When I learned about the opportunity to volunteer at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC) as part of my stay at Camp Jabulani in South Africa, I jumped at the chance. It seemed to me that it would be an experience that would be like no other in my life.
I was taken on a tour of the Centre a few days before volunteering, so I was familiar with the facility and its inhabitants. The morning there started with a drive around the exterior part of the property in search of Gertjie, the 4 month old rescued male rhinoceros that was discovered after his mother was cruelly poached, sobbing beside her. I joined Karien, with whom I would spend the morning, on her daily walk with him.
He was a little reticent at first, looking me over, and then came to me to say hello. We then took off behind him as he first walked, then galloped away from us, then watched him turn and come back to where we were walking. I tried to film him with my camera, but soon realised that his natural instinct was to run back in my direction and it was better to just have the experience and keep a direct eye on him. Following his outing he was fed a “bottle”, actually a bucket with a nipple on the outside, for one of his many daily meals. A snooze followed and Karien and I left him in the care of another aide.
Next on our agenda was preparing food for various animals on the property. Karien handed me a frozen package of yellow stuff, which turned out to be baby chicks … interesting! All the creatures there are fed their natural diet, and the Southern Ground Hornbills seemed to love the chicks, which they caught with their huge beaks.
We loaded the meals onto her vehicle, and took off to various parts of the centre. Among those we fed on our rounds were Ostriches, the above-mentioned Hornbills and Bubbles (a Serval Cat who had recently been released into the wild but comes back every few days to feed). As she is used to humans, she purred and walked in between my legs like my ‘kitties’ at home. We also fed the African Wild Cats, other birds and Sable Antelopes. We did not feed the resident Cheetahs as they aren’t fed on a daily basis, which accurately resembles their natural feeding patterns. Many of the animals are reared at the Centre, while some have been rescued from threatening situations in their natural habitat. The goal is to rehabilitate them and re-release them into the wild. It was interesting to me to find out that over 200 Cheetahs have been re-released following their stays at the Centre and we actually saw a female with two cubs who was released 3 years before on a game drive. My duties included opening and closing the various gates as we made our way to the different animal enclosures. I actually felt that I had helped Karien with her daily activities.
All in all, I would highly recommend the experience of volunteering at the Centre, and will always remember it as a highlight on my recent trip to Africa.