Volunteering in South Africa – Researching Wildlife

Posted by: Susan

South Africa had a great blend of people at the Lodge; USA, England, Wales, Scotland, France, Italy, France, Taiwan, Belgium, Canada, Switzerland, Poland, Russia, New Zealand and Australia – 15 countries in total. We monitored all of wildlife at the Big 5 Wildlife Reserve in the Greater Kruger Area project as part of our volunteering in South Africa experience at the Big 5 Wildlife Reserve project. We listed sightings of all animals we came across including Raptors. One of the most exciting days was our first overnight Bush Camp. When we arrived we found that a lioness that was badly injured had walked through our camp.

Our guide showed us how to track her and to be wary of her as an injured lion is a dangerous lion. I immediately wanted to know all about her so I took on the responsibility of making an identity kit for “KF5 Unknown Lioness.” We made a total of 4 game drives in less than 24 hours. Our second drive took us upon a Cape buffalo kill that the Ross Breakaway Pride had taken down.

We located a very pregnant female KF2 sleeping off a good feed but no other lions. We came back in the morning and there she was with the other female KF along with one of the Hercules Boys and the unknown lioness. We were able to get good pictures, start a whisker ID kit on her and watch her behavior with the other lioness’s. After two weeks and many drives and pictures I was able to do a full ID kit on her complete with all pictures and we determined that she must be from the Ross Pride and related to the Ross breakaway females as they allowed her to feed and hunt with them. This information goes directly to a local lion rehabilitation program.

We saw herds of ellie’s complete with wobbly newborns in tow. Elegant giraffes, herds of zebra, massive herds of Cape buffalo and so much more. Our guide would get us up to ride into the sunrise over the waterhole, watch the sunset; a huge, bright burning ball of orange and every color in that spectrum. The best part, a stop on our night drives, turn off the engine and just listen to the bush as we stared up at the dazzling night sky. You heard the calling of the lions, laughing of the hyenas and the rustling of ellie’s in the brush. It had been 28 years since I had been in the southern hemisphere and seen the southern cross, and I wondered why I waited so long to come back!

One of my greatest pleasures besides the plethora of animal life I saw was doing community work. We went to schools (called Crash’s) where we planted and maintained Keyhole Gardens. These gardens give much needed nourishment to the school children and teaches them about good nutrition and how to grow the food they need. These schools are very poor and the meal received at school is sometimes the only meal these children get a day. The children were wonderful! We sang, we danced and we showed them our cameras and let them take pictures. The pure excitement was contagious.

We also spent time clearing land of invasive plant life so the grass could grow when the rains started in September. We stacked bricks for a new building at the reptile center and we dug out the beginning of a water hold or frog pond as it was called. This was hard, physical work but so gratifying.

We closed my two week stay with a braai out in a really cool braai area complete with a sand floor, just wonderful. Stuart gave us a presentation on our research and achievement’s covered during our stay. We really not only got a sense of accomplishment but could see the stats right up on the screen-So Cool! Stuart and Stacy also accepted a large amount of school supplies that a fellow volunteer Adrian and I brought over for the kids and teachers. I know that I will keep in touch with the many friends I made on this trip and with GoEco as I send more school supplies over.