Volunteering is something I’ve always been interested in; from marine and wildlife conservation in Costa Rica, to teaching and community projects in Asia.
The idea of lending a helping hand to a community in need spoke to me – of giving up your free time to do good and make a difference in the places that require it most. I knew that, not only would I come out the other side with a different view on life, I’d also come away with new skills and a wealth of new knowledge.
On my search, I came across The Great Projects, an organisation with over 35 volunteer projects across the globe, all making a sustainable difference in their own way to each of their causes.
After talking myself out of it once or twice (more like five times), I finally decided to choose N/a’an ku sê Wildlife Sanctuary.
Up close and personal with the cheetahs at Neuras Wine and Wildlife Estate
My decision led me to volunteering in Namibia, Africa, with a conservation charity dedicated to providing a sanctuary for injured, orphaned and conflict animals. They do crucial work to prevent land degradation and stand at the forefront of human-wildlife conflict.
I spent my days sleeping out in the Namibian bush; looking after baby baboons and playing with the adults as part of their enrichment, spotting black mambas and walking alongside the resident cheetahs across the plains.
My afternoons included feeding the smaller animals on the farm (such as meerkats and vervet monkeys), going on countless game counts via truck and horseback, and visiting the San Bushmen, learning their language and how they survive in the bush.
I spent my evenings listening to lions hump all night, startling awake at any noise outside the walls of my tent, and frequently being eaten alive by giant ants and mosquitoes (seriously, why did no one warn me about the biting ants?)
Home for a week. Picture this:
waking up on night one to a six foot Kudu right outside when you need to pee. Terrifying.
For two of the four weeks, I stayed at two of their project sites; Neuras Wine & Wildlife Estate in southern Namibia, and the Mangetti Elephant and African Wild Dog research site in the north-eastern Kalahari woodlands.
These two weeks saw me hiking for hours in the Namib-Naukluft Mountains, climbing the second largest sand dune in the world (also known as Big Daddy) and experiencing the magic of Deadvlei at the foot of these dunes (after falling down them).
I prepared and threw meat to their seven cheetahs in the 35 hectare enclosure and watched them race alongside the truck. Not only did I swim in natural pools in between mountains with wildlife roaming freely by, I saw the most phenomenal sunsets and sunrises over contrasting landscapes of golden sands and mountains.
Deadvlei, Sossusvlei – these trees are over 900 years old and have yet to
decompose due to the dry climate
It was important to me to choose wisely and find out what I could about each project before deciding. They had to be ethical and sustainable, providing evidence of their impact on their chosen cause.
N/a’an ku sê Wildlife Sanctuary stood out to me because of their passion and efforts towards conserving the African wildlife and landscapes. Their overall goal – to release any animals back into the wild, with only those too ill, abused or habituated remaining at the sanctuary – spoke volumes to me.
I can safely say their dedication to preserving the Namibian wildlife made my experience that much richer.
An insight into the animals, and why they are there
If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering how these animals got to the sanctuary, and why they’re there. From baboons, caracals, and meerkats to genets, rock hyraxes and striped polecats; they came to the sanctuary for a number of reasons:
Some animals, such as baboons and caracals, are viewed as pests in Africa. Due to their opportunistic eating and preference for farmers crops and livestock, they will likely be shot on site. If they survive, the farmers will often contact local sanctuaries, like Naankuse, to take them in. Sadly, this means the baboons in the sanctuary will remain there until they pass.
Orphaned or injured
Often, locals will come across injured or orphaned animals at the side of the road and, much like the farmers, get in touch with their nearest charity to nurse them back to health.
The sad reality in many places is that wild animals are being sold and kept as pets. Unfortunately, this has been the case for years and years, and is the primary cause for much of the wildlife taken in at Naankuse. The only way for some locals in Namibia to make a living is to catch wild animals and sell them off as pets to interested parties.
Unsurprisingly, buyers soon realise they are unable to look after these wild animals after a week or two, and decide to leave them in the capable hands of local wildlife sanctuaries.
Sadly, these animals cannot be released back into the wild. After so much human contact, they become habituated and will no longer survive if left alone in the bush. Additionally, they’ll become much easier targets for poachers if they lose their instinct to run at first sight.
After the animals are in their care, the staff do their best to prevent them becoming too accustomed to their presence, with the hopes of releasing them back into the wild at a later date.
Baby Philly – stole my heart and my food
My time in Namibia taught me more than I ever could have imagined. I saw some incredible sights, fed animals that I never knew existed, and came away with a broader mindset and a wealth of knowledge that I’ll be sharing more of in upcoming posts.
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