Volunteering in South Africa – Where my Heart Belongs

Posted by: Kaylen

When you leave Africa, you’re not the same person you were when you first arrived there. When that awful day comes and it’s time to leave the Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary project, you are most definitely a changed person. I came to the Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary not knowing what exactly to expect. I had seen pictures of what the lodging looks like for volunteers to stay in, but other than that, I had no idea what I would be doing or what to expect. In projects like this, it’s actually better to come in with no expectations. But even if I had come into this project with my expectations extremely high, the never to be reached kind of expectations, my time here would still somehow surpass it.

How do I even begin to describe something that I still have no words for? The two weeks I spent at the sanctuary were without a doubt, the best 2 weeks of my entire life. With this being exactly what I want to do for a living, it made everything more surreal. Once I arrived at the sanctuary (along with the other new volunteers), we meet all the current volunteers and the workers, then unloaded our bags and took them to our new rooms for the next few weeks. We then got a rundown of basically how the sanctuary works and operates and what it’s all about. Work throughout the week, really depends on what is going on at the sanctuary during that time and what needs to be done. The everyday tasks consisted of doing animal checks (basically making sure all the animals are there and didn’t somehow escape). The animals are fed two times a week, on Wednesday and Sunday, and once they are fed you go in and scoop poop and pick up bones from their enclosure. Then scrub and sweep what they call their “night enclosures”.

Different tasks I did while I was there during my two weeks included all of the above, plus weeding (digging up weeds so they don’t interfere with the electrical wires that run around the enclosures), filling and cleaning water holes, washing the trucks used around the sanctuary, and the glorious and gross process of taking guts to the gut pile. We also worked on building a wood fence, gathered up pieces of wood from around the reserve for different things, dumped fly traps, helped to fix a broken water pipe, gathered rocks (or stones?) to place around the mischievous Meg and Amy’s enclosure. We also got the incredible opportunity to interact with two striped hyenas (if they decide to come up to you). Overall, it was a lot of hard work, but every single thing we did was worth it because you know you’re making a difference.

Our days would usually end around 4 to 4:30 pm, and there would be enough time to shower and relax before dinner. Usually every night after dinner we would go out by the fire pit and talk and play games. A few nights we watched the sun go down from different places around the reserve. Being able to see the sun rise and set on the other side of the world is a breathtaking experience. So it’s not all work, it’s a lot of play too!

I was lucky enough to be able to meet Kevin twice. On feeding day, he was passing the truck we were in and stopped to meet everyone and talk for a bit. On the first Friday I was there, we got to see him take Meg and Amy (two of the lionesses) on their enrichment walk, which consists of taking them out to the open reserve to run around and be wild for a few hours. Every week you get an off day, where you can go on a safari on another reserve. There are a few other options, but both off days I had we went on the safari, which honestly never gets old. We were able to see elephants, rhinos, ostriches, warthogs, a bunch of different kinds of antelope, monkeys, a mother lion and her 3 cubs, zebras, wildebeests, and so much more!

Kevin and the staff are amazing people. They are the ones who truly make a difference. After being there and knowing what it takes to run a sanctuary every day, it gives you so much more respect and admiration for the people that do this non-stop. They deserve so much more credit than they get! The food is absolutely amazing too!

My two weeks at the Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary project were the best and happiest days of my life. I learned so much. Kevin and his team sacrifice so much just to make these animals lives the best possible. It really is true, once you leave the sanctuary and Africa, you are a changed person. You won’t look at life the same. I have so many wonderful memories that can never be taken from me. These memories wouldn’t be possible without my new friends all over the world and the incredible workers at the sanctuary. The animals and the nature are amazing, but the people is what truly make it special. My heart belongs in South Africa.