South African Conservation Summer

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This summer I travelled to the Mpumalanga and Kwazulu-natal regions of South Africa to volunteer at two separate projects. I spent two weeks at the Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary helping to care for the orphaned rhinos as well as rescued lions, servals, owls and antelope, before travelling to the Phinda Game Reserve to work as a research assistant alongside the priority species monitor and the head of research. I chose these projects because they offered completely different experiences which provided the opportunity to learn two new skill sets. I also hoped the diversity of the work would help me figure out which type of career path I would like to pursue.

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Before I left I was nervous about many things. Growing up on the north coast of Scotland meant that I was not best prepared to deal with the heat and having heard conflicting views about what to expect weather-wise I was struggling to adequately prepare myself. As a person who likes to mentally prepare for everything, down to the fine details, this was difficult and caused me considerable stress for what may seem to others as a trivial issue. This was a common theme during my preparation, anything I could not plan for made me anxious. I found as much information about both locations as possible on the internet prior to traveling however I was still unsure of how to navigate the airport, what the people and accommodation would be like, how my transfers were going to work and what to expect in general.

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During my month abroad I learnt many new skills which will help prepare me for my future career. Learning to track wild animals was one of the many highlights as I was lucky enough to be taught by two incredibly talented people who made the topic fascinating. I also got to assist in several rhino and elephant dartings which were a privilege to witness. I loved learning about the nutritional needs of the orphaned animals and how they compared to their wild counterparts. I was also fascinated to discover that in reality animals do not always conform to the social norms that you would expect from reading textbooks. For example, I was fortunate enough to witness three leopards who are considered solitary, feeding on a single giraffe carcass and frequently saw multiple unrelated individuals on the same camera trap image.

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I also learned a lot about the culture in South Africa and the wider issues which make poaching much more complicated than I had previously assumed. The current drought has made it virtually impossible for many people to earn a living, forcing them to turn to poaching simply to buy water for their family.

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In terms of personal development I feel I have grown in confidence and have been humbled by how little some people have. This trip pushed me out of my comfort zone and taught me to take every opportunity that presents itself, regardless of how challenging it may seem.

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