Check Out Sam
My name is Sam, the travel blogger behind CheckOutSam. Through my travel blog I try to inspire travelers and adventurers on amazing places and cool activities, but also how you can arrange most of it all by yourself. My last trip brought me to beautiful South Africa where I went to work as a volunteer. In this article I will tell you exactly what I did and how I managed!
Volunteer with endangered species in Kruger National Park
Although there are many projects in Kruger National Park that focus on helping animals, I chose one that specifically concentrate on helping out endangered animal species. This project seemed to be the perfect mix between a typical holiday safari and a project that required me to get my hands dirty. It definitely didn’t disappoint.
Spending entire days looking for beautiful animals, driving through extraordinary landscapes and enjoying every moment with the other volunteers. Describing it like this makes it seem like I just made a long relaxing safari tour through the Kruger National Park, but that is far from true. I joined an amazing volunteering project. Gotten curious? I’ll tell you all about my tasks, what you can expect and of course my personal opinion. Spoiler: it was the experience of a lifetime!
What are your tasks during this project?
You get quite a lot of tasks, but at no point do you ever feel like you are really working. This undoubtedly has a lot to do with the awesome co-volunteers, but definitely also with the amazing place you are at. The Kruger National Park is so enormous and magical that you can spend an entire lifetime here!
Spotting endangered animals at the Kruger National Park
The most important task in this particular volunteer project is collecting data on all animals, but the endangered ones are the main priority. While you drive around in the safari truck, you see a lot of wonderful creatures. How long you spend with each animal depends on which ones you have to ‘research’ on that day. When you halt at a certain species, you take out pen and paper and really go to work. You start collecting data that will help monitor the population, such as gender, distance, where you spotted them and so on. All this data is not only important for the park itself, but also for scientists.
You help these scientists in more than one way. On some days you place ‘camera traps’. These are hidden cameras that take pictures at night when the unsuspecting animals pass by. Camera traps are crucial tools to spot the very rare animals and the images they deliver are used to study animal behavior.
Because you and your fellow volunteers are never the only guests at the park, some of the tasks you perform are focused on making sure other visitors have a smooth visit. For example, elephants like to push the occasional tree on the road. If those aren’t removed as quickly as possible, it won’t take long before nobody can drive through anymore. So sometimes you need to put those muscles to work as you see here, chop and drag away.
Learn from real rangers
Volunteering doesn’t only mean working, it’s also getting a chance to learn a lot and develop new skills. In the car you are always accompanied by a ranger trainee. They share all their knowledge and you can literally fire every question at them you want.
There are other days where you set out and explore the park on foot alongside some rangers. On the road they teach you a lot about small and big animals and introduce you to animal tracking and a bunch of other useful survival skills. You should also never worry about your safety. Rangers are always armed and give you a detailed safety briefing before you set out.
As you can see, the work you do is important, but the whole experience is also an amazing personal enrichment which is of course equally important!
Do you also have time off during the volunteering project?
Absolutely! You have more than enough time off. Because this specific project requires you to get up early (four or five in the morning; when the animals are the most active), you usually return to the camp at ten in the morning. You are free until the second patrol starts, usually between two and three in the afternoon.
During this long afternoon break you help out in the kitchen, but because many hands make light work, that never takes very long. Afterwards you can take a nap or catch up on your animal knowledge with one of the many books you can find in the camp. If you really can’t sit still, you can always upload the collected data in the computer.
At the start I honestly thought this break was going to be way too long and the boredom would hit soon. Luckily I was very wrong. Time flies by because these are also the perfect moments to catch up with your co-volunteers. Believe me, you’ll have a lot to talk about.
Now you can understand why the holiday feeling always reigns supreme here!
What about practical arrangements?
I didn’t really have to worry about transportation because Kilroy took care of that for me. That was pretty useful because the base camp for this project literally lies in the middle of nowhere. Thanks to Kilroy I arrived in nowhere without any trouble!
For this project you can select where you prefer to sleep. There are two possibilities. Either you choose the more ‘luxurious’ option and sleep in the main camp or you chose the 'adventure option' and spend the nights in the comfortable tent camp a few kilometers ahead.
Sleep between the lions
I chose to sleep in a tent because you really sleep between all the wildlife. After sundown you can hear the lions and hyenas roar, and not even that far from your tent! This is definitely something you won’t forget quickly. On top of that you visit the main camp quite regularly so you don’t really miss anything if you decide to sleep in a tent. During those visits you can recharge your electronics and take a refreshing dip in the pool.
Cooking is a group activity in both camps. Every week a new (delicious!) menu is put together that provides enough energy to roll up those sleeves for the rest of the day. Still like a beer or another cool drink? In that case you can join the weekly drive to the supermarket. Keep in mind though that this trip takes almost half a day. I preferred to stay a bit longer in the camp. You never know what animals decided to pass by at that exact moment!
An unforgettable time volunteering in South Africa
Travelling as a volunteer gives you that double good feeling. You discover a new country, a new environment, but you also actively contribute and help out the local people, whether these are people or animals. My time as a volunteer in South Africa was remarkable to say the least. The animals you wake up and go to bed with, the warm people you meet and the co-volunteers you discover everything with, turned this volunteering project into an amazing experience.
Would you like to learn more about this volunteer project? Definitely read the more detailed report on my experiences as a volunteer in South-Africa on my blog page.
Talk to you later!