The second adventure to Africa took place only a few months after the first, however this time, I had organised this trip by myself through a company called African Conservation Experience (ACE). ACE have a range of different volunteering projects you can take part in, from working alongside wildlife vets, volunteering at wildlife rehabilitation centres, research-based volunteering, and even having opportunities to work alongside a game capture team. I decided that I wanted to go to Africa for as long as possible, which is 3 months without needing to obtain any special visa. Having finished my diploma in Animal Management, I decided that volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation centre would be a good fit, and so I chose to spend my three months at Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, South Africa. ACE have an option where you are able to select different projects and they will help arrange how you get to each one.
This adventure started on the 1st of September 2014, which started out with a fairly typical Molly fashioned event where it was discovered the suitcase wasn’t going to shut just over an hour before I had to leave. This led to a flustered scurry of action with mum racing me into my local town to find a gigantic suitcase, repack everything, gobble some lunch down and head off to Heathrow airport.
A few weeks before the trip, I had joined the ACE Facebook group to find out if there were any others travelling at the same time, and maybe even going to the same project. It turned out that there were two other girls, which filled me with a tiny amount of confidence, as this was the furthest I had ever gone without some form of adult supervision.
We made it to Heathrow with about 4 hours to spare (typical of my mum to always make me hours early). I met up with the two girls and after a bit of food and meeting their parents at Costa, we went through security and eventually onto our flight. The flight was going fairly well until about four hours from the end, I hadn’t gotten up at all in the past 7 hours, and I wasn’t wearing flight socks. Due to not much blood being in the area it was most needed (my brain), I ended up passing out and caused a very minor medical emergency on board. I recovered fairly quickly though and made it to Johannesburg in a good enough condition that a hospital visit wasn’t required.
When we reached Johannesburg, we were met by Martin (I think that was his name), and he was there to make sure we got some food and then to sort us into various groups to send us off into a few different combis (mini-buses) to be driven to different projects. There were volunteers from all over the world arriving into the group at various times throughout the morning. I think we ended up leaving the airport at maybe 10:00 or 11:00am. I was fairly excited to be going to Moholoholo again, having done the drive in the opposite direction four months prior, I couldn’t wait to see all the amazing scenery again. A lot of people imagine Africa as having quite a flat landscape but, I can in fact confirm, that is not the case. When we arrived at Moholoholo, we were greeted by the volunteer co-ordinator who showed us to our rooms and helped us take our bags there. We arrived just in time to jump in and help with the afternoon rounds.
The daily schedule at Moholoholo started at 7:00am if you were only on morning rounds that day, which continued to 8:30-9:00am when you then walked down to breakfast. Breakfast and dinner were served at Moholoholo Forest Camp, which is on the same land as the rehab centre. After breakfast, which finished at around 10:00am, you walked back up to the rehab centre and got ready to start “big jobs”. Big jobs involved the cleaning of all the larger animal cages as a staff member needed to be present to ensure safe practices were taking place. The animals on the morning/afternoon rounds were the smaller, less dangerous animals, and all the birds. The big jobs finished at lunch time which was about 12:30 – 1:00pm, depending on how quick the jobs were, which depended on how many volunteers there were. The afternoon was then your time to do what you wished until 4:00pm when afternoon rounds started. Afternoon rounds finished at 6:30-7:00pm where you then needed to quickly get ready to go to dinner. At dinner time you get driven to the Forest Camp because it’s pitch black and there are wild animals roaming on the land around the centre. After dinner, most of the volunteers went to bed, ready to get up early the next day.
The schedule sometimes changed depending on which group you were in. The volunteers are split between four groups which you stay in for your whole stay. Each of these groups are responsible for specific animals and enclosures for morning/afternoon rounds. The groups also have extra tasks every four days, one of them being helping out in Brian’s Aviary, which means being there at 6:00am, and the other being to collect lunch as this is eaten in the volunteer common room. These tasks tended not to be on the same day, however, if there are less volunteers, sometimes groups will team up to help each other out.
The routine was pretty much the same on a daily basis, but there are extra activities that the centre run themselves, and also external activities that you can book onto. The main activity that the centre runs is an afternoon game drive to see the wild animals on the reserve. This could include impala, nyala, zebra, giraffe, hippos and maybe some others if you’re very lucky. They also will sometimes arrange a bush walk with one of the guides. The best activity that they will arrange is to take you to a private game reserve that belongs to Moholoholo called Nhoveni. No tourists are allowed on Nhoveni and some of the sightings I had there were so special. Other activities they can book for you are day trips to the Kruger National Park where an external company comes to pick you up and drive you around the park all day, or another option is to go horse riding. There may be other activities, but those are the two I went on, and so they’re the only options I remember.
There will sometimes be days where the schedule is completely messed up, normally from having to go and collect an unwanted wild animal from a farm or rescuing animals that have been potentially poisoned. Poisoning, poaching, and human-wildlife conflict are the biggest issues with wildlife in Africa and it can lead to seeing some pretty horrendous things, so just be prepared for the worst in some situations. It can also lead to capturing young animals that aren’t doing so well, as they may need the added care of being hand reared.
There are usually always babies needing care at Moholoholo, from a range of antelope species, to rhinos, elephants, hippos, giraffe, and even some predator species. While I was there, the three main babies included a white rhino, a giraffe, and a sable antelope. There are also other animals that need care, such as a blind wood owl, Woody, who I fed every day with him sat on my knee as that was his favourite place. There are so many things that you will experience at Moholoholo, that the money you spend is absolutely worth it.
After having spent 3 months there, I now wish I had considered going onto some different projects as I think 2 weeks to a month would have been enough, however because of the length of my stay, I was able to experience so many more things than others that had shorter stays. I have never regretted spending so much time in such a beautiful area though.