The kind of things you pack when you go on a trip says a lot about where you're heading and what you're going to be doing.
Taking a warm top and a 'blanky' is OK if you're going to stay at Granny's house, but when you're taking a gap year in Africa, these items come highly recommended...
Work Pants with zip-off longs x 2
Great for casual wading in the water and getting within meters of Southern Right Whales breaching just off your sea sprayed research boat.
This is what work at the O.R.C.A Foundation in Plettenberg Bay was all about. Plettenberg Bay is a coastal town located along the world famous Garden Route. It's where some of the worlds most fascinating marine species can be seen, anything from Humpback Whales to Great White Sharks.
My gap year travel here gave me a once in a life time chance to work with these magnificent marine species in exciting and groundbreaking marine conservation volunteer work.
My Gap year at the O.R.C.A. Marine Foundation was also spent doing:
Rescue and rehabilitation of marine species
Sampling, tagging, monitoring and dissection of fish species
Participating in commercial marine-eco tourism activities, that included whale and dolphin watching tours, sea kayaking, township tours, and river ferry cruises
Supervised collection of touch pool and aquarium species for the O.R.C.A. Education Centre
O.R.C.A. patrol boat trips to collect data, monitor the bay and take photos of whales, dolphins and other marine species
The Fleece Beanie
The Kapama Private Game Reserve gets cold at night; I reckon fleece beanies are essential. Long nights monitoring and tracking game is an amazing experience, chills or no chills.
I found the stars in the sky were a thousand times brighter than they are in the city. Though the stars were beautiful, most of the time the thrill of stalking around in the bush took preference. Darting parties were conducted to inspect and tag animals for conservation purposes.
The monitoring programs enable conservationists to keep records of the movements and numbers of the game in the area.
Working at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre involved feeding and taking care of baby animals. Quite a few species are bred here, including the cheetah, which is a most interesting cat when you get to see one close up.
Other activities we were involved in:
Camping in the reserve to get the African feeling
Capturing of wild animals when required by the reserve or the sanctuary
Assisting in hand raised animals
Elephant back safaris
Handy Gloves for the Colobus Trust
You can't even begin to imagine how a pair of gloves help while you're fixing fences and chasing baboons and monkeys all day. They're also a great help for removing vegetation from power lines to prevent these silly monkeys from being electrocuted.
Another priority was removing the snares in the Diani Forest in an effort to protect the Colobus Monkey and its habitat.
I've never done anything quite like conducting a census for monkeys. Counting hundreds of colobus, sykes, vervet monkeys and baboons is an oddly rewarding experience.
What else did I do on my gap year on the South Coast of Kenya:
Repair and installing Colobridges, monkey-crossing bridges over Diani Beach road
Remove vegetation from power lines to stop monkeys from being electrocuted
Work alongside the school children doing studies on medicinal plants used by the community
Binoculars: Eyes in the Field
For the Shamwari Game Reserve, Binoculars were undoubtedly the most useful piece of equipment I had. You'll understand why they are often called field eyes when you get to Shamwari.
They are especially useful for the mammal monitoring and tracking program that requires diligent scanning of at least 20,000 hectares of African bush. You also need them while taking game counts and conducting the anti poaching patrols. This makes you feel like you're really playing your part in things.
These missions in the name of nature are incidentally carried out from the back of land rovers; the genuine experience!
We spotted so many varieties of amazing animals; I don't even know where to begin.
While stacking up thorn trees around the village, a technique used to keep predators out and livestock in, we were surprised by the sighting of a cheetah, a perfect time to zoom in with those binoculars.
My gap year voluntary work on Shamwari also covered the following:
Assisting with game darting
Alien vegetation control and identification
Camp outs in the bush
Feeding of predators at The Born Free animal rescue sanctuary
A Trusty Pair of Hiking Boots
If you're walking through 54 000 hectares of mountains, plains, indigenous fauna and flora and the incredible rock formations of the Warmwaterberg Mountains, I recommend getting good boots.
Most of the animal research projects at the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve involved tracking. This meant covering a lot of rocky terrain in order to complete our objectives of game counts, monitoring and transect analysis. Camps outs in the bush and nocturnal game monitoring turned out to be extremely adventurous.
Generally, it was more of a team thing. I felt connected and part of something that, beyond just talking about it, really was doing something to help conservation efforts in the real world.
These are only a few examples of the hands-on experience we had:
Plant studies and identification
Bird monitoring - bird counts on the dam including the raptor family
Medicinal use of plants and vegetation biomes
Worldwide Experience provides conservation volunteers & gap year in Africa opportunities on some of Southern Africa's premier private game reserves. This gives volunteers from around the world a chance to work closely with animals and to help forward the South African National Park's conservation objectives.