ZooLab's 2018 Volunteering Trip
In August, we sent three of our rangers - Chris, Lilian and Phil - to South Africa where they spent two weeks volunteering with the Nkombi Volunteer Programme in Mankwe Wildlife Reserve. We wanted them to immerse themselves in this unique ecosystem, while experiencing first hand the conservation efforts taking place to protect the wildlife residing in the reserve.
To say our intrepid explorers had an adventure would have be an understatement - their time was spent caring for a baby zebra, fighting wildfires, taking part in bush burns (a controlled burn that can act as a barrier to a wildfire by reducing available fuel sources) and patrolling the reserve on the look out poachers (to name a few).
Ranger Reflections - Chris Knowles
“My time in South Africa was truly an eye opening experience. From the moment we arrived at Mankwe I could tell the next two weeks were going to be a real treat, from the extremely friendly welcome to the fact we were surrounded by wilderness - it was ticking all the boxes!
It’s been very hard to pinpoint one particular highlight as everyday brought up unexpected but exciting events. I think battling the out of control wildfires in Pilanesburg were a once in a life time experience. I’ve never seen anything like it. Mountains covered in flame and smoke, grabbing tortoises and stuffing them in my camera so I could release them once we were all safe.
My camera lens got so hot that it was uncomfortable to hold, at points it felt like the car would get too hot to sit in! Seeing the caracal was a massive highlight because it’s a cat species I had never seen (or expected to!).
The atmosphere around the camp was exceptional, with everybody having fun and enjoying each other’s company!”
Ranger Reflections - Lilian Arroni
"Wow, what a trip!
It was an amazing experience and everyday was something new and exciting! I must admit zebrasitting, when the others were doing one of the night burns, was so cute.
Seeing the big animals like rhinos, giraffes and elephants in their natural habitat was breathtaking! The elephants particularly impressed me with their sheer size and majestic manner.
I also enjoyed all the burns - they really do give an adrenaline rush, especially when we were trying to get the wildfire in Pilansberg National Park under control…it was slightly scary at times when we were surrounded by the massive fires but also spectacular.
If I had to list all of the new things I learned out in the bush, it would probably have been most of the activities we did! I loved every second of the trip, all the activities, the camp and also all the people we met - they are doing such an incredible job out there! I can't wait to go back next year!"
Ranger Reflections - Phil Burnett
“I've recently had the pleasure of returning to Mankwe Nature Reserve in South Africa for a second year - this time, I was part of their world renowned volunteer programme.
The ZooLab contingent were staying at the volunteer site Nkombi, right in the heart of the reserve alongside just a handful of other volunteers. It's an amazing site with all the comfort you could ask for and surroundings that are not only beautiful - but full of life.
It was near impossible to sit on the porch of the kitchen and not see birds, lizards and bugs moving around and you need only take a stroll around or look slightly further afield to see the likes of giraffe, zebra, water buck, impala, baboons and even rhinos (to name just a few)!
The programme was full of 'work' such as trekking in the bush looking for snares, setting up camera traps, monitoring rhino, feeding and cleaning a baby zebra, and firefighting!The volunteer programme is an amazing way to contribute and help the cause. It was incredibly rewarding to feel as though our actions actually helped people and animals on the reserve.
A highlight of the trip was the night burns. Night burns are controlled fires lit intentionally to stimulate the growth of desired grassland plants. These controlled fires also lessen the chance of more powerful, destructive wildfires. These fires are like nothing else I have ever experienced - fires the size of a village with orange flames igniting trees and bushes, climbing 4/5 storeys and lighting up the sky! It’s an amazing mix of danger and beauty - I was mesmerized, yet alert and seeing the awesome destructive force of fire was incredible.
When visiting Africa, the huge variety of wildlife is always going to be a major highlight! I personally love just simply driving around the reserve and keeping my eyes peeled for all the amazing wildlife on offer. We had amazing luck sighting incredibly rare animals such as caracal, leopard, brown hyena, buffalo, sable, eland, hippopotamus and of course rhino.
I honestly have fallen for Mankwe. The people and animals there are unforgettable. It makes for a truly perfect trip away. I would return in a heartbeat and recommend that everyone visits such a special place at least once in their lifetime to the feel the magic for yourself.”