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Volunteer in Namibia 2011


JohnR

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Treepol

Thanks for the reply.

 

How fortunate to find such a worthwhile volunteer program to mix with your desk days.

 

Regards,

 

 

Pol.

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Lovely update, JohnR, and thanks for the replies.

 

The one I was looking at was for PAWS Africat (http://www.pawsnamibia.org/). Of course, I presume, it can be difficult to determine what you're getting for but the website and details seem quite good. Not sure how similar to your experience but the cost here is just less than half of the Biosphere (£720) for 2 weeks which I'm not sure is the sign of a good thing or a bad thing so I'd have to look into them a little further.

 

Other differences include this location has a rehab centre for cats - which is something in the Biosphere top 10 to really look into.

 

PAWS is associated with AfriCat and becomes part of AfriCat in January 2012. Obviously AfriCat has been around for a long time and has run a cat sanctuary and rehab centre for many years. What you should try to avoid is choosing any programme without reading external reviews, not just those selected by the programme itself. Especially find independent reviews/blogs by people who have actually taken part and see if you match the profile of those who enjoyed the experience. You will be living in close contact with other volunteers and working together so you need a good chance that you will get on.

 

There is nothing wrong with handling wild animals for veterinary purposes, but they are not pets and your contact should only be when necessary and under supervision. Places which sell themselves as an opportunity to cuddle furry creatures could just be using that as an advertising tool and you could end up being disappointed when you get there. That's why you need to find people who have actually been and can confirm what goes on.

 

When I was first researching on the internet in 2006 where I could work on the ground on a conservation project, I found a description of a cheetah project in Namibia on a game farm on what I thought was a reputable website. They implied I would be tracking, capturing and releasing cheetahs and leopards and said very little about other activities. I then searched further and found a couple of articles by journalists (one from the Guardian the other from the BBC) who had spent time on the project and actually experienced the day to day work. They said to forget about catching and releasing big cats, you will be lucky to ever see one in a two week period. You will see tracks and other wildlife, but the cats on game farms have been hunted for decades so the cats will be very shy. On the other hand there is a lot of rigorous scientific work to be done driving and walking transects leading to estimates of prey and predator densities and their movements. So I signed up and later complained about the unrealistic 3rd party advertising. I went in with my eyes open and combined the volunteer side of the trip with traditional game drives in a Kruger reserve in South Africa as well as visiting the Hoedspruit and de Wildt sanctuaries.

 

I have met people who didn't do their homework and were disappointed with their experience at both the scientific end and the cuddly end of the range. It doesn't matter how much information is available if people choose to ignore it.

 

Price differences can exist for a number of reasons and may have no bearing on the quality of the experience so long as it is right one for you. Biosphere is at the higher end of the range because they also finance the science. Their fees include both the cost of accommodation and a contribution to the research. Their target is the "cash rich time poor" demographic, others will have a student and gap year target audience.

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Community education

 

After the early release of the leopard, it is finally time for the school visit. We drive in two Land Rovers to the Family of Hope Services school in Hakahana, part of the Katatura township which borders the farm. These are children who are outside the state school system but are being cared for and given a basic education. We pick up a dozen children and three teachers, all volunteers, split them between the cars, and drive back to the farm. We pick up the binoculars, rangefinders, identification sheets (as I am not to be trusted) and set off on a game drive.

 

Unfortunately with many of the animals in the mountains, we do not see very much apart froma herd of springbok but the kids make their own fun looking through the wrong end of the binoculars. Jesaja is with us in case translations are needed and he quickly becomes the centre of attention especially when we stop to look at animal tracks and dung and he shows them how to identify different antelopes which have left tracks in the dry riverbed.

 

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After the game drive we head back to the lapa where the cook, Festus, has prepared a traditional snack, a bit like a jelly roll without the jelly but very tasty. The research base collects notepads, pens, pencils and rulers and makes up giftpacks which are distributed and the kids tell us about their aspirations and finally sing some songs which the volunteers try to respond to in kind.

 

We pose for a group photo and then drive the kids back to the school. It is always a rewarding experience as they are full of beans. What is so sad is that they are clearly bright and intelligent and it is only their circumstances which are holding them back.

 

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And a blister bonus! Thanks to the leopard and the kids there's no slot left for a foot game count :)

 

In the afternoon group 2 went on community interview whilst we entered some of the data which had been piling up. This is most easily done as a group activity as some data needs moderating before it can be put into a spreadsheet. It is also best for the teams which collected it to do the entry as they will know what the margin notes mean so we make big inroads into the pile of data sheets.

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How lovely to have the leopard named for you, that's touching indeed.

 

And thanks for all the info on choosing an appropriate volunteer programme. Whilst I love the idea, I know I would not physically be able to participate in many of the activities, walking ones would not be possible for me. But I look on full of a mixture of envy and admiration.

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Home straight

 

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We are in the home straight now with just one new activity -- the community interview. We are going to visit Katutura and interview people about their pets. We are told to dress down, leave cameras, phones, jewelry, bags behind but carry bottled water. It is cool as we set off but will be hot by the time we are done.

 

We go with Jesaja who speaks several of the local languages including Herero and Oshivambo. Many people in Katutura have migrated to the city from all over Namibia and although English is the official language of Namibia it is the least spoken especially by the older generation, beaten easily by Afrikaans and the Bantu group of languages so we will definitely need a translator.

