VOLUNTEER TRIP APRIL 2019
by Izzy Nesci, senior at Trevor Day School in New York City
This April 2019, myself and a group of international volunteers spent two weeks in Zululand, South Africa with Wild Tomorrow Fund to make a purposeful difference in the world of conservation. Here are some of the many incredible moments that we experienced together.
The volunteers spent nine fun-filled days involved in hands-on conservation work while experiencing the beautiful biodiversity of the region.
Their major task was completing the Wild Tomorrow Fund’s anti-poaching ranger cabins. Prior to the trip, the five rangers were living in a tent, and couldn’t wait to move into their new homes. The volunteers spent four days assembling the ranger’s furniture, painting the insides, and staining the outsides of the cabins. While the volunteers were working at the camp, John Bothma, a Johannesburg engineer, traveled up from Johannesburg together with his wife Sunet, to donate his time and skills to install solar power units to power the camp. Though the work was tiring, the look on the ranger’s faces as they moved into their new cabins made it all worthwhile!
Since Wild Tomorrow Fund purchased the Ukuwela Conservancy in 2017, they have been working to restore it to its natural state. All 1,235 acres of Ukuwela are now protected for the leopards, giraffes, zebras, hyenas, hippos, and many other species that call Ukuwela home. To help ensure the safety and prosperity of these animals, the volunteers swept Ukuwela for snare traps left by poachers. We were accompanied by Mike Veale, the founder of Global Conservation Force, a US anti-poaching non-profit, who shared his skills and experiences.
Another conservation experience that the volunteers took part in was setting up a specialized DSLR camera trap. The fStop Foundation graciously donated the DSLR camera, triggers, and flashes to Wild Tomorrow Fund, which were placed in an area with hopes of catching a photo of a leopard. Though the leopard is yet to be captured on camera, it caught a photo of a porcupine on the first night that it was set up!
One of the most memorable moments for the volunteers was assisting in two rhino dehornings. Dehorning is a safe and painless procedure performed by reserves so that poachers do not kill the rhinos for their horns, thereby saving their lives. Though it is a drastic measure, it has proven to be the most effective method as the rate of poached rhinos on reserves that dehorn has decreased to almost zero. Rhino horn is made of keratin, the same material as our fingernails, so the process of dehorning is harmless to the rhino. Though it is devastating that it’s come to this, it was an incredible and emotional experience to witness the rhino’s life being saved and a moment that the volunteers will remember forever.
Along with the fieldwork, the volunteers spent time in the local communities. They visited the Silethukukhanya Crèche, a pre-school which Wild Tomorrow Fund sponsors, where Charles Chessler, a Wild Tomorrow Fund Ambassador and NYC professional photographer, took stunning portraits of each pupil. Using an instant printer, the volunteers were able to hand over the children’s first ever school photographs that same day. School photo day was repeated at the Thelelulwazi Crèche, bringing the total amount of children photographed to approximately sixty!
Another highlight of the trip was cooking lunch for thirty orphaned children at the Habanathi Charity Center. The local church provides meals for these children each day except for Saturdays. That’s when Wild Tomorrow Fund steps in to fund their meals. As well as preparing lunch, the volunteers played with the children and Charles showed them how to use his camera!
On one special morning, the volunteers took a safari drive through the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park, the oldest proclaimed reserve in Africa. HIP spans more than 200,000 acres and is home to the ‘Big Five’, meaning that rhinos, lions, elephants, buffalo, and leopards roam their land. The volunteers had a very up-close encounter with an elephant, as well as a quick but special sighting of lion cubs!
A dreamlike moment of the trip was visiting the Bayete Zulu Lodge, where the volunteers had the chance to interact with three semi-wild elephants. Two of these elephants escaped a culling operation when they were young. They were raised by humans until they were old enough to be released, but they remained accustomed to human interaction. Ever since, Rambo and Rachel, and their daughter Jabulani, voluntarily come to welcome guests (and get fed). The volunteers took photos with the elephants, fed them, and even put their hands in their mouths!
Another eventful excursion was the overnight trip to Kosi Bay, a beach town just a few miles from the Mozambique border. On the way, the volunteers stopped at Sodwana Bay, where they had the chance to swim in the Indian Ocean. That evening, when they reached Kosi Bay, a lovely community family welcomed them into their homes to educate them on their customs and traditions. Back at the lodge, the volunteers waited out a huge thunderstorm with dinner, games, and a kitten which they quickly befriended! Learning about the culture of the Thonga people continued the next morning with a short but sweet hike to a viewing point to their traditional fish traps.
Though Wild Tomorrow Fund treated the volunteers to many incredible excursions, the safari drives on Wild Tomorrow Fund’s Ukuwela reserve were just as exciting. They explored on foot to spot giraffe, zebra, and many other species. The volunteers even got to explore the land after dark! Another memorable night on Ukuwela was sharing a braai (barbeque) with the rangers on the night the cabins were finished.
All in all, every volunteer had an amazing experience and is so grateful to have spent these two weeks working with Wild Tomorrow Fund. Everyone left knowing that they had made a tangible difference to the world of conservation, and would not trade the experience for anything.
We hope this has given you a glimpse into how amazing it is to be a part of a Wild Tomorrow Fund volunteer trip. If this experience sounds like something that interests you, Wild Tomorrow Fund will be hosting another, photography-oriented, volunteer trip this October. More information is available here. Please contact us to reserve your spot or to ask questions.
We hope you choose to join us one day in the field for a once in a lifetime experience!