Zululand Conservation Experience

This hands-on conservation volunteer programme covers two unique conservation areas located in the Zululand and Maputaland regions of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and the seaside village of Ponto Do Oura in Mozambique.  This region falls within one of the top 21 Hot Spots for biodiversity on Earth and this unique programme is designed so that participants can make a meaningful contribution to wildlife conservation whilst enjoying a varied and thrilling adventure.

After arriving in South Africa participants transfer to Somkhanda Game Reserve where they have the unique opportunity to contribute to the conservation of endangered and threatened wildlife species by doing practical fieldwork that will make a difference.

This is a unique programme which is aimed at adventurous travelers who are looking for a “Science on Safari” experience where they will be actively involved in meaningful wildlife conservation work. They will be working alongside conservationists collecting field data needed to make crucial wildlife management decisions on the game reserve.  Although not an extreme experience, participants will need to be early risers, physically active, capable of climbing on and off the back of vehicles and tracking animals on foot for up to 5-10km through the African bush, possibly spending most of the day in the field.

After Somkhanda they drive over the Lebombo Mountains to the remote Tembe Elephant Park where, from their accommodation at Royal Thonga Lodge, they will explore one of South Africa’s truly wild Big 5 game reserves. This unique experience compliments the Somkhanda experience with a Big 5 safari experience. This remote park lies on the border between South Africa and Mozambique, where over 250 of the largest elephant in the world roam.  Here they will enjoy unlimited safari drives in their own private safari vehicle with guide.

Rounding off the experience they enjoy three nights at seaside resort village of Ponto Do Oura in Mozambique for a completely different beach and marine life experience. Ponto Do Oura is renowned for its sandy beaches, coral reefs and opportunities for some of the finest snorkelling and dolphin encounters.  All these experiences are booked on arrival and for their own account. Everything in Ponta do Oura is within walking distance of their private guest house accommodation.

PROGRAMME

DAY 1:

Arriving in the late afternoon there is an opportunity to unpack before departing on an optional early evening game drive before dinner.

DAYS 2 – 7: Wildlife Monitoring & Conservation

Working in small groups  their daily programmes will start with either a bushwalk aimed at providing a broader appreciation and knowledge of the basics of tracking, bird, mammal, insect identification which will enhance the experience or one of the following wildlife conservation projects:

Rhino monitoring – Due to the significance of the species rhino monitoring is an ongoing project on Somkhanda with many of the animals having been fitted with radio tracking devices.  Students will accompany the reserve’s rhino monitors into the field on their daily routine.  Information gathered from rhinos includes general health, associations with other animals and off spring, movement, home range plotting, feeding preferences etc.

Camera Trap Surverying – Students will accompany experienced monitors as they check camera traps, changing batteries, downloading data and sorting through photographs. The objective of the camera trap survey method is to monitor a variety of species and known individual animals to assess their physical condition, the presence of calves and associations between individuals, with a focus on the more elusive black rhino and leopard.

Game Population Monitoring – Estimating game numbers on a reserve like Somkhanda can prove challenging – the roads are very rough and difficult to traverse, the vegetation is dense in many places and the topography is very hilly.  In this exercise students will work in pairs stationed in a blind at a waterhole for a predetermined period to count game species as they arrive to drink. Details to be recorded will include the species, age class and sex.

Generally, the projects require a full morning of field work and depending on the programme lunch might be back at the lodge or a picnic out in the reserve.  Returning to camp in the afternoon there will be a relaxation period before analysing the data or capturing it on the computer. Once the work is over there is the opportunity of packing a few cold refreshemnts into an icebox and heading out into the reserve on a safari or to find a quite spot to enjoy the sunset.

DAYS 8 & 9: Tembe Elephant Park (Royal Thonga Lodge)

A scenic two hour transfer takes participants over the Lebombo Mountains (once home to the well known author of King Solomon’s Mines – Ryder Haggard) and into Maputaland, home of the Tembe Elephant Park and other unique wildlife adventure destinations.

From their safari lodge, participants spend these two days exploring this truly wild park which is only accessible by 4×4, and offers the greatest diversity of wildlife in KwaZulu-Natal including the Big 5 – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo, as well as Africa’s smallest antelope the Suni.

DAYS 10, 11, 12 & 13: Ponto Do Oura – Mozambique (Gala Gala Eco Lodge)

It is a relatively short trip to the Mozambique border where participants will leave their vehicle and be met on the other side by transport provided by their host.  The drive from the border to Ponto Do Oura is an adventure in itself! On arrival, they will meet their host, enjoy a light lunch and settle into their rooms.

For this last section of the trip, participants can choose to relax on the beach, book snorkeling and dolphin excursions with their hosts at Gala Gala. It is safe to explore the village’s extensive informal market and many souvenir shops by foot, making sure to take reasonable precautions for your personal safety. (Included in this package is a Dolphin excursion, snorkeling and a two hour quad bike excursion).

Breakfasts and dinners are included and will be arranged either at the guesthouse or on occasion at a typical Mozambican Restaurant in town. Lunches are for the guest’s own account and can be enjoyed at any of the many unique restaurants the village has to offer.

DAY 14: Return to King Shaka International

After a very early breakfast, participants pack up and depart for the border control to arrive as it opens to make the journey back to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg/ King Shaka Airport Durban for the return flight home.

Read the article in Responsible Traveller digital mag… click here

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