Namibia: N/a’an ku se Wildlife Sanctuary
Namibia was my big AWESOME trip of 2014. I planned to go for two weeks to do some volunteer work with the N/a’an ku se Foundation wildlife sanctuary.
I chose this trip as I was travelling alone and wanted to have something to do and people to meet. I also wanted to be able to get close to some animals rather than looking at them from afar. AND cheetahs are my favourite animals! I heard Namibia is Cheetah country.
The flight from London to Windhoek was good with a little stop over in Frankfurt. I was picked up by a friendly driver who took me over to the sanctuary – and kind of dumped me with a bunch of people who were all having breakfast. They were all nice, so it was fine, and you learn there will be plenty of others who join in the same way!
The staff were all very friendly and helpful and there was a whole variety of other volunteers there – young, old and from all different backgrounds.
It was winter in Nambia – the days were quite lovely and warm, I’d say 22-28 degrees. It was generally sunny everyday, some days more windy than others. The nights were bitterly cold. BITTERLY COLD.
Accommodation and food
Well, the accommodation wasn’t anything to write home about, but that’s not what I went for! The room I had was basic and shared with two other girls, one of whom I have since met up with in London. The shared bathroom was also very basic. Certainly not luxury accommodation, but absolutely fine for a volunteer project. It was REALLY cold at night and there was no heating. I’m really glad I took a good-ish sleeping bag and plenty of layers are required.
It did help to figure out when there was hot water. As most of the hot water was solar powered and I was there in winter, the best times to go for a shower was straight after lunch or straight after all activities had ended. If left too late, you’d be heading for a cold shower!
I was pleasantly surprised by the range of food they provided. It was always hearty and good, and enough for everyone. Breakfast, lunch and dinner was provided. These were eaten at the communal area near the big fire place, especially nice in the evenings to gather around the lit fire and catch up with the group.
There was also a shop that was open a couple of days a week for all of your essentials like dirt cheap cider (drink it!), wine, soft drinks, chocolates, and probably some actual essentials too.
All the volunteers were placed in groups and part of a rota each day. There were a number of various tasks that ranged from preparing food (chopping up fruit, veg and meat for the animals) to walking with baboons. Some of the tasks were more fun than others! At the end of the day, the aim of volunteering is to help maintain the sanctuary – the real part – as well as spending time with the animals – the fun part. This included taking care of horses, carnivore feeds, cheetah runs and walking with with the baboons.
One of my favourite creatures from the trip is a beautiful cheetah called Samira. From my understanding, she had been kept as a pet and for whatever reason her owners gave her up. Probably because the cute kitten grew too big?? Anyhow, she is friendly and good natured, and I think she was around 16/17 years old when I met her. She does enjoy some human company, but I think she likes her own space too. I have a lot of respect for this big cat. As you can see, she’s a bit like a big pussy cat.
I know it would be lovely to see Samira in the wild, but realistically it’s unlikely she would survive as she didn’t learn to hunt or fend for herself. Also, she’s very old now and certainly wouldn’t survive on her own. I think she’s about as happy as a lovely old cheetah can be.
There’s something amazing about being driven around on the back of an open pick up truck around Africa. It’s open and beautiful and natural, the wind’s in your hair and you’re keeping an eye out for all the random wild animals that you know are out there. This was part of the journey towards the carnivore feed as well as a number of other activities away from the main project.
The carnivore feed was taking huge chunks of meat to feed the ‘wild’ animals, like cheetahs and leopards, that could not be released in the wild (at least not yet in some cases) and were kept in large enclosures, further out from the sanctuary itself. We went out with our groups and all helped to throw the meat over the fences. They would normally come to the fence to get their food then run away, but human contact is kept to a minimum.
One of the enclosures is for three cheetahs – Lucky the three legged cheetah, Arrow and Shadow. Lucky’s foot had been caught in a horrible trap as a youngster that meant her leg had to be amputated. Arrow and Shadow were both quite young, and both very beautiful. The Cheetah run consisted of setting up a running course with four corners and a rope that was attached to a motor so that it whizzed around the corners. There was a cloth attached to the rope for the cheetahs to chase. The aim of this was to get Arrow and Shadow running to chase the cloth. And after a good run they would be fed some meat.
