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Conservation in South Africa and Peru

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Vicky Philpott

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Written by: Anita Talby

My Conservation Experience

Ever felt stuck in a rut? Ever felt like you’ve just done nothing exciting with your life?
Well you’ve come to the right place to change that. A few months ago I was feeling like I just needed to do something different and get out of my comfort zone. I looked on the internet, probably as you are doing now, and saw Projects Abroad. It offered flexibility with starting dates and all the projects looked amazing. I decided to take a three-month break there and then. I booked two months of conservation in Peru and one month of conservation in South Africa.

Conservation in Peru

Frogs Projects Abroad
I had never travelled alone before. Peru! What a mammoth journey to pick. The views from the plane from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado were breathtaking and well worth all that travelling. But nothing prepared me for the final leg of my journey, a one and a half hour boat ride down the Madre de Dios River. I can’t even put into words how beautiful the scenery was, you see similar things on television but to actually see it with your own eyes and be there is extraordinary. I’ll never forget that first journey.
Arriving at Taricaya Lodge, my home for the next two months, was very exciting. The accommodation is basic but that all adds to the adventure. The jungle noises were incredible. I wondered how I’d ever be able to sleep, but you soon get used to it.
The array of animals that are rehabilitated at Taricaya is incredible – spider monkeys, Capuchin monkeys, parrots, toucans, tapirs, coatis (my favourite!) and a jaguar, to name a few. My first job whilst at Taricaya was to prepare the food for the animals. I have never chopped so much fruit in my life, but it was great fun, especially actually feeding the animals. Others jobs included donkey training, bird watching, trail clearing, cleaning out the animals, building cages and collecting