This post contains sensitive images.
In my previous post about my experience with Volunteer Southern Africa’s Living with Big Cats Program, I went through everyday life and volunteer activities. In this post, I’ll be detailing some of the unique things we got to do throughout the week, all of which are included in the program.
Also, read until the end for a statement on canned hunting from the CEO of Volunteer Southern Africa.
First, we were allowed to join the twice weekly animal feedings. This was truly a sight to see. It would start with “chop chop,” where the meat of the day (usually a sick horse that had to be put down) would be delivered and require “chopping”…
Some volunteers were stoked to join the action with an ax. Others (me), not so much. 😉 After it was prepared, we’d drive around all the predator camps and throw a piece in for each animal.
It all felt very Godfather-esque.
The hyena and the tigers were usually the highlights of the feeding between the former’s loud screams and the latter’s high jumps.
Second, once-weekly excursions to nearby sights and attractions were included.
The first week we went to visit a bird zoo and a reptile park. What impressed me most was the incredible pizza at the reptile park, but other than that it wasn’t too remarkable in comparison to the animals we interacted with on a daily basis.
While our volunteering farm was located in The Cradle of Humankind, we were stoked to visit the museum and famous caves.
I learned a lot at the museum and especially loved our tour guide in the caves. It was fascinating seeing the landscape where some of the oldest human fossils have been found.
Third, early in the morning once or twice a week, the elephant caretakers would allow a few volunteers to join on the elephant walks.
Every time we took a different route, and impressively the three elephants knew which way to walk by heart. We could get close and pet them, though at times they were quite hard to keep up with.
The story of these three female elephants was amazing.
Two were mother and daughter. The third, however, was not related. At a young age she needed to be placed in a sanctuary and after writing to several rehabilitation centers around South Africa, she was matched with this one. Since the mother had just had her daughter, there was a chance she’d adopt the orphaned cub as her own.
Luckily, she did, and all three are family now.
The fourth and, to me, most special activity was our Kodi interaction.
Kodi the leopard was born the runt of his litter. He was saved from near death and given medical and rehabilitative care at the sanctuary.
He grew very fond of one of the project leaders as a cub, which meant that volunteers could enter and cuddle with him as long as the project leader was with us.
While he was quite shy, we got a stroke him a few times. In my video from the volunteering experience, you can hear him meow. ADORABLE!
Fifth and last was the wedding. Almost every week, the sanctuary hosts a wedding on its grounds. I’m sure it’s very profitable given the cheap labor they get from volunteers.
The weddings would take place under a large tree on the roaming grounds surrounded by giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, warthogs, and ostriches. The volunteers would help by loading a truck and laying out hay bails, which would be used as seats. Then we’d gather all the animals around the tree by pouring a circle of feed. When the wedding guests arrived, they’d be surrounded by exotic, grazing animals against a luscious, mountainous backdrop.
Following comments on my previous post, I reached out to Volunteer Southern Africa and received a statement from its CEO regarding canned hunting and VSA’s policy:
Volunteer Southern Africa sees the care of all animals paramount. Therefore, we have not, do not, and will not ever, under any circumstances, support any facility that sells lions to the canned hunting industry, whether directly or indirectly. Volunteer Southern Africa will continue to support the zero tolerance against animal abuse initiative and we vow to our volunteers that we will never associate them, as well as ourselves, with canned lion hunting. Volunteer Southern Africa is at all times ethical in our work with people and animals at all time. Lions born in captivity cannot be rewilded as they are not able to go back into the wild and fend for themselves. There are a number of instances where people claim this has been done, this is yet to be proven.
Of course, many of these volunteer programs are tourism-driven. However, during my time here I genuinely got the sense that everyone was there to help the animals. There has to be somewhere that actually takes care of animals in need of care?!
Overall, I strongly recommend this program. As I said in my previous post, these are the travel experiences I treasure most, and I’m so grateful to have had this experience.