Balule Wildlife Conservation Project Part 1

Testimonial by Guest Blogger, Nicola Williams ….

Located in the Balule Nature Reserve, the aptly named Paradise Camp is a slightly rustic but comfy, camp, it even has flushing toilets and showers, open air of course; no doors or walls but a stick screen to provide a degree of modesty from human eyes, the wildlife on the other hand are free to stop and stare or you’ll be joined by a millipede or two or some other creature as you go about your business! There is also electricity when the sun shines (which thankfully was often during my stay) thanks to the odd solar panel, what more do you need in paradise? 13731781_1146047932118461_7192078559983034925_o

Paradise Camp is proud to claim that it is one of the only camps to not have a fence surrounding it, meaning that all creatures great and small, friendly or fierce are free to roam where ever they please (quite rightly too!). One evening, after returning from an excursion into the local town of Hoedspruit, we discovered that the creatures of the area certainly do exercise their right to roam.

As we got out of the Landrover we could see a light from the game viewing tower. The Research Assistant called to us to warn us that the camp appeared to have some new guests.  We all made it up the tower and listened and sure enough you could hear the tell tale sound of branches being broken punctuated by the deep tummy rumbles of an elephant located just behind the left hand toilet (why, oh why hadn’t I gone to the loo in town???).12485991_1025306984192557_7547421732433862336_o

As we continued to listen we could another elephant, this time near one of the cabins, so going to bed AND going to the toilet were both out of the question, may as well make ourselves comfy on the tower.  Another elephant could then be heard near the car park. They had obviously heard about Craig Spencer’s fabulous cooking skills over the camp fire (he’s won awards for his skills so I’m told), or maybe they felt sorry for the Research Assistant whom we had abandoned in camp, or maybe it was those irresistible marula trees that had brought them into camp either way the weren’t in a hurry to move so we sat and enjoyed their company.

I stayed in one of the five wooden cabins on stilts that are scattered in the bush and made sure that every evening I monitored my intake of water due to the proximity of my hut to the toilets and all creatures great and small right to roam rule. The other two main buildings (very open and wooden sums them up best) are the game viewing tower, the perfect location for a drink as the sun goes down and it provides a stunning 360 degree view over the bushveld out towards the Drakensberg Mountains, and which accommodates the kitchen beneath it. Then there is the office where the ever so slightly eccentric scientists, rangers, researchers get their work done.

I should really make a formal introduction of Craig Spencer who heads up the team of highly qualified people.  Craig is the scientist (yes a slightly mad one) who analyses the data, writes the papers and does other important scientific things.  He has a number of degrees behind him a wealth of experience in the conservation of wildlife that is best explained by the man himself.  12374774_10153651663279473_6397391258382530311_o

Spencer is a lean, tanned, enchanting eyed, charismatic character who is passionate about the protection of wildlife. In my opinion the world needs more people like him to ensure a secure future for our wildlife.

There are a number of aspects to the research and work that goes on at Balule.  There are basic things such as maintaining roads (put a saw in my hand and I am a happy woman removing trees from our path!); erosion work; monitoring boreholes to check ground water levels are not being affected by the various lodges; monitoring the need (or lack thereof) of water holes, to more in depth research such as identifying elephants in the area which they collaborate with other researchers to establish movement patterns, herd sizes etc; tree monitoring to establish how much damage to trees is done by elephants which will hopefully prove the idea that elephants are environmental moulders 15895716_1311735108883075_8744824296453161362_orather than environmental destroyers; and finally game counts which are carried out almost daily and will hopefully cut out the need for disruptive and expensive aerial game counts and give more accurate information on the number and composition of mammals of Balule, and then can be used as a future way for counting game in other areas.  This data will be given to the head warden so he has hard facts behind future management policies.  Spencer says it will take five years to collect all the data he needs.

My adventures in Camp Paradise will continue …..

 

Vervet Monkey Project – Featured Project

This has proven to be one of Aviva Volunteer’s most popular projects.  The Vervet Monkey Foundation (VMF) is a 23-hectare not-for-profit centre for the rehabilitation and sanctuary for vervet monkeys. They are a member of the Pan-African Sanctuary Alliance as well as The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and this foundation relies heavily on volunteer workers to assist in the day to day running and care duties of the foundation. Unlike other monkey sanctuaries, the Vervet Monkey Sanctuary do not allow tourists onto the property and therefore do not have streams of visitors parading around looking at the monkeys.

