Working in a small group you get to help the monitors in the reserves doing real field work – mainly scanning for animals with collars, trying to get a visual to make sure they are healthy, setting up and checking camera traps, data input to create maps with animal movements, helping with things that might be necessary like call-ups / habituation, collaring of animals, relocations and so on.
I’ll never forget one touching moment when one of the cheetahs (who was a problem animal) went up a tree in front of our vehicle, scent-marking and looking at us before coming down and passing us. Just incredible. We also had great sightings of animals we were not scanning for, like leopards, giraffes necking each other, spotted hyena a few times, side-striped jackal, vultures and so much more.
Our rooms were simple, but nice, and the camp not fenced, so we often had lots of animals around like nyalas, impalas, monkeys, baboons, big water monitors, beautiful birds, and once an elephant quite close. The highlight was a bush-baby family living in a tree beside the rooms. A lodge (with swimming pool) is not far away and we were allowed to go there and walk around or sit at a bird hide which I enjoyed a lot. We had bonfires & “braais” sometimes where we could chat to other researchers. Three of us did a two night trip to St. Lucia at the beginning of the 2nd week. The luxury tents, hippo and crocodile tour, night drive and restaurant food were awesome, but quite touristic, so I was happy to be back in the bush.
The only really sad thing is the snare/poaching problem in uMkhuze, that does exist in all parks, but not as extreme. But it shows how important volunteers can be, because without the money they pay for their stay, all the monitor work couldn’t be done. It was a great experience and I would do it again. My body did hurt sometimes, but my mind and heart found what they were looking for: pure African nature at its best and meaningful work. My cameras were very busy as well. All the footage will keep me busy for a while 🙂 Absolutely rewarding. Thank you to Wildlife ACT, the monitors and all the people I met!