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South Africa Wildlife Conservation Project

 

PAST VOLUNTEER INTERVIEW: DAVE HARPER - SOUTH AFRICA WILDLIFE CONSERVATION PROJECT

Today Into the Wild meets Dave Harper who volunteered out on Frontier's South Africa Wildlife Conservation. Out on the project volunteers work on the game reserve helping with the maintenance of the reserve and the reserve's animal rehabilitation work. We spoke to David and found out all about his time out on the project and what his best bits were.

Into the Wild: What was the favourite part of your trip?

David Harper enjoying his wildlife conservation project in South Africa with FrontierDavid: My favourite part of the trip is difficult to define, as there were so many, but if I had to narrow it down I would have to say just being surrounded by so much amazing nature, and realizing that you're not top of the food chain anymore, quite a healthy feeling to have once in a while I think!

Into the Wild: Was the project what you expected it to be?

David: When I travel I try not to expect anything in advance, that way there is less chance of being disappointed, even if I had, there is no way this project would have disappointed me and I think I lucked out big time!

Into the Wild: What was your best animal encounter?

David: I think the very first sighting of one of the Big 5 on the first day was very special as it was me that spotted him. Zulu is the reserves dominant male Lion, and he is magnificent, even when fast asleep under a shady bush!

Into the Wild: What was your favourite animal that you saw out on the project?

David: The very elusive Caracal on my last day, not a usual sighting for mid afternoon and it has only been seen a few times in the last 3 years. It was only a few seconds, slinking through the undergrowth, but it was enough to see those unmistakable black ears with tufts, and although no one else got a clear view, everyone took my word for what it was, which was nice!

Into the Wild: Did you see all of the ‘big 5'?

David: No, the Leopard has eluded me yet again, and I did look, and look, and look!......Good excuse to go back!

Into the Wild: You're out there amongst the big five - were there any scary moments?

David: Well there were a few close mock Elephant charges, but after the first couple you get used to them, lol!!

Into the Wild: What activities and tasks did you carry out on the project?

David: There were a variety of tasks ranging from weeding the fence line, chopping down evasive tree species, cutting up donated dead cows to feed the predators, feeding the predators in the pred camp (Lion, Tiger, Cheetah, Caracal, Wildcat and Ocelot), game counts, game captures, wilderness walks checking for snares and working down at the elephant sanctuary.

Seeing the big cats in the wild and feeding them in the predator camp created many memorable moments for David on his conservation project in South Africa with Frontier

Into the Wild: What did a normal day on the project consist of?

David: Depending on the weather, we usually went out before breakfast to do some tree clearing or track repair, after which we might go on a game count then feed the predators after lunch!

Into the Wild: What skills did you gain on the project?

David: To be honest, most skills that I needed, I already had as they were similar to my line of work back home. I did improve my game/bird spotting/naming skills though, which my trusty binoculars came in very handy for........that gained me the nickname "Meerkat Dave"

Into the Wild: Out of all the tasks you carried out on the project which was your favourite?

David: Working with the 4 elephants at the sanctuary, they are amazing creatures and a real privilege to get up close and personal with, walking out into the bush to find them and interacting with these gentle giants is an unforgettable experience, plus you get to do it every week!

Into the Wild: How did you find the day to day life and work on the project?

David: It was an easy routine to slip into, very relaxed and well......it is Africa!

Into the Wild: How has your time out on the project changed your thoughts or plans for the future?

David: This is something I have dreamed of doing since being a small boy, and now I have, I realize I should have done it a long time ago, as I felt so at home that I'm seriously considering going back to do the Ranger Course and getting a job out there.

Into the Wild: Did you enjoy getting stuck in and getting your hands dirty?

David: Of course, no point going on a project like this without getting stuck in, I had many blisters and got covered in blood and guts and more elephant snot than you can shake a table cloth sized hanky at, and I'd do it all again at the drop of a hat!

Into the Wild: You're a keen photographer; did you find the landscapes and wildlife of South Africa a good subject for your photography?

David: Are you kidding, I was in my element? Being surrounded by all that nature in such a beautiful landscape is a photographer's dream, only trouble is, you can spend too much time behind the camera, sometimes you just need to relax and let it all sink in to really appreciate it, which I managed to do frequently!

Into the Wild: Out of the photos you took which one is your favourite image and why?David Harper's favourite photo of Rhino, Blue Wildebeest and Blesbok taken in the early morning on his conservation project with Frontier in South Africa

David: I took over 7000 photos, so choosing only one is very difficult. Apart from getting some great shots of Zulu on the first day, one of my most memorable animal shots happened one Sunday. Four volunteers stayed behind this one weekend and I was the only guy, so I had the whole male dorm to myself. With no disturbances to wake what was going to be a nice Sunday morning lie-in, I was actually woken around dawn (about 5.45am) by a chorus of Lions roaring in the pred camp (not a bad alarm clock to have by the way!) and decided to go for an early morning walk.

I walked down to the touch farm which is within the safety fence and could see lots of game out in the reserve. My camera has a 24-720mm lens, so I am able to zoom in on long range critters that most photographers can only dream of doing. As I started to catch the suns first warm rays as it came over the hill, I spotted two Rhino that had come down to feed on the lush grass. As they munched their way across in front of me, one of them turned round to face me just as a Blue Wildebeest and a Blesbok lined themselves up behind, the moment only lasted a split second, but I managed to capture it, a great way to start the day and one I would have missed had I stayed in bed!

 

Into the Wild: What did you do in your spare time when you weren't working on the project?

David: As I arrived in South Africa 10 days early, I had done lots of stuff in the area before the project started, so tended to stay on site most weekends, instead of taking the trip back into Port Elizabeth. Most evenings were spent with still more game/bird watching before dusk in the nearby tree nursery (also inside the safety fence) mainly to watch the Jackals hunting insects and then to see the amazing night sky (the Milky Way is phenomenal!) then editing the days photos on my netbook, maybe check my e-mail then relax with my fellow volunteers, maybe watching a film! (I have never watched Lion King so many times in my life, lol!)

Into the Wild: Did you enjoy meeting all the other volunteers and staff out there?

David: This project would only have been half the trip without them, I made so many great new friends, and laughed so much it hurt, I'm sure I will catch up with some of them again somewhere down the road, in fact I can guarantee it!

Into the Wild: You celebrated your birthday whilst out on the project - how was it and how did it compare to your other birthdays?

David: It would have been so much better if I hadn't gone down with some sort of bug a few days before, so I was not really up for it. Having said that, the guys did do their best to cheer me up in Port Elizabeth, and after a lovely meal we all went to a very popular and full bar where everyone, and I mean everyone, sang happy birthday louder than I've ever heard before, thanks guys!

Into the Wild: What would you say was the most useful thing you packed and took out there on the project?

David: I actually write a blog about travel gear, so am always on the lookout for useful gadgets. I never leave home without my Tilley hat, Craghopper zip-off trousers, Brasher boots, Leatherman Wave or my Bushnell Natureview bino's. The one new useful piece of kit I took on the project was an LED Lenser H7 head torch, this little power house of a torch has a focusable lens and power adjustments lever, and came in very handy throughout my stay. I saw many creatures with this on fully focused high power, easily picking up eye glare at over 100m, not bad for a very small and compact package! My next trip I will be taking a camera trap, which automatically captures anything that walks in front of it. I will be setting it up somewhere quiet down one of the many deep valleys on a known used track to capture photos and video of some of the lesser seen night time predators.......maybe even that ever elusive Leopard!!

If you would like more information on opportunities to volunteer in Africa, or any other wildlife conservation volunteeringprojects, please visit the Frontier website.

 

 

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