My name is Monique Douglas, 21 and I volunteered at Buffelsdrift from the 20th of June until the 4th of July 2017. I am a final year BA Humanities student at Stellenbosch University and was required by a course to do some job shadowing or volunteering in an area that interests us. I chose Buffelsdrift because they had a solid volunteering program with the adequate facilities as well as a variety of research and conservation activities.

Our volunteer program manager, Mariné was very enthusiastic and did her best to make me and my fellow volunteer as involved and comfortable in the new environment as possible. She was always available and prepared to help accommodate our needs (for example I wanted to spend some time working in reception and she arranged it with a smile). She is passionate about what she does and tried her best to show us some of the most beautiful spots and animals available.

The facilities were big safari tents (holding 4 people each, but I was alone as my counterpart was male so he lived in the neighboring tent).  The tents are on the premises but not close to the main Lodge, but close to the guide’s housing, yet we did not mingle with them unless it was necessary. The volunteers have their things to do and the guides go on with their normal work schedules.

The boma, communal kitchen and living area ( the Lion Square) is well equipped and has a nice atmosphere for a braai. On weekends it can get very still, so we went out and did some of the surrounding tourism activities (zipline at Cango Caves). The bathroom of my tent were a bit chilly in the winter because of the wind blowing through the wooden “walls”, but it was expected and a warm shower was always available. It also helped to shower as early as possible. As for creepy crawlies – I was there for two weeks and only saw two very small spiders in the bathroom. But I think that situation will change as it gets warmer. The only thing that was off-putting of the tent was that it shaked and jerk like mad when a strong wind blew, which can lead to some sleepless moments. But like the chilly situation in the bathroom, it is nature and as a volunteer on a game farm you learn quickly to live with it. Things on the farm and in the lodge are constantly changing and new challenges arrive every day, so you adapt and focus on the activity or project presented to you.

Highlights were identifying tracks and bones, chopping up elephant food (always a laugh), seeing and feeding the three feisty lions every day, riding on the safari Land Rover, spotting meerkats, finding surprises on bush cameras, seeing the resident Springbokke jump and “pronk”, making clay and dung pots, interacting with the elephants and their handlers, making paper- mache boxes and feeling tired but happy after a busy day.

But the thing that is most memorable for me is the different reactions of guests seeing the three elephants for the first time. They either gasped, froze in shock, laughed or swore. Some even started crying! It was amazing to see their fear turn into delight when they realized the elephants were very friendly gentle giants.

My advice to any future volunteers is: be willing to lend a hand anywhere it is necessary, be prepared to get dirty sometimes, dress accordingly (old/work clothes), be open-minded and know it gets very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer.

I really enjoyed my time at Buffelsdrift and wished I was there a bit longer but the experiences and memories will be with me forever.