At the beginning of February we were joined, for the fifth year running, by 28 students and 2 tutors from Merrist Wood College in the UK. All of the students were studying Animal Management and this programme was an opportunity for them to experience the reality of this particular subject in the African bush.
Taking over the main camp on Potes, the group settled in quickly with an introduction talk, giving them an overview of what to expect over the next 3 weeks and what rules they needed to follow. Our expert team of Cindy, Jo and Gerry (Konrad was looking after the group of volunteers) led the group for their entire stay and as usual with our charismatic and captivating team the students immediately grew attached to their team leader and the banter commenced. Filled with vim and vigour, the students embraced their new environment and began to learn about the planning and effort involved in conserving the delicate ecosystem of a 5 star game reserve.
Over the next 3 weeks the group undertook several manual labour tasks like road packing, pine tree chopping, road clearing, waterhole cleaning and fence removal. All of these tasks are essential to the upkeep of the reserve and without this kind of contribution guests of the main reserve would not experience the 5 star safari journey they expect. In temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius this can sometimes be a demanding job but the students were up to the task and worked hard to make their contribution – usually quickly followed by launching themselves into the pool back at camp.
There were some less physically demanding jobs to do like monitoring the animals on the reserve. This includes the predators, elephants and the all-important rhinos. This is probably the time that people enjoy the most as you get to observe the animals in their natural habitat, learn about their behaviour and admire the nature around them. With the skilful guidance of our coordinator team, valuable knowledge is imparted upon the group whilst they can snap away at the activity around them and soak in the magnificence of the landscape. The monitoring activity is an essential part of the animal management on the reserve as the data collected can not only be used for any studies embarked upon by scholars or animal enthusiasts but also used to make strategic decisions concerning the vegetation of the landscape and the volume of animals in situ.
A key part of the college student’s time here was about their community input. Admirably they took on the challenge of looking after the Sinovuyo children, ranging from 1- 4 years old, for a full school day while the teachers embarked upon a First Aid Training course paid for by a separate College also based in the UK. This involved teaching them English, playing with them at break time, cooking and feeding them lunch and then having a nap to recover from the day’s exploits. A core group of the students really committed to this experience and one even said that it was the most rewarding thing she has ever done. The impact this time has on the group is palpable, so evident and so clear – it’s very refreshing and heart warming to witness.
It certainly wasn’t all work and no play, there were several fun activities thrown in for good measure. The team went on a night patrol, observing nocturnal activity, which was definitely a highlight for some. The team were also taken on the shooting range to experience and learn about weapons management and learn how to shoot a shotgun and a rifle. Clearly the boys were most excited about this particular activity! Other activities included making paper out of elephant dung, a trip to the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuary, replanting the nursery, a trip to the animal rehabilitation centre as well as scat and stomach analysis. This last activity certainly tested the students’ ability to work in an unsavoury environment due to the smell of the subject matter. A particular highlight for some was the outdoor movie night followed by a sleepout, even if it was only 50 metres from their rooms!
It’s fair to say that each and every one of the students took something away from this experience and felt that the 3 weeks had flown by. The day before leaving we organised a video booth for them to leave their highlights and with comments like “Cindy was inspirational”, “Gerry was like a father to us” and “It’s been an unforgettable experience and I’ll be back” it’s clear that expectations were not only met but surpassed. Asked if the students would recommend this programme to other schools the answer was a resounding yes. This group were an absolute pleasure to work with. Thank you to Worldwide Experience for booking the group with us and thank you to Merrist Wood for continuing to support our programme – we look forward to welcoming you back next year (hint hint)!
The students share their highlights...
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