1st blog- South Africa
On the 12th October 2013 I flew via Paris and Johannesburg to Durban from London to spend six weeks on a game reserve in South Africa. I have never been anywhere by myself so this was a huge deal for me. From what people told me about the conflict in South Africa and the dangerous animals, I was so nervous. My stomach was in knots and as you can imagine that was no fun on a thirteen-hour flight. I was going to take part in a volunteer photography and conservation course. This involved studying animal behaviour, managing the site on the reserve and going on optional trips to places such as the Drakensberg Mountains and Mozambique. I was welcomed at the airport with such huge smiles by Tara and Doug, two of the staff at African Impact (the company I went with). Once I met everyone else we drove three hours to Thanda Reserve, Kwazulu-Natal. We arrived quite late so we went pretty much straight to bed. I was walked to my hut and told to watch out for eyes in the dark with my torch. This was not the right thing to tell me at this point in time, it terrified me!
The next morning I woke up and ran straight to my curtains, yanked them open and there it was, a spectacular view of rolling hills, rocks, trees and huts. I got dressed as quick as I possibly could and ran up to the main house. The day had finally arrived; it was the day of my first ever-game drive. We loaded all of our photography and GPS equipment for tracking into the van and drove along the sandy paths into the continuing hills of South Africa. We saw zebra, impala and Kudu I didn’t think I could get so excited by an animal so simple as a zebra but I did, I had a smile painted onto my face the whole four hours. Coming towards the end of the drive we heard a crash in the trees. Chris our guide told us all to be quiet because he could hear an elephant only a few metres away from us in the trees. Anyone who knows me will know that I am a little bit obsessed with elephants. I couldn’t keep in my excitement; I was seconds away from seeing my first wild elephant. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t see it; it was literally behind the tree. All of a sudden branches were falling down towards the jeep and out popped a huge male elephant. The pure beauty and calmness of such a majestic creature was jaw-dropping. The slight swing of his trunk and tail as he plodded along the road was just so beautiful to watch. This was by far one of the most amazing days of my life.
2nd blog- South Africa
From that day onwards it was 4am wake up calls for 5.30am four-hour game drives. In a week we had seen lions, elephants, crocodiles, zebra, impala, kudu, giraffes, cheetahs, eagles, mongoose, monkeys and warthogs. We had also spent the weekend in St Lucia where I saw a hippo and was warned that they were roaming the streets so to be careful at night. Don’t think I would have been at the bars on that Saturday night.
Monday the 21st October 2013 was one of the most incredible days of my life. A pride of lions had to be moved to the other side of the reserve because there were two prides on one side, which was confusing and mixed up the gene pool. We, as volunteers, were expected to find the lions and help the staff at Thanda move them into a boma (a temporary enclosure) where they would stay to get used to a new environment. We started the search at 4am, it was freezing cold and we knew it would be a long day. We looked for the lions for seven hours, until we stumbled upon a zebra carcass. The carcass was in a ditch so we drove up next to it hoping that the lions wouldn’t be too far. Steven, my friend in the jeep said to me “Look to your left and don’t panic”. So I looked and standing on the ridge looking deep into my eyes was the mother lion and her two cubs. We quickly told Chris, our guide and he radioed the team at Thanda. They arrived rather swiftly and darted the lions. It all happened so quick, the next thing I knew I was in the bush standing right next to the mother lion and loading her onto a stretcher to move to the boma. She was absolutely massive!
Steven and I were asked to ride along in the jeep with her so we could hold her head up straight so she didn’t choke on her own tongue. She was enormous, I expected her fur to be soft but it was coarse and felt like straw. I could not believe this was happening, I had no time to pinch myself to see if this was real. I was sitting right next to the piercing eyes and the sharp teeth of a mother lion trying to protect her cubs.
Once we got to the boma the mother and cubs were lifted off the jeep on a stretcher and onto the floor of the boma. The staff from Thanda did the medical checks and left the boma to let the lions wake up. This was the perfect opportunity for me to sit down and take in everything that happened that day. Wow, what an experience!
3rd blog- South Africa
During my six weeks in South Africa I experienced some unbelievable life changing experiences. I saw the big five: elephant, rhino, leopard, lion and buffalo. I also saw some beautiful animals such as; hippo, crocodile, cheetah, vulture, hyena, kingfisher, giraffe, zebra and lots more. I went to St Lucia, the Drakensburg Mountains and Mozambique, all immensely stunning places. Also everyone I worked with at Thanda private game reserve, African Impact and in the community was so inspiring and so kind. It was incredible to see the difference from our life in the UK compared to the families who live in South Africa. It was a massive culture shock when visiting the tribes and the villagers. It made me appreciate everything I have at home and actually we are extremely lucky in the UK. When I say that those six weeks were life changing I really meant it. South Africa’s vast amount of wildlife and scenery inspired me to want to become a wildlife photographer and filmmaker. It’s what inspired me to go to university and study wildlife media because I think there is so much out there in our world that we haven’t experienced yet. I want to share my experiences with the world.