Keelie's wild adventures at Kruger National Park

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She's wild at heart and has the experiences to prove it. Adventuresome BUNACer Keelie spent three months volunteering on our Kruger National Park programme, where she carried out vital game research, witnessed nature at its wildest and made roarsome memories that will last a lifetime. We've caught up with her to hear all about what she got up to...

Hey Keelie! Tell us a bit about your volunteering experience with BUNAC…

I travelled to South Africa on BUNAC's Volunteer Kruger National Park programme, where I took part in nature conservation work in the Balule game reserve. I arrived in January 2017 and volunteered for three months, before travelling around the rest of the country until July.

How was the BUNAC process for you, in terms of signing up to the programme and heading out to South Africa?

I found BUNAC to be incredibly helpful in arranging my trip, from when I first showed interest to after my arrival in South Africa. They were very responsive to my emails and were happy to answer my questions over the phone. I found the application process to be quick and easy to use.

What were you initially most looking forward to?

I was looking forward to the challenge of venturing into the African bush - so incomparable to life in the UK - getting stuck into the conservation project and to witness nature at its wildest. My experience was above and beyond all I had hoped for, and it was without a doubt a life changing opportunity.

Run us through your average day volunteering

We usually woke up before sunrise and started the day off with a 'bird point count'. This is where you drive to different locations in the reserve and name all the birds you hear and see for 10 minutes at a time, recording the data in order to spot trends in the various bird species and distribution.

This was often followed by a game transect: you drive along a 10km transect and each time you spot game, you identify it by its name, sex, condition and location.

After this we would go back to camp, and enjoy some free time (more often than not this involved swimming in the pool, with a breathtaking view overlooking the Oliphants River!).

In the afternoon you help collect camera trap data. We monitored 11 camera traps in the reserve, and by collecting the data we could spot trends in the distribution of game, and movement of predators, particularly of the leopard.

Evenings were often kicked off with a sunset drive to 'Sopie's Hoogte' (translates as 'sipping heights' in Afrikaans), followed by a 'braai' (Afrikaans word for BBQ) at camp. Picture yourself sitting under the Milky Way, in the heart of the African lowveld around a fire, with a group of strangers from all over the world, who will quickly become very special and lifelong friends. You can hear the nightjars calling, and the lions roaring, as the nocturnal animals of the bush awaken around you. The guides will share their tales of nature at its best, or at its cruelest. The fire glows bright under the open night sky, while the sizzle of 'boerewors' (traditional Afrikaans cuisine, similar to a beef sausage) accompanies the cry of the jackals. The experience of being in the heart of the African bush is one you can't find anywhere else in the world.

What were the highlights of your experience?

One of my proudest moments was when we finished building a 1.7km road with nothing but machetes, pickaxes and saws! The project took a few weeks, a lot of teamwork and a great deal of character building. It was most rewarding when afterwards we added the road onto the map and drove along it, spotting a family of warthogs which had taken residence on our new road! We saw a vast array of game, from sable antelope, to the African wild dog - with only 500 left in South Africa they are Africa's most endangered predator. My personal favourite sighting was in my last week, when we found a large female spotted hyena with her puppies: it was an evening I'll never forget.

What advice would you give to someone considering signing up to the programme?

This project had the beauty of being thoroughly enjoyed by virtually anyone. However, to make the most out of your trip I would encourage you to grasp every opportunity when you are there. Invest in some guide books on the local wildlife, such as "Beat About the Bush" or "Mammals of Southern Africa". From animal behaviour to the Anti Poaching Unit, there are so many different aspects of the bush to learn about. When you are on the project, the information is at your fingertips, and your guides are incredibly knowledgable. Delve into particular areas that interest you, such as birds, trees, mammals, tracks and signs, or even geology! The opportunity is there, take it.

Fancy embarking on a similar adventure to Keelie? Sign up to our Kruger National Park programme today, or even our BRAND NEW programme in South Africa too, Big 5 Wildlife Conservation! Memories are waiting to be made.