Work with children in rural communities or help with wildlife conservation in a private game reserve Volunteer in the heart of the untamed African bush at Thanda Private Game Reserve. Thanda means ‘love’ in Zulu, the language of the local culture in this part of South Africa; and there’s so much here to make you fall in love with this beautiful reserve. But it’s not all about location! African Impact also gives you options! If you’re passionate about making a difference and changing lives (maybe even your own), then you’ll find the ultimate volunteer experience at Thanda. WANT TO WORK WITH ANIMALS and play a vital role in conservation and anti-poaching? Choose from our Large Predator Research, Elephant and Rhino Research & Conservation, or African Big 5 Conservation Projects. LOVE PHOTOGRPAHY? If photography is your passion and you want a chance to use your talents for good, then join us on our Photography & Conservation Project where you’ll get plenty of opportunity for game drives and help build our photo database while growing your own portfolio! WANT TO WORK WITH CHILDREN and be instrumental in helping with rural community support and education, our Over 30’s Rural Pre-School and Community Project will give you a rewarding volunteer experience you won’t forget. Do something amazing with your time in Africa! Lisa Vitaris, who volunteered with us in 2011 did just that. Read her blog below and find out about the difference she made!
|Large Predator Research||Elephant & Rhino Research||Big 5 Wildlife Conservation||Photography Conservation||Teaching and Community|
Making a difference at Thanda Private Game Reserve
By Lisa Vitaris
The idea of making a difference by living in a game reserve for a month as volunteer wildlife photographers and conservationists drew my partner and myself in immediately. Where else could you ever get behind-the-scenes of a game reserve and truly live amongst wild animals? Thanda Private Game Reserve is located in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa and is known to most as a 5 star lodge. Volunteers, however, stay not in the lodge but in separate quarters in thatch bungalows. Whilst the camp is surrounded by a fence, all volunteers are warned to take care when walking back to their bungalows, particularly at night. Hyenas have apparently been inside the fence before and we came across lions just metres away one day. During our stay, Thanda was in drought. A tractor would bring in a load of water daily (unless it broke down) and the animals would get priority. One day on the radio we overheard the lodge requesting a top up for their water feature and were surprised they were able to fulfill their request. Shortly after, however, we found out why. The water feature is the elephant herd’s new drinking spot. Further, they have been known to empty out guests’ private swimming pools!
The first week of our stay included an intensive photography course with wildlife photographer, Emil von Maltitz (limephoto.co.za). Classes were interspersed with morning and afternoon game drives to put our learning into practice. Our driver and guide, Mariana, would cater to our animal viewing requests where possible and let us spend as long as we wanted with the animals to ensure we could get the best shots. Can you imagine watching two rock monitor lizards wrestling in a fight to the death?
Our group had many close encounters with animals – some planned and some unplanned. At the nearby Bayete Zulu elephant interaction, we were able to hand feed a 4½ ton male called Rambo and were told we could feel behind his ears, inside the flaps of his tusks and touch his tongue! When else would you ever find yourself voluntarily placing your hand inside an elephant’s mouth and feeling its wet muscly tongue? Similarly, on our first game drive, we ended up unintentionally close to an elephant. Mariana, our driver and guide, was taking care to ensure we kept our distance from Thulani, a bull elephant on musth known for its aggressive behaviour. Nonetheless, Thulani took an unwanted interest in our vehicle and his tusks ended up within inches of my partner – one in front and one behind. Fortunately Mariana managed to calm Thulani down with her voice and he eventually walked off, but not before all of us, especially my partner, had nearly wet our pants. Seeing a kill in the wild is extremely rare and even spending a month in a game reserve does not guarantee a sighting. Luck was on our side one day, however, when we came across two lions with their sights set on a warthog. Within minutes, the hunt was over and the distressed squeals turned into satisfied growls and slurping accompanied with the sound of a four-wheel drive full of trigger happy photographers in burst-mode.
Even more rare was our invitation to watch a lion recover from being darted. Two lions had somehow escaped into a separate part of the reserve called ‘King’s Land’ and had to be brought back as it borders neighbouring Zulu communities where roams a sick lion that could infect them. One lion was coaxed back with fresh impala meat but the other lion was quite content in his new home. After multiple failed attempts, the rangers had to dart it and transport it back to the main reserve on the back of a ute. Seeing our excitement, the rangers asked if we’d like to touch the sedated lion and we jumped out of our four-wheel drive within seconds and waited for our turn to touch it. Trembling, I knelt down beside the King of Beasts and felt its coarse fur. We all marvelled at how big their paws and claws actually were up that close and then hurriedly piled back into the safety our vehicles before it had a chance to wake up. Its first few attempts to stand up failed and we had to withhold a giggle, but eventually it managed to drag itself off into the distance, most likely with a raging headache and corresponding appetite!
On the weekends, we had free time and mostly took optional weekend trips to explore surrounding areas such as a 4 day photography course hiking in the Drakensberg, swimming with dolphins in Ponta D’Ouro, Mozambique, and encountering hippos and crocs in St Lucia. For the latter, there are scheduled hippo and croc cruises, but you can also see them on the outskirts of the town. Then again, the hippos tend to come into town at night – Emil told us a hippo once chased him down the main street! There was also talk of 7 resident leopards that occasionally make an appearance though fortunately, we didn’t come across any of them. When we weren’t taking photographs or going away on weekend adventures, we would assist with wildlife conservation such as creating new wetlands areas for the animals and helping to monitor controlled fire burning nervously standing alongside flames that reached heights of up to 6 metres. Another core part of our job was to educate local school children about protecting wildlife. Natascha, our Project Manager, had developed a relationship with a nearby school in a Zulu community and volunteers had been out there all year educating a class about different animals, birds and insects each time. The children would often go hungry, however, as their parents couldn’t afford to feed them and their school was unable to obtain Government support and funding. It came to light that this was partially due to it not being surrounded by a fence. Natascha then initiated a fence building project, raising all the required funds and ordering in all the necessary materials. Our job was to help build the fence with the assistance of the local community. The searing heat made our work even harder but somehow it felt even more satisfying. Once we had erected all the poles, we were treated to some Zulu beer, Zulu dancing and thank you speeches. One local man piped up at the end saying he was so grateful Thanda volunteers had helped his community by building this fence, he would no longer poach on Thanda. A fuzzy feeling washed over us all that day as we realised how much of a difference volunteers could actually make. One less poacher on Thanda – you couldn’t ask for anything more.
About the Author
|A true believer of the saying ‘Africa gets into your blood’, Lisa finds a compelling force constantly pulling her back to the African continent ever since she spent three of her childhood years living in South Africa. After volunteering at Thanda Private Game Reserve, she went off in search of lemurs in Madagascar and then spent 9 months overlanding from Ceuta to Cape Town and back up to Cairo. Aside from Thanda, highlights include meeting the Supreme Chief of Voodoo in Togo, appearing on the Nigerian News with the Minister of Tourism in Abuja, and successfully trialing her new environmental sustainable tourism idea, ’10 Pieces’ (facebook.com/10PiecesCleaner) which encourages group tour travellers to pick up 10 pieces of litter per day. What’s next in her travel plans? Not surprisingly, Africa is in her Top 3.|