GROWING TIES: University students from Australia recently volunteered at Kwantu Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.
Kwantu Private Game Reserve is growing ties with an overseas educational institute.The reserve recently hosted students, from an Australian based university on its volunteer programme which is growing fast and attracting visitors to participate in real life safari training by zoology staff and game rangers where they encounter the Big Five.
“The Australian volunteers’ course was slightly different to the normal volunteer programme. Their programme was aligned to meet their university’s curricula supplement. The volunteer programme teaches wildlife conservation initiatives. It is an extremely popular course with travellers and tour operators world-wide,” said Shakir Jeeva, CEO of Kwantu.
Kwantu offers a holistic eco-voluntourist programme offering hands-on experience in earth stewardship, conservation management and community development. Volunteers work alongside zoology staff and game rangers in the 6000 hectare, privately owned game reserve.
Students from the university, regardless of their course, had the opportunity to apply to volunteer at Kwantu.
They experienced cultural exchange programmes as well as hands-on reserve work including game capture, game counts, fence patrols, removal of alien vegetation, planting of indigenous trees, wildlife structure enrichment and anti-poaching efforts.
Jeeva added that the initiative is unique and important for Kwantu because it is “moulding young minds”.
“I selected to volunteer in South Africa and work at a reserve which offers the big five animals. I also came here because I am interested in the African culture. Volunteering at Kwantu has been a good experience. We have been on game drives and also worked with the vet. The people here are friendly,” ViviannaIatrou a second year wildlife conservation student.
“This has been an amazing experience. I also enjoyed spending time with the school outreach programme,” said Georgia Keogh, a third year biomedical science student.
“My experience at Kwantu exceeded my expectation. I have spoken with students who volunteered here before and I did not expect to be so hands-on working with the animals. This experience has been rewarding. When you come here, come with an open mind and expect the unexpected,” said Amanda Roos, a second year wildlife conservation student.
Katrina Vogt, a second year wildlife conservation student has been attracted to animals from a very young age. “I love the landscape here which is similar to home. I have been an animal lover my entire life. My dad has been inspirational in my life with regards to animals. Being at Kwantu has been amazing and turned out to be a much better then what I had thought. The animal rehabilitation centre is my favourite, it is good to know they are trying to help these animals,” said Vogt.
The glass ceiling in the wildlife game ranger industry is slowly being shattered as more women are preparing to professionally enter a traditionally male dominated career field in wildlife tourism and conservation industries.
Kwantu Private Game Reserve CEO Shakir Jeeva today said “wildlife and conservation volunteering programmes are gateways to balancing the scales of gender equality in the industry.”
Jeeva said he believed change is occurring in wildlife tourism and conservation based on admission statistics to Kwantu’s volunteer programme.
“Since the start of our volunteer programme 80% of all volunteers have always been women, and 10% of volunteers have received training in the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) course,” he said.
“We should not forget that volunteering is gateway and indeed offers an articulation path to field guide and game ranger qualifications,” he said.
Natalie Koch from Northern Ireland is volunteering at Kwantu for the second time this year.
Koch who graduated with a masters in Animal Behaviour and Welfare completed her FGASA Level 1 training at Kwantu over a period of eight weeks earlier this year.
“After I graduated I was looking to gain experience working with animals. I started looking up volunteering opportunities and came across the ranger course at Kwantu and it seemed the perfect opportunity to gain this experience,” she said.
During her first eight-week stay at Kwantu, she obtained her FGASA’s Level 1 Nature guide qualification.
“My course involved taking classes to prepare for the theory exam and learning how to take guests out on game drives, practising drives helped us prepare for the practical exam. My favourite class was animal behaviour as I got to learn how to track animals such as lions and my favourite part of my stay in Kwantu was going out on drives and seeing the elephants in their natural habitat,” she said.
Koch had only spent three weeks back home, spending time with family and friends, before returning to South Africa.
Her friends and family were very supportive of her return South Africa.
“I came back to Kwantu as I was offered the chance to return as a ranger intern having successfully obtained my Level 1 nature guide qualification the first time I was at Kwantu. I loved my first time at Kwantu and couldn’t wait for the chance.
Koch who had a love for animals from a very young age says her goal is to further her education and share her knowledge with others.
“My time at Kwantu has made me realise how much I enjoy teaching and sharing my own passions and knowledge with people. When I go home I would like to obtain a teaching qualification so I can become a teacher of animal behaviour. I still would like to learn more about animal behaviour so I may also consider obtaining a PhD, which will help increase my research skills.”She said volunteering is viewed as a great opportunity to obtain work and life experience.“Most of the people I know from home who volunteer have a background in animal science and want a career working with animals but I have met people from all backgrounds during my time volunteering. I think a lot people from home volunteer to have the opportunity to gain experiences they couldn’t back home.”