Rachel Bennett - Conservation & Environment, Shark Conservation in South Africa
My first impressions of Botswana
I flew from the Human Rights project in South Africa to the Conservation Project in Polokwane. Although I had already been in Africa, the contrast between the city of Cape Town and ‘the bush’ was incredible. My initial thought when looking out of the airplane window and arriving in the small airport was how vast and remote the area I had landed in was.
Driving to the camp I was fortunate enough to view my first wild African animals. There were zebras running alongside us and I spotted a couple of monkeys too. I had no idea I would see animals up close so quickly!
The camp was comfortable and open. I met my group when they arrived back from an afternoon activity. They were all really friendly and eager to learn more about me.
The first night was definitely a new experience. It is such a serene and beautiful place however you would hear the occasional rustling of animals. After the first night which is definitely a culture shock you get far more used to the whole experience.
The Conservation project
I was involved in many different conservation projects such as the alien plant removal, insect and elephant identification, water hole conservation, bird identification and the crocodile census. Many different animals are monitored by the camp in order to promote and protect their well-being. It is good physical work and I learned a lot about the animals in Botswana and the whole of Africa. One of the most exciting parts of these excursions is that you never know what animals you will come across.
On the way to one particular activity we saw a herd of about 25 elephants. They had babies and juveniles. We were exceptionally close to these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. Your heart races with excitement and it is a real privilege to watch and anticipate their behavior in the wild. I am grateful to be in the small minority of people in the world who will have had that opportunity.
Every day is different. One day you might see scorpions, giraffe, impala, meerkat and vultures, the next you may see a crocodile, bats, hyena, snakes and stunning butterflies. Not to mention the 900 or more species of bird in Africa!
You will quickly learn about the African ‘Big Five’. That is, buffalo, elephant, leopard, rhinoceros and lion. If you are fortunate enough to see any of these, as I was, you will remember the experience for the rest of your life.
Making friends with lots of different people from many different countries in the world was really exciting to me. I had a lovely group and we had lots of fun together.
One day, we went on a Mammal Koppie Census (Koppie’s are the large rocks that you might have seen in the lion king!) and we spotted two huge juvenile eagles. Afterwards, our tour guide AB took us to a really tall tree house to watch the sunset. His knowledge of the bush was limitless and we learnt so much through just being around him. From the simplest of questions you could end up having a two-hour conversation with everyone getting involved.
We had a lot of laughs! I was told it was because of my British sense of humor! Climbing to the top of the tree house was a little bit nerve racking but it was definitely worth it. The sunsets over the stunning scenery of the African bush are some of the best I have ever seen in my life. It feels like you are in a place made up by your imagination.
The weekends are a bit more relaxed. There is time to reflect and be with friends. You might go on a picnic, play games or sunbathe by the gorge. Fortnightly, there are different trips organized by Projects Abroad. One weekend we went to a retreat in South Africa. It was really fun to stay in cabins and return to reality (sort of!) I went horseback riding, swimming in the pool and we had a barbecue.
It was really nice to socialize with the friends I had made and see even more of Africa. My flight home was on the Monday so it was a great way to say goodbye and put an end to my travels.
Although the experience definitely put me out of my comfort zone I am so happy that I went and I wouldn’t change the experience for anything. I think that anyone would feel apprehensive being somewhere completely different to anywhere else in the world but that was also what made it so magical.
The experience taught me a lot about the world and contrasting cultures. It also helped me understand exactly how important it is that these animals are free to roam in their own environment and gave me a respect for how powerful and incredible all different animals are. I would love to return to Africa at some point. For me it is somewhere I really have a connection to. If you are looking for a new and exciting experience Kua Tuli is definitely the place to go!
Read more about Conservation in Southern Africa