Volunteering in South Africa at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center was the single most incredible experience of my life. I got to live in the bush, surrounded by incredible, exotic animals that I had only ever seen in movies, while having the adventure of a lifetime. I am a Pre-Veterinary Medicine and Animal Bio sciences major, so I’ve had experience with animals, but this was everything I expected and more.
I got up at 6 am, 7 days a week to start my day. I would go up to the clinic to begin feeding rounds before breakfast. We each had certain animals that we were responsible for and we fed and cleaned them. I took care of honey badgers, a porcupine, rabbits, guinea fowl, vultures, African wild dogs, and owls. After all of our rounds were over, all of the students took a hike through a beautiful stretch of forest to a lodge nearby. There, we were served an incredible breakfast and given some time to relax and eat. The food was actually amazing and the people there were so kind.
When we got back to the rehabilitation centre, we all started doing big jobs. They changed every day, but all of the students would get together and do some major maintenance for the animals. A typical job was cleaning cheetah camps and feeding cages or cleaning the wild dogs’ water bowl. We would eat lunch at the centre and then have the afternoon off. At night, we would do our rounds again to take care of our animals. Then we would all drive to the Forest Lodge again to eat dinner and relax for the night.
This trip was not a vacation. I worked all day long to help take care of these animals and I loved every second of it. The managers made sure to give us some free time, as well, and we would often have great experiences. The student coordinator would take us on bush rides or walks around the park and show us the wild animals just outside our fence. We fed hippos and zebra, walked right by giraffes, and got to see scorpions under our feet. You also can’t forget the white rhino Philomon!
The on-site clinic was an amazing resource, especially for a Pre-Vet major like myself. We had a vet nurse on-staff that would take care of the medical cases and they often answered emergency calls. I would come into the clinic with the intention of feeding my baby bird and be pulled in to help treat an injured daiker. I got a ton of experience observing and participating in medical cases that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. We also went on a safari drive to Nhoveni, a privately-owned part of Kruger National Park. We drove all day long to see incredible, wild animals. We saw giraffes, zebra, elephants, monitor lizards, water buffalo, wildebeest, and more. That was an absolutely amazing day.
The one thing I will never forget, though, was a simple thing. It was raising my own baby bird. A newly hatched bird was brought into the clinic and it was expected to die. I was given responsibility of it, so I fed it every half hour for a week until I had to go home. I loved that bird (that I named Dora) and I hear she still lives in the manager’s aviary.