 

The aim of the interviews is to find out whether people have pets, how many and what quality of life they provide for their pets; are they taking them to vets for protection or treatment? We want people to talk informally so we do not take clipboards or questionnaires and will write up the results from memory later. The tin shacks are all different, often brightly decorated so it is not too hard to memorise where we have been and what they said.

 

Western style pet clinics are available but the cost is too high for most. There are periodic government initiatives to provide free protection against distemper and rabies but we find many people saying they had intended to take their pets, usually one or two dogs, but never got round to it. Just occasionally we meet someone who has been to a vet or pharmacy and has treated their pet for worms or fleas. Many keep their pets locked up as they are afraid of them being taken or killed.

 

In the afternoon we make a vehicle game count in the mountains with the two teams swapping the routes from the previous week.

 

The next day, Thursday, is our last full day. In the morning the teams are reformed into three groups of three with the addition of Jesaja to the tracks and scats team. We drive around the box traps finding them all open except the northern trap in the mountains which contains an aardvark which I've already mentioned.

 

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In the afternoon we locate all the equipment, clean and organise it, then clean the Land Rovers, check them over and put back a full set of tools in each vehicle after they have mysteriously migrated to the wrong one.

 

Renate tidies up the farm

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Once all the work is finished we drive up Elephant Mountain for a sundowner and group photo. We feel we have achieved a lot in the short time we have been there. We have certainly learned a lot about conservation on farm land and many new skills. It's been a great group of people, probably the best I've been with, though they are all different.

 

Driving to Elephant Mountain

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We are to leave after breakfast on the Friday morning so my group volunteers to get up before dawn and drive around the farm making the box traps inactive. They are all open so the pins are inserted preventing the lever from firing when the plate is stepped on. Stefan is driving and is now completely confident in negotiating the steep gradients and changing surfaces and we make the trip in time for breakfast.

 

After breakfast we empty the tents and throw the bags in the back of one of the Land Rovers for the trip into Windhoek to Casa Piccolo. When we get there taxis are ordered for those going straight to the airport whilst I will stay overnight as I always like a "cooling down" period and a chance to go into town and look for presents to take home. These are found at the Craft Centre and on the street. I am looking for hand made jewelry, not expensive but from a variety of materials as my mother-in-law is an amateur jeweler.

 

On the Johannesburg to Frankfurt leg of the return journey I get to see lions and cheetahs as they have Disney's African Cats as an inflight movie. Fabulous photography but corny storyline. Just what I would expect.

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A good trip, John. And a very educational report, from my point of view. Thanks!

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Atravelynn

Thanks for the very detailed report on your volunteering. It appears the volunteers get very involved.

 

I noted an ironic twist. You mention your are frequently reminded of not being on a photographic safari. Yet, the running aardvark is a unique shot, perhaps once in a lifetime.

 

I too learned about the cobras and headlamps. Never knew that.

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A good trip, John. And a very educational report, from my point of view. Thanks!

 

Thanks, Kavey. Some volunteering is getting a bad press so I wanted to write about my experience with what I consider a first class organisation .

 

Thanks for the very detailed report on your volunteering. It appears the volunteers get very involved.

 

Indeed, another of their sayings is that you get out what you put in and our group was keen to do everything. If the scientists did everything themselves we would not be needed.

 

I noted an ironic twist. You mention your are frequently reminded of not being on a photographic safari. Yet, the running aardvark is a unique shot, perhaps once in a lifetime.

 

There will often be shots which you would not get as a tourist on a safari though most will not be particularly photogenic. And you might have your hands full so don't get any photo at all. If I had had to release the aardvark, I wouldn't have a picture. As it was I offered the release to Stefan as he had never done one and then ran as far away as I could to a position where I could pan the camera and would not inhibit the animal's escape.

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Game Warden

Sorry John, been so tied up with "migrating" Safaritalk and other things not really had chance to read through this. The Aardvark in "flight" has to be my photo of the week...

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Sorry John, been so tied up with "migrating" Safaritalk and other things not really had chance to read through this.

 

No problem, I'm webmaster at work and moving our pages to a new house style so I've some idea what you're going through.

 

The Aardvark in "flight" has to be my photo of the week...

 

It gives "flying pigs" a new meaning :lol:

 

When you get a moment I have sent a PM with details of an image I meant to insert and no longer have an editing button for, thanks.

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Sangeeta

Just got around to reading this report, John. Like the others, I think you provided us with a very educational and informative report about volunteer trips. Yes, volunteer trips have been getting bad press of late, so this is a timely report. I personally believe that anything that gets people engaged on any level is a positive thing, but it must feel very good to know that one has contributed in some small way to a larger effort. I think many of us repeat safari goers reach a point when we feel we should have a more personal involvement in the wildlife/wilderness we travel so far to see, and I for one, will definitely be filing this report away for future reference.

 

Your "flying pig" was the icing on the cake.

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Thanks, Sangeeta. If you have any questions at any stage, feel free to ask.

 

The aardvark is bitter-sweet experience for me. It was great to see one and to get shots of the release, but it was the last trap we got to as we did a clockwise circuit of the traps that day and the poor thing was in the sun until late morning. Not good for a nocturnal animal, but some of the collateral damage of trapping animals to study them.

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  • 3 years later...
Tom Kellie

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~ @@JohnR

 

A late night request from a former student for an image of a running aardvark left me baffled.

I've never seen an aardvark, nor photographed one, much less one in full flight.

Somehow a memory of once having seen such an image led me to your released Namibian aardvark.

It's a terrific shot, showing the burst of energy when freedom beckons.

Thank you for posting this.

Tom K.

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