My volunteering experience in Naboisho Conservancy
Rubbing elbows with Kenya's wildlife
12 Nov 2018
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In June 2014, I spent a month volunteering for African Impact's Big Cat Wildlife Research and Conservation in Kenya’s Naboisho Conservancy. Located just outside the Masai Mara National Reserve, it is an absolutely stunning location, with abundant wildlife and beautiful landscapes. I arrived at the end of the long awaited rainy season and was a little bit apprehensive as I had heard that African storms could be rather fierce. They were fierce, but also incredible to witness, particularly the dry lightning that used to light up the horizon at night time.
The volunteer accommodation was a collection of tents and basic dormitories surrounding a kitchen and dining room area. Located in the heart of the bush, it offered no natural barrier between us and the wilderness. It wasn’t uncommon for baboons and the occasional hyena to wander through camp, and a young female cheetah had her territory just a few minutes away from where we stayed. At night, we would hear male lions roaring as they patrolled the reserve, on the look out for intruding lions. None of this meant that we were in any danger however, it just meant that you didn’t set foot outside your bedroom during the night. In fact, the only scary thing about living at the camp was the idea that you might forget to lock the kitchen door. If you did, the baboons would get in and steal the sugar, or, on one occasion, a tub of fermented banana being used to lure butterflies in. This resulted in some very quiet and no doubt hungover baboons lolling around camp the next morning.
Naboisho Conservancy has a wide abundance of wildlife, including four of the big five - lions, leopards, elephants and buffalo. Rhinos are very occasionally seen in the conservancy. As the reserve had no fences surrounding it, the animals were free to come and go as they pleased. Naboisho is also home to zebras, giraffes, hyena and many other species. Thanks to our driver's very sharp eyes, we were able to get glimpses of some rarely seen animals, including aardwolves and a zorilla (a type of polecat!).
The guides and volunteer coordinators were extremely knowledgeable about the African bush and its inhabitants and quickly made us feel like valued members of the team. My day to day activities included going out on game drives 2-3 times a day to collect behavioural data on big cats and elephants. We were able to get quite close to the animals and soon began to recognise certain individuals and learn about their personalities. I also took part in game counts twice a week, to help monitor species population levels.
Wednesday mornings and Friday afternoons were spent teaching wildlife lessons to a local primary after school club. The club was initially set up as a voluntary activity for the children, but after a few weeks all of the students (nearly 100 in total) opted to come along. We gave verbal presentations and led them in practical activities such as litter picking and tree planting. It was great to see so many children getting passionate about conservation and showing concern for the natural world around them.
In my free time, I was able to take part in activities such as night drives, bush walks and a day trip to the Masai Mara, where we stopped for a picnic on the plains and watched the migrating wildebeest amble past. Kenya, as a country, is football-crazy, and the time of my volunteering placement coincided with the 2014 World Cup, so quite a few evenings were spent sat in the TV room of a Masai guiding school, watching the matches with the students. I’m not much of a football fan, but the enthusiasm that the trainee guides were showing soon got me very excited as well.
The volunteer placement enabled me to gain so much knowledge and experience while at the same, allowing me to contribute to the amazing conservation efforts that are being carried out in Naboisho. I also made friends with people from all over the world. I would definitely recommend this project and the African Impact company on the whole to anyone considering doing a volunteering placement with African wildlife. Living right in the heart of the African bush was an amazing experience, one that I will never forget. I would encourage anyone visiting Africa who loves the outdoors and wants a more rustic experience to give this a try.