I had the privilege to spend 3 weeks at Siyafunda Wildlife & Conservation (Makalali) in January 2014 and my only regret is that I was unable to stay longer. This was my second trip as a wildlife volunteer and both experiences have given me much more than I can express here. I spent many hours reading and looking up different projects to visit and in the end I opted for Makalali, a decision that turned out better than I could ever have wished for.
Research/volunteer camp can accommodate for 10 volunteers in a comfortable farmhouse. Water is heated by solar heaters and during my stay we had hot water for showers every day. Food is prepared together on a roster and town trips on Mondays gives you the opportunity to buy that little extra, snacks and drinks etc you wish to have. However I could have slept in a sleeping bag on the ground, washed up in a bucket, and eaten bread and water for three weeks and still been the happiest person ever.
From the moment I arrived I felt welcome and appreciated. Being a rather small volunteer project means you get a very personal experience and plenty of time to participate in all activities. Mike Job and his team of rangers are caring and very committed to provide you the best possible experience. The passion they have for conservation is profound and contagious. You get an introduction of the history of Siyafunda and Makalali and about the research that is being done there upon arrival which gives you a great start to the rest of the stay. Days are divided into different activities, including monitoring drives with different focus areas, data collecting, bush clearing, hide building and camp upkeep, lectures and bush walks. During my stay I had some of the most amazing, up close animal sightings including elephants, cheetah on a fresh kill, lion and leopard but equally wonderful to see were all the zebras, various birds, giraffe, and antelopes. It is important to note that this is not a petting zoo, the animals are free roaming and thus you should be prepared for days that you do not see many animals, but I urge you to take the time on those days to just listen to the teachings and stories your ranger has in store, ask questions, look at the small animals such as dung beetles, try to spot some interesting tracks, listen to the birds and just enjoy the moment. It might be the small things that sticks in your memory after you leave the bush so don’t forget to make the most of them too.
Being a volunteer also means working hard at times, early mornings and long days. But it pays off in ways I can’t put into words. I got a great deal of satisfaction from hacking away with my machete at the trees the elephants sometimes managed to push over onto the roads and seeing the hides we build next to some water holes take form knowing future volunteers will get the opportunity use them for animal viewings.
You will spend lots of time driving around the reserve looking for animals, but some days are spent out on foot tracking. I loved to walk through the bush in silence, stopping every time Mike or Andrew saw something interesting such as aardvark tracks, an unusual plant, dung beetles battling over a perfectly round ball of elephant dung etc. In the evenings time were spent around the camp fire where we most of the time ate our dinner and had time to chat both about the days experiences and life in general. Sundays are your day off but every other Sunday Mike and his staff arrange a daytrip to a place of their liking. While I was there we visited an orphanage Makalali supports and got to hang out with the great group of kids there before heading off to a waterfall for a bit of a swim. We also visited some caves and on the Sunday nothing was arranged all of us volunteers rented a van and drove to the Krueger Park for the day. We were fortunate to have one of our rangers, Alex as a driver and guide for the day. Her knowledge of the park and wildlife made the day even better.
My last week we also spent two nights at Bush Camp where we slept comfortably in bush tents, preparing our food on gas stoves and over the open fire as there is no electricity there. You really feel close to nature there when you lay in bed listening to the plethora of animals calling in the night. However, even at the farmhouse we had plenty of animals literally just around the corner. For example one morning after having heard lions roar during the night we came upon two lionesses sleeping on the road less than a hundred meters away and at another time we had elephants browsing from the trees just behind the camp fire while we ate our dinner. I guess there is a reason why it is not allowed to wander off outside camp.
I could literally go on forever about my time at Makalali, but instead I just urge you to go there if you are truly interested in conservation and want to see what it is all about. No two experiences will be the same and in the end it is up to you to make the most of your own experience, I know I did. One day I hope to return because three weeks just was not long enough. I want to extend my sincere thanks to Mike and his crew for giving me so many wonderful memories, plenty of laughs, new insights – simply an experience of a lifetime. Best three weeks ever!
Emma S, Halmstad Sweden
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