When I was young, I never had the time to realise my dream of pursuing volunteer projects abroad – of doing something in either social projects or wildlife conservation. An early marriage, being a young mother, the full program of a busy family life, as well as the lack of money, made the idea of volunteering abroad seem impossible. But that dream still burned inside me. I’m not the type for chilling on the beach, but I love being in the middle of nature – learning about wildlife and sharing something with other people. After volunteering on a Jaguar project in Costa Rica, I was looking for something similar in Africa and stumbled on the website of Wildlife ACT, who offered very suitable mature wildlife volunteer projects abroad for over 50’s.
It was easy to persuade my husband, and we both enrolled.
Mature Wildlife Volunteer Projects Abroad for All Ages
When my husband and I (both in our 50s) first came to Wildlife ACT and the KwaZulu-Natal parks, it was a life-changing experience for us. We really felt like we were contributing something valuable to an important task. We were helping in the monitoring and conservation of endangered African wildlife species. We learned that this is part of a big puzzle which makes life for people living in the rural places of this amazing country, a little bit better.
My husband is a keen photographer and loved being in the middle of the wildlife scene and to be able to support the conservation team with pictures for ID-kits of endangered species like African wild dogs, cheetah and black rhino. I myself loved to be in the company of knowledgeable researchers and in a group of people from all over the world. Sitting on the back of the pick-up (4×4 vehicle) together, we endured hard rains, a scorching sun and cold winds. But we also experienced thrilling situations like preparation for the collaring of a lion and a wild dog in the field. At the end of the two weeks we were a real team.
What Impact did Wildlife Volunteering Abroad Have?
We returned several times to KwaZulu-Natal – both as tourists and as wildlife volunteers. What makes the difference is the opportunity to be part of nature and not merely a spectator. Leaving the camp in the dark, driving towards the sunrise, seeing the Wild Dogs waking up, stretching, and starting a hunt, are things you could hardly ever see as a safari tourist.
Sitting on the pick-up, waiting for the lions to show us their brands, was changing our lives. When it did get a little bit boring at times we started studying all the stunning African birds and their songs. Our wildlife monitors taught us so much. When we got home we started learning about our own native birds. We are now both field ornithologists doing conservation work in Switzerland.
Since that first experience, we have rejoined Wildlife ACT’s mature wildlife volunteering projects several times. We had lost our hearts in Zululand – with its majestic landscapes, wild bush with all its noises, and all the small and big creatures that live there. When I took a timeout from my job, I spent another month volunteering with Wildlife ACT in two of their camps. My first two weeks were shared with young girls, but on my second stay, I was the youngster! What a great time we had – four people of mature age but young-at-heart and with open minds. We were all experiencing nature at its best, driving the rough roads of Somkhanda, looking for the wild dogs on the green hills and in the valleys of beautiful Zululand…
If you are looking for mature wildlife volunteer projects abroad for over 50’s, look no further – it’s the best, 100% recommended!
Text by Maya von Dach (Switzerland)
Photos by Manfred Suter Photography