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Pod volunteer - Elephant Care and Research in South Africa

Date added: Friday 13th November 2015

Jessica volunteered at the Pod Volunteer South Africa Elephant Care and Research where volunteers contribute to all aspects of elephant research, education, husbandry and conservation. Volunteers help the park staff to feed and care for nine elephants - no small task!

“Where to begin…this has been a trip of a lifetime, I never imagined the experience would make me feel the way it has, putting into words is going to be the biggest challenge of my time here!

The first week passed so quickly, learning the duties and getting used to identifying the Elephants. At first it’s overwhelming trying to work out who is who, but by day four, I had it and it was the best feeling. Now I can watch each elephant and start to see their characters come out, it is amazing how different they each are and seeing such fantastic traits in them, some you can even relate to, it just makes the whole experience even more magical!

Each day offers something different, mostly early starts which are so fine, as we get to watch Harry’s Herd enjoy breakfast before they wonder off for their adventures of the day. After breakfast, we will usually venture out to the field for observations on Sally’s Herd, this is the family you get to know and love, more and more each day. I find myself looking around and thinking how lucky and privileged I am to be among these animals and to feel so at ease…words cannot explain how awesome that feeling is.

Before coming here I had my apprehensions, wondering if this would be right for me, but it has been so much more than I ever began to imagine it would be. I have met some fantastic people, which has made the experience so much more enjoyable. Doing something completely different, taking me out of my comfort zone, has really brought me back to life as a person. This will stay with me forever as an experience of a lifetime.

What was a typical day at the project?
A typical day will start at 6:30am, where you will get up to help clear the old branches from the Orchard where one of the Herds of Elephants will have spent the night and we will replace with new branches for two elephants that spend the day in the Orchard.

Each activity will be for around an hour and a half, so you will go in to the field to monitor the elephants behaviour and activity, making dung paper or stuffed elephant toys, enter the data you have collected in the field and so much more. Once a week you will get the opportunity to spend a few hours in the Boma, which is where one herd spend the night, so you can monitor their behaviour in the night time, that is a magical experience, such a calming and relaxed environment.

What did you find most rewarding?
Being among the elephants, it is just surreal being out in the field and you have elephants surrounding you, so relaxed and watching them play and be happy is just beautiful

What did you find most challenging?
Remembering all the information that you learn along the way. There is so much to learn and take in and I don't want to forget a thing, so I recommend taking a notebook to take everything down and make sure you get sleep when you can as the early starts can catch up with you.

What advice would you give others considering doing this placement?
Pack for warm and cold weather as it changes drastically every day. Take things to do in the evening. Pack for an active weekend as there is so much to do off the park too.

Why do you think others should volunteer abroad?
It is an opportunity to support projects that need the help and to be a part of something, know that you have helped make a difference. It is a great way to meet people and find yourself. Having the independence of travelling alone and joining a group of people with similar interests is just fantastic and is something that you will remember forever.

Why did you choose Pod Volunteer and would you recommend us to others? The project looked great and the information was clear and very simple to follow, making the process very easy. Whenever I had a question Pod answered the same day, it was very well organised.  ..Yes!”