Sarah Skoglund Klein, Elephanatics Rhino Education Facilitator, sends us her blog. Written when she volunteered in South Africa and Kenya with rhinos, enjoy her experiences as she works with some of the most endangered species on earth.
South Africa, October 2014:
In October 2014, I set off for my first trip to Africa, by myself, to volunteer in rhino conservation. I went through an organization called African Conservation Experience. They have many projects throughout South Africa and I landed on a program called “Care for the Wild”.
This facility focuses on orphaned rhino care, however, they also care for many other animals subjected to injury or who have been orphaned.
I was there for 15 days. Other than 1 day off to see the absolutely amazing Kruger National Park, I worked everyday and I loved it. My days were approximately 13 hours long, taking care of infant rhinos, who were all orphaned due to their mothers being poached.
The first feed came at 6 AM, so I had to be up about 5 AM. Getting dressed (in the cold as the cabins do not have heat or hot water) and preparing the formula, was a bit challenging at times! Throughout the day I continued to feed the babies anywhere between seven and nine times. Each time required making the formula and cleaning the bottles for the next feed. The other tasks were shovelling an awful lot of baby rhino poop, cleaning out their night pans, cleaning out their boma and basic maintenance of their enclosure.
It’s hard to describe what it’s like to work with a vulnerable baby rhino whose complete welfare is in the hands of volunteers. Out of all the things I did while I was there, the most glorious time was the 1 minute or so it took the baby rhinos to suckle down the entire bottle I gave them fist thing in the morning. What a glorious feeling it was to share 7-9 minutes of each day with these babies. It was absolutely phenomenal as I looked into the eyes of these innocent animals while they nursed off the bottle I prepared because their mother was no longer there to nurse them herself.
I also helped care for lions, monkeys, owls, serval cats, a hippo and a few other animals who called care for the while they’re home.
Most of my time in South Africa was spent at the orphanage itself so I did not get to experience too much of the culture. But, my one day at Kruger national Park, was heaven on earth and I had an exciting afternoon in town where everybody I met was warm and welcoming.
At the end of my 15 days I felt like I helped keep a handful of baby rhinos happy and healthy and I will be back to do it again.
Kenya, September 2016:
After my first trip to Africa in 2014, I knew I was going to return as I became addicted to the continent. To further my experience with rhino conservation I decided to visit the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
This trip was quite different than my first volunteer trip as it was not nearly as hands on. I spent most my time observing and assisting rhino keepers and Rangers, I also had a lot more time to experience the local culture.
The most glorious part of this particular trip was meeting Sudan, Najin and Fatu. These are the last three Northern white rhinos remaining on the planet with Sudan being the only male. Not only is he the only male Northern white rhino left on the planet, he is now 44 years old and will not be with us much longer due to old age.
My days in Kenya consisted of assisting with basic rhino care and monitoring and observing the rhinos in the Conservancy.
I also went into town several times where I stood out like I’ve never stood out before in my life, but I always felt welcomed. It was an experience you cannot put into words. When I left Kenya, I left with some feelings of guilt, as the level of poverty in Kenya is much worse than any poverty we see here in the United States.
Going to Africa to volunteer puts reality right in your face. All the animals I worked with had suffered while others continue to suffer at the hands of mankind. The poaching crisis is at its all time worst, not only for rhinos but many other animals in Africa as well. If more people do not get involved we may lose the battle. It’s a battle I will never stop fighting until my last day on earth.
I am in the planning stages for my third trip back to Africa, and I cannot wait to place my feet back on African soil.