Barkie the aardvark
Barkie is a cutie who was a delight to meet. He is an aardvark and was less than a year old when I was at Naankuse. His mother had been killed when he was very young, maybe around three months old, when he still needed his mother’s milk to survive. He also wasn’t strong enough to break termite mounds himself to find food. Fortunately he made his way into the hands of the sanctuary.
One of the activities is an ‘aardvark walk’ – taking Barkie on a walk around the sanctuary and taking him out to a field and helping him find some yummy ants and termites. Baby aardvarks are surprisingly strong and hard to steer!
(UPDATE: Sadly I heard that Barkie passed away in early 2015 from pneumonia)
An optional task was the watch tower. This maintains a presence to deter poachers, and also means that you look out for any cars or people in the vicinity over night. I chose to do this because I really wanted to watch the sunrise one day, and it made sense to do the tower as then I’d have to stay up the whole night! My room mate and I volunteered to do this together on a Friday note.
First note – IT WAS FREEZING!!!! I am forever grateful to my room mate for having an extra pair of gloves. Luckily I’d gathered some advice beforehand and took as many layers as I could wear in one go, took my sleeping bag, and the sanctuary also provided an additional sleeping bag and heavy ‘fireman’ jacket. It wasn’t quite what I expected. One of the staff dropped us off… at the wooden watch tower, with a vertical ladder made of uneven wood. It was pretty tough (for me) to climb up! And once at the top, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d get back down again (before I carry on, I confirm that I did get down again). It was also very small, just about enough space for two people to lie down comfortably.
We had a torch, and then the plan was to stay up all night! I think we stayed up chatting for a while, and then I was reading on my iPad. It was really really cold, chilling. However, it was really cool to really be in the wilderness and hear all the wild animal noises. There are four side flaps that can be opened, and you can lock the door. It was quite an experience, and worth it to see the sunrise. One thing that surprised me was the sunrise itself. It was bright outside for a really long time – I was really worried I had somehow missed the sunrise! Maybe it was behind the side flap that was still closed… it was probably about 30 minutes before the sun peeped over the horizon, and we had the perfect viewing point!
There is a leopard enclosure right at the bottom of the watch tower, so it was great to see them emerge in the morning, and I’m pretty sure we’d been listening to them throughout the night too. And being picked up in the morning was also a great feeling!
I know it doesn’t sound like the most wonderful experience. The two words that sum it up for me are: cold & sunrise. I’m glad I did it, and I think it would be worth giving it a go – when else would you have such an opportunity??
Four day tour with Chameleon Safari – Etosha, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay
I decided to join a four day tour in addition to my work at the sanctuary. One of the reasons I chose Namibia is because my favourite exhibition EVER is the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year, and I’d noticed that there are often photos from Etosha wildlife park, so it was my intention to visit there one day. For some reason, I hadn’t intended to go to Etosha this time around, I thought I’d be back another time to do this. But… since I was already there, it made a lot of sense to get this big thing checked off of my to-do list. I’m glad I did, as it was fabulous.
You can find out more about that on the Etosha & Tour page:
While packing up to leave the sanctuary, I was thinking it was a shame that I hadn’t taken many photos of birds. So with a spare half hour before I was leaving, I headed out to take some pictures of birdies. I really loved the glossy starlings, they were my favourite. I bumped into another volunteer and as we walked past one of the bird pens we noticed there was a peacock displaying… to a baby ostrich. Even if that peacock was a little confused, I got some great photos…
This holiday was really eye-opening from a conservation point of view – the impact that us humans have on the beautiful wildlife around us and their lives, which we play with without a second thought.
I know a lot of people have issues with zoos, but this was far from a zoo. Most of these animals cannot be released back in to the wild, either due to legal reasons or because they do not have the skills to survive – like Samira who had been raised as a pet or Lucky the three-legged cheetah. In one sense their lack of freedom is a very sad thing, in another sense they are lucky to be looked after.
This is just a summary of my trip, there were a lot of other things that I haven’t gone into, like the fun Saturday parties, movie nights and the day we went to put a collar on a brown hyena. It was definitely a trip of a lifetime and a meaningful experience.