From September, the beginning of the baby season, injured adults and orphaned babies are brought to the Sanctuary by either the public or VMF are called out to pick up and assist the adult or baby and like any volunteer will tell you, this is where all the hard work begins.

by josie du toitThe babies are traumatised after losing their mothers and they want comfort, which is normally found in the form of a woolly blanket against the chest of a carer.  Then they need round the clock feeding, initially by a carer and then they are taught how to take milk from a bottle. These little critters are such a joy to behold, playful, showing off their tree climbing skills, jumping and tumbling around each other.  You rarely find just one orphan – over the last month they have had over 12 orphaned monkeys and sadly, they tend to keep on coming.  Some humans in the area have a low tolerance to these monkeys and cause either severe bodily injury or fatalities.  Seriously, peeps, who could not love such a cute and gorgeous little creature?

Whilst carers and nurturing these little babies, other volunteers are out ensuring the different troops are fed, fresh water provided, fences are repaired and any other daily chore is accomplished.  You may even get a chance to go on a call-out to collect and injured monkey or an orphan.  When it is baby season, no two days are the same.

Human contact is limited as much as possible so it won’t be long before the process of introducing the orphans to possible foster mothers, begins.

v.monkey.scottieWhen the babies first arrive they are all housed in the Disneyland enclosure and from there on, they are introduced to the various troops in various enclosures – Gizmo, Skrow, Royal, Robert, Engeltjie (Angel). If you would like to watch videos of these babies being released to meet up with potential foster mothers, I highly recommend going to the Facebook page of The Vervet Forest.

Finn.2015It is fascinating how quickly these babies bond with each other and latch onto a foster mother when the time is right. What an incredible feeling of accomplishment to have volunteered on such a project, knowing you have made a difference.

 

It is not all work though.  As a volunteer, you have plenty of time to sightsee and explore this beautiful region of South Africa.  But don’t visit for 2 weeks – that is far too short – volunteer for longer and explore the region, like Blyde River Canyon ….

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And Bourke’s Drift  Potholes and go swimming in rock pools and venture on forest hikes. Go zip lining or paragliding. River tube down the rivers when they are flowing fast after a good rain. Dave and Josie at the VMF are the loveliest people you could get to meet and they will help you with tips and ideas for sightseeing in the area.

After that is done and dusted, why not consider coming to Cape Town to spend a week at the AVIVA Volunteer house in Table View. Your volunteering experience is not over until you end with the Cape Town experience before heading home.

In 2016, the best is yet to come ….. the best adventure of your life, the best volunteering experience, the best opportunity to discover your potential!

 

 

 

 

 

Nkonzo Bush Academy

Becoming a volunteer in the Conservation Program with Nkonzo was by far the most exhilarating and influential time of my life. My time with them started when I met members of their team and fellow volunteers at the bus stop in Mossel Bay where we were being picked up. It was my first time traveling by myself on international soil, needless to say; I was a bit nervous and apprehensive. But I quickly learned that my fears were totally unnecessary; we were picked up by Colleen who gave us a tour of the small town and made sure we were settled into our accommodation for the first two nights. She filled us in on the basics of the town, like where the good burgers were and everyone at the backpackers was very friendly. Nkonzo Bush Academy1

The next day we had orientation and introductions, but it wasn’t your typical lecture room orientation. Instead of sitting at chairs and tables in a cramped room we all walked down together to the point where we sat next to a bay and were even able to see a pod of dolphins. This is when more members of the team told us their histories and about the training and projects we would be assisting with. I think the best part here was that the whole morning was more of a conversation or a discussion between all of us as we asked questions and got to know each other better. In the afternoon on the same day we were introduced to our own individual projects. In our time with Nkonzo they suggested that we theoretically design our own observational research project. This way we would know the exact processes involved in designing a project, collecting and analyzing data, and doing a write up. Though we didn’t collect data for the projects we designed we had access to data sets that resembled the data we would have collected and used it or a mock analysis.

The next day we were picked up early to finally see the reserve and the training camp where we would be spending the majority of our time. I was going to be a volunteer for two months; this was where I was going to be spending a lot of time, and I couldn’t wait! My fist impression of the reserve was just, wow. There was so much open space, the reserve was 11,000 hectare (or 28,000 acres in my American brain) and there was nothing but wildlife, free, uncontrolled wildlife.

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It took more than half an hour to reach camp once we entered the reserve, then we had our first view of our home away from home, in the middle of the African bush. Camp was basic and rustic and I loved it. There was no electricity, the swimming pool was a dam just below camp, and giraffes were walking across a nearby ridge. I knew I was going to love this.

For the next four weeks we woke up to the sound of the hadeda ibis over the dam and the sun rise behind the mountains. We were trained in approach methods and worked on multiple studies, one of the amazing parts of this opportunity was that you weren’t ONLY there for the experience and to see wildlife in its natural element (although that was definitely amazing) but we were doing actual good in terms of conservation. The projects we were working on were designed to improve animal welfare and better understand them so that we as humans were better equipped to coexist without harming them. For me, that was a big deal, we were not tourists, we were volunteers in the conservation industry and were making a deal difference.

