; writing down data, using telemetry to track animals, checking the vehicle before we leave, and organizing phuza! (that’s the coffee break). On each drive you could see so much. Within the first week, I had seen the Cheetah on foot, experienced the herd of elephants walking right past the vehicle, and identified several different species tracks including a rhino track which we later were able to identify as a fight that had gone on, how incredible! We get back from the drive around 10:30am and are able to have our own relaxation time until afternoon drive at 3pm. Two volunteers each day stay on base throughout the day to clean the house and prepare lunch and dinner for the rest of us which brings me onto the food. Each meal is very well done as there is a huge recipe book and instruction booklet to guide you. The meals are delicious and all home cooked, for example my first night cooking was burrito night! We made the sauces and wraps from scratch and I was very pleased with the results. Everybody is so kind and thankful for the meals you cook which is very rewarding and comforting. I took some pictures of the recipes to cook when I got home too!
The GVI team on base have an amazing breadth of knowledge about the African bush and they are clearly so passionate about their work, which makes every day so exciting and eventful. You learn so much whilst volunteering, everybody knows something different and on drives you can chit chat and learn from your fellow volunteers. To give you a taste of how meaningful the research is here, check out these publications using the data collected on the reserve by myself and fellow volunteers over the years; ‘The behavioural ecology of solitary lion pride in Karongwe Game Reserve’, ‘Minimizing predation risk in a landscape of multiple predators: effects on the spatial distribution of African ungulates’, and ‘Rapid growth rates of lion populations in small, fenced reserves in South Africa: a management dilemma’.
I am incredibly pleased and proud to have gotten on board with GVI’s mission of “building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference” by contributing towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I find that, particularly in ENV, you are always discussing SDGs and ways in which you can theoretically contribute towards these, but I found this amazing opportunity to actually go out and contribute towards some of these goals, whilst also making my CV look fantastic for future employers!
GVI have broadened my horizons and made me look further into my future with wide eyes. I have had first-hand experience in the field with conserving African species and you can become an ambassador once you are home! The ambassador program allows you to stay connected to GVI alumni and make new friends from all other projects that share the same passion and love for GVI and the work we contribute too. I had a real sense of united family whilst at UEA as I’m sure you feel too, and I have found another special place that gives me those same feelings.