I decided I wanted to do some volunteer work and did a lot of research in advance before finally deciding to book with GoEco and choosing to work at the African Wildlife Ranch project in South Africa. The whole programme sounded varied and interesting – just what I wanted.
I was met at the airport by 2 lovely hosts Sheree and SuMarie and driven to the accommodation, where there were around 18 volunteers on the program. I was staying at the owner’s lodge which was worth the extra money.
The first day was spent having presentations and meeting the staff as well as a full tour of The Ranch. The volunteer work started in earnest a couple of days into the programme and it was incredibly well organised. Duties included cleaning out the different enclosures, general maintenance around the Ranch, preparing food for the animals and feeding them, making enrichment toys and an animal encounter everyday. It was great getting up every day knowing you were going to be doing something you’d never done before and that few people would ever have the opportunity to do also.
Sometimes you worked alone and sometimes as a group, and the work was often hard like spending a whole day digging out reeds in the Flamingo Enclosure – but it always varied. Every one of the people I met had the most incredible passion and love for all the animals. The animals were extremely well looked after and clearly cared for.
The experience was made even better with the recent arrival of 3 cheetah cubs and I was blessed to be able to see them, play and interact with them whilst I was there. The whole ethos of this place was to get people – visitors, staff and volunteers to connect, care and conserve these amazing animals and their cheetah breeding program is one of the best in the world.
The food was also great throughout and the chef Charlotte – well, we all wanted to bring her home with us! At weekends the hosts arranged excursions and we had an amazing elephant walking experience, a visit to the famous Cango Caves, a spa afternoon and a horse riding safari which were all really good value for money. You were never bored but you were often tired and high on emotion!
The whole experience was humbling, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get up close and personal with all sorts of animals but more importantly to me it helped me learn and understand the troubles that animals are faced with and what this particular organisation is doing to protect endangered species such as the cheetah.
I have a lot of fond memories of the people who I worked with and the animals I was fortunate enough to get to know and those memories will never fade. Thank you African Wildlife Ranch – because of you, I’m heading back to SA in a few weeks to do further volunteer work!