My Shamwari Experience as a volunteer coordinator

In 2010 I decided to embark on a new journey to pursue my true passion which is conservation. I had been working in the fashion industry for 10 years and climbed the corporate ladder and was living a comfortable life but I had this niggle to take a leap of faith and see if I could make it in the conservation field before, I planted roots and started a family life.

My new bush life started with a game ranger course which was the best few weeks of my life. Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t all game drives and shenanigans. We had a whole herd of information we had to learn each day, not just theory but practical as well and the best way to learn all of this was by being immersed in the bush with nature as your teacher and a very passionate lecturer who ensured we opened up all our senses to take in every ounce of mother nature from the big 5 to the little 5 and every blade of grass in between. Our days started with the first birds call of the morning before sunrise when our lecturer would pick us up from camp and take us out to our bush classroom for the day and she would bring us back just around sunset which gave us time to revise our work for the day. The weeks went by so quickly and I was very lucky to be offered a temporary position as a volunteer coordinator for the Worldwide Experience conservation experience shortly after I graduated as a qualified game ranger.

I will never forget my first day with the volunteers, our first activity for the day was to find the southern herd of elephants for elephant monitoring. Boy oh boy did we find them in the most spectacular fashion! As we were the first to head out onto the reserve in search of the Ellies, we had only been given their last location from the night before and as we approached the location the sun was warming up the reserve and out popped the whole herd in front of us from their overnight bush hotel in the Spekboom thicket. I knew this bush life was meant for me and my passion, enthusiasm and knowledge I had gained over the last few weeks poured over to the volunteers who were in complete awe of the privileged activities and sightings we encountered and able to be apart of.

Each day was split into two, on a general day we would do one fun reserve activity like the elephant monitoring where we would make up identification kits for the ecology and conservation teams in order for them to monitor the resident southern and northern territory herds using photos taken of their ears, here we were able to identify the Ellies by the shapes of their ears, if they had any tears or scars or interesting characteristics. All this information was logged and very important to ensure the ecology of the reserve was healthy and thriving. The second half of our day would be based on necessary reserve maintenance where we would assist the reserve maintenance team with upkeep of the roads, alien vegetation control etc. Some days were pot luck and we were allowed to join the veterinary and conservation teams with a game capture procedure, these experiences are absolutely necessary when you have the Big 5 in a controlled and fenced off area. We were beyond lucky to be able to assist with the capture and relocation of 5 young lions that were now ready to spread their genes on a new reserve as the current pride had reached its capacity in the southern territory which ultimately means the family was breeding and thriving.

Most volunteer programs are involved in their local community projects and Shamwari Conservation Experience volunteers are treated to a community day every Friday. We would head out to the little community village of Paterson which was only a few kilometres away to spend the afternoon entertaining the young children there. The boys would normally play some soccer and the girls would play on the swings and be entertained by some traditional isiXhosa singing and dancing. Fun was always had by all and to end off the very physical and rewarding week, everyone would be allowed to top up on treats and snacks at the local grocer before heading back to our little piece of bush paradise.

Weekends were for fun activities and travel off-site, the project co-ordinators assist volunteers with booking adventure weekends or travel to surrounding cities for some sight seeing or if they wanted to stay at the volunteer house, they enjoyed some relaxing down time by the pool in the most beautiful and peaceful surroundings.

This experience changed my life forever, I learnt to connect with nature, found my place in the world and more importantly felt apart of the change I so badly want to see in this world. I got to share my passion and purpose with young people from around the world who left feeling inspired and accomplished knowing that their experience was not just for fun and learning but each activity they were apart of was making a real impact on the environment around them.