There were so many sightings and amazing experiences I had in two months that I could never recount all of them. The one that will always stand out the most to me though, was my first, the first sighting I had of a large wild animal in Africa. On the first training session we had we were on mission white rhino. IMG_20150518_213451I remember tracking a mating pair for hours as they had a very large home range. They were being quite elusive and we spent the better part of the day searching for them. We finally caught a break as we searched the last possible area of their home range. We were able to spend time with them as they grazed on the open plains as the sun was setting. For me, it was the most memorable experience of my life and I couldn’t wait for even more.

My time with Nkonzo taught me more than I could have ever imagined. Though we learned a lot about area specific research and wildlife, the overall methods and theories were ones that I continued to use in the rest of my university career and put me ahead when I began looking for jobs.4103067_orig The experience, skills, and overall knowledge that I acquired with Nkonzo were the most influential part of my successfully obtaining my dream job.

Mandi

Nkonzo Conservation Intern

June, July 2014

Eyes on the Rhino – Featured Project

Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre recently took possession of another young Rhino calf who was found roaming around on his own – no mother in sight.  Unfortunately this little calf was attacked by what the Vet suspects to be Hyena and had his tail chewed off.  So when he arrived he was not in a good condition and was also in considerable pain.

HESC are well know for two Rhino’s, Dingle Bell and Lion’s Den, who both survived poaching of their horns and are now living out their lives in complete safety.  It has been a long road for them – 2 years of operations and care and now, looking at them, you will not believe how their faces had been hacked by senseless and cruel people.

Then the famous Gertjie, IMG_20150130_203423 or Little G arrived after being found laying next to their dead mothers. It took lots of love and care to help these little calves but they have come a long way since a year ago.  His carer slept with him each night and would lay his head on a lap.  He cried for many a night until the love outlasted the sadness he felt from missing his mother.  A surrogate mother in the form of a Lammie the Lamb, gave him the constant companionship he needed and a baby Ostrich joined to form a real Motley Crew. IMG_20150420_215422

Little G loved his daily walks, his mud baths and to carry a stick in his mouth.  He was a mischievous little calf who found an interest any anything and made a toy from anything.  Gertjie will be kept at HESC as the Ambassador Rhino as he has had quite a bit of human contact.

Matimba arrived a year later and was kept separate to Little G and he too, had is carer sleeping with him each night, suckling and crying for his mum.  Those little whimpering sounds are heartbreaking and blows your mind that someone can viciously kill another animal without any care the world.

IMG_20150309_193958When the day came for Matimba to meet Little G, it was by complete accident that their paths crossed and Matimba was excited and galloped over to Little G, who immediately ran away as fast as he could.  It was the cutest video I have seen and one that made me laugh.  They have since bonded and are inseparable.  When Matimba is big and strong enough, he will be released in some secret location where hopefully he will be able to live the rest of his life with a great herd of Rhinos.

IMG_20150211_214003But HESC are more than this.  Lente Rhode started HESC with the intention of saving endangered animals especially the Cheetah and various cats pass through the gates having been injured and where they receive medical help before being released again.  A release is always great to see – seeing that animal sprint away to freedom, healthy and feisty.

IMG_20150503_141822Salome gave birth to cubs a few months back and HESC had a webcam in the camp and these photos were taken by an Instagram follower from the webcam photos.  Once the cubs are weaned from their mother, they go to a Nursery and once they are fully grown, they are released in the wild.  Therefore no volunteer will be able to get close to them – all form of human contact is avoided.

Check out this video and if you are keen to volunteer, then go to our website http://www.aviva-sa.com and complete a booking form.  AVIVA Volunteers is proud to be associated with such a great Wildlife Conservation Project.

 

A Day in the life of a Penguin Keeper – Featured Project

written by Michelle Greenfield of the USA.

I walk into work at 7:45 am and welcomed by the wonderful aroma of penguins. I am excited for the day ahead, knowing I have the incredible opportunity to work with one of the world’s endangered species. I quickly go into general, the central hub of the center, where I grab my boots, oil skins, arm guards (old wetsuit arms), and gloves. Promptly at 8am, everyone in the center comes together for the morning meeting. Daily assignments are distributed and community wide announcements are made. Once the bird rehabber who is leading the meeting wishes everyone a good day, I head off to the pens, as the day has officially begun. The daily schedule varies depending upon which job I am assigned to for the day, but a typical day for someone working in a pen with the penguins is as follows.

The first job I have is to give the penguins their medications and darrows, which is a mixture of water and electrolytes. The medications that come in pill form, I push down the bird’s throat for it to swallow. I place the liquid medications into the darrow solution, and then give it to the penguin via a tube.

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After the birds get all of their medications, depending upon how far along they are in the rehabilitation process, they get to swim. Those birds that have recently arrived swim for only a few minutes, while those that are going to be released soon are given an entire hour to swim.   IMG_4139

While the birds are swimming, I clean the pen and drag the mats over to Mats and Crates where they will be cleaned with a power hose to remove the large collection of penguin poop that has accumulated on them. Then I scrub the pen with soap and water until it is spotless. Once the mats are clean, I put them back in the pen and let the birds come back in when their swimming time is over. My next task is to go prepare fish. Every penguin has a specific fish limit determined by the veterinary staff, which is mostly either one or two fish. All of the penguins receive one medicated fish every morning, so after collecting the fish from the bucket of frozen fish and letting them thaw, I put the daily vitamin into the fish’s mouth and get ready to feed. Feeding is probably the most exciting part of the day. There is nothing quite like the feeling of being able to feed a penguin.

DSC_0853When I go into the pen with my bucket of fish, the little chicks come crowd by my feet, begging for food. No matter how the day is going, I cannot help but smile at how adorable they are. To feed, I pick up one of the penguins and sit down on my stool, securing its body and flippers between my legs and holding its head with my gloved hand. Then I open its mouth and shove the fish in, being careful to make sure that the bird completely swallows the fish. I follow this process until all of the penguins have been fed. Then, I gently spray them down with the hose so that the fish oil does not ruin the waterproof feathering of the birds. Since the penguins have to wait at least one hour after feeding before they can be handled, I have some time to get started on whatever jobs need to be done. This mostly involves cleaning. Buckets, syringes, walkways…all need to be scrubbed clean and covered down with an antiseptic spray. Towels also need to be washed and dried, and nesting material needs to be cut for the permanent residents at the center. I also help prepare chick mix, a special food mixture for the chicks made of chopped up seafood, eggs, and chicken, and formula, a supplement for underweight birds, made up of a mixture of fish and vitamins. Apart from possibly giving a few birds some water or formula, there is not much to do apart from cleaning before lunchtime. Right before lunch, I place the birds into the pool so that they can swim over lunch, and then I take my break. After lunch, I go prepare more fish so that I am ready for the second feeding of the day. Feeding goes just like it did in the morning. Since the birds have to sit again, I go back to doing jobs and helping out around the center. I also have to prepare my medication for the 16:00 fluids, and fill out the bird cards. Each bird has its own card, which contains all information pertaining to the bird, including what medications it is on and how many fish it eats every day. If there is ever any doubt about the condition of a bird, the first thing the veterinarian does is to check the bird’s history, which is readily found on the card. At 16:00, I give the second round of medications and fluids to the penguins in the same fashion as I did at the very beginning of the day. Then I quickly go mop the floor in the entrance of the center so that everything is nice and clean and ready for the following day. Right before I leave at 17:00, I replace the mosquito repellant tabs in the pen and turn on the heat lamps so that the birds will be comfortable for the night. Then I put away my oilskins and gumboots, wish everyone a good night, and head out for the day. Every day has its ups and downs. All of the scrubbing and cleaning is hard work, but being able to work with African penguins is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I know that every day I come to work, I am helping to rehabilitate and save an endangered species.

Volunteering on this project has been a wonderful experience – don’t hesitate, you will find it truly rewarding.

Weekly Project Focus: Lucky Lucy

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This weekend, Volunteer Coordinator Megan Durant and I went out for some puppy and kitten therapy at our new Project starting 1 April.  And this is no fools joke!

The project is situated 30 km’s from Table View on a farm where you will be surrounded by dogs, dogs and more dogs and kittens and adult cats and the Golden Oldies in Shady Pines retirement camp.  This project is run by 3 full time staff on a daily basis and a handful of volunteers who are only able to volunteer their time over the weekends.  That is why we need YOU!

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The majority of the dogs are friendly with the odd one having some sort of behavourial problem which they are monitoring and training and trying to sort out.  These furkids love their humans and love their walks.  The camp is still rather basic but with the help of all the volunteers we are hoping to attract to this project, they will soon be in a financial situation where they can buy more supplies to improve their environment.  How would YOU like to be instrumental in being part of the turnabout of this Rescue, Rehabilitation, Adoption and Re-homing animal centre?

I left empty handed as I was not sure what my Alpha-Male cat at home would do if I arrived home with an armful of little balls of pawfect furkids, but I seriously could have walked out with a car load of kittens.

So if you are a human who loves to give pawfect love to animals, this is a project made in heaven.  Contact me if you are interested as the project is not yet up on our website.