Spend A Little Time Away! (October 2016 – February 2017)
It’s taken a little time but I’m coming round to writing a blog about my experience of volunteering in South Africa! I went away for 5 months (October 2016 – February 2017) as part of my university placement year with the Primate and Predator Project, based in the Soutpansberg Mountains. It is the best thing I have done so far, and I won’t stop talking about it!
Whether you were a primate or a predator volunteer you worked 5 days a week, with the other 2 doing what you wanted (visiting local waterfalls, hiking or spending a couple of days at the local nature reserve). Everybody’s days off were on the same days which meant you always had people to socialise with!
I started as a primate volunteer where I spent my first few days learning approximately 30 tree species and the first few weeks I was paired up with another volunteer while being trained. Training was great fun! Depending on the time of year days started at 5ish (earliest) to 7ish (latest). All volunteers collected phenology and vegetation data on a Tuesday as group work. We started following the Samango monkeys 3 days a week collecting behavioural data every 20 minutes – once you were good at this you then had the opportunity to follow the Vervet monkeys and Chacma Baboons. I loved this work but only stayed on the primate side for about 6 weeks altogether because once you were trained, following the monkeys was individual work. I am a highly social person and felt that the predator side would be more beneficial for me.
Whilst being a predator volunteer we hiked either 4 or 5 days of the week (5-15 miles) to a total of 23 camera stations. You always hiked with 2 or more people!!! We would collect the SD cards, change the batteries and check that they were working properly. Then we did 1 day a week in the office where we checked the SD cards, identified all species on the photographs, individually identified the leopards and backed up all information and metadata. Whilst being there I got to take part in other activities which included Boma building, scat washing with Earthwatch and path making. Another part of the project deals with human-wildlife conflict between leopards and farmers. They needed volunteers to help build a Boma fence, so the farmers could keep their cattle in at night. This was a big thing because the night before a leopard had killed a calf and the farmer wanted to set out traps to kill the leopard. I made some amazing friends when I was there from all around the world and still keep in contact with them now. It’s an experience I will never forget and truly encourage others to take part in.
I thought by travelling to South Africa to do part of my placement year, it was going to cost me loads, however, my placement in the UK cost me more!! The project was around £250 a month which included accommodation, limited wifi, all equipment and a trip to town every two weeks. One thing I loved about this project is that I bought and made my own meals. This was important to me because I am a fussy eater and I eat a lot. Because I was doing lots of exercise I had 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches and 1 dinner with snacks in-between and this only cost about £50-60!
I saw so many animals, its overwhelming. Here is a list of some of the animals I saw: Banded Mongoose (Mungos mungo), Black backed jackal (Canis mesomalis), Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus), Bushpig (Potomochoerus larvatus), Chacma baboon (Papio hamadryas), Common large spotted genet (Genetta maculata), Common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus), Crested guineafowl (Guttera pucherani), Crowned Eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus), Dwarf mongoose (Helogale parvule), Francolin (Pternistis natalensis), Greater bushbaby (Otolemur crassicaudatus), Greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), Ground squirrel (Xerus inauris), Klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus), Lesser bushbaby (Galago moholi), Red duiker (Cephalophus natalensis), Rock dassie (Procavia capensis), Samango monkey (Cercopithecus albogularis), Vervet monkey (Cercopothecus pygerythrus), Lion (Panthera leo), Boomslang (Dispholidus typus), Vine snake, Black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis), Snouted night adder (Causus defilippii), Leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis), Flap neck chameleon (Chamaeleo dilepis), Zebra (Equus quagga) etc etc etc….
On my last weeks I went out on night walks with the reptile/amphibian volunteers and saw many baby chameleons which were smaller then my thumb. These are some of the reptiles I saw whilst being there……