During my 25 years of existence, I have had the privilege of travelling to over 9 countries around the world. From admiring the views on top of the Eifel Tower to putting on my “Lederhosen” and enjoying the local Viennese culture at the “Neustifter Kirtag” I even attended the famous Carnival in Cologne, where I was amazed by the vibrant and exciting culture the Germans have to offer.
None of the above, though, has given me the gift of admiration and inspiration as it was volunteering with wild animals. It’s true, I have been blessed to be involved with various animal volunteering programs across South Africa & Namibia, and the rewards you experience during this time cannot be compared to any type of tourism.
It’s important to understand the different types of establishments you wish to get involved in. There is a common belief that all animals should be released and that they should roam freely. Unfortunately, if you do a little bit of research, you will see that this “dream” cannot always be a reality. Some animals have been subjected to human contact, or those who are saved from breeding farms have been born with several deficiencies due to inbreeding or malnutrition, just to mention a few. There is also a massive problem where land is currently not only needed for our wildlife but also the citizens of South Africa, making everything complex and difficult. The ultimate question should then be if it really benefits conservation when putting these animals back into the wild, knowing that they will most likely die within days or weeks.
As a prospective volunteer, you should make your own decision regarding the aspect of conservation you wish to get involved in. If you want to spend time with the animals who are successfully re-introduced and roaming freely in the wild, your best option would be to apply at a reserve or even a research project. If your passion is in the rehabilitation, you should apply to spend time at rehabilitation centers, where you are part of that process and see the challenges that go hand in hand with them.
I often get asked about what you will get out of your time spent at these establishments, and for me, it’s always the same answer. Firstly, you can get a better understanding of these animals, and quickly realize how fragile we are as human beings. You realize the importance of each species, and the roles they play with one another. Personal aspects you achieve are easily described as perseverance, dedication, and of course the ability to do something without expecting anything in return, which is an aspect many of us as humans don’t possess today in modern times. It opens your life in many ways which cannot always simply be put into words.
From a personal perspective, you meet amazing like-minded people during your time spent at these establishments, many of whom are from all over the world. These friendships are solid, as you form a strong bond through your journey and personally, some of my best friends I have met during my time volunteering are still in my life today. We might not see each other often, but we make plans for yearly visits and these bonds are often seen as unbreakable due to what you have experienced together.
Whether you are 18 or 65 years old, it does not matter, wildlife volunteering can be a life-changing experience for anybody. It takes you completely out of your comfort zone and opens your life to a new way of thinking. I strongly encourage everyone to take the opportunity and give your time for the conservation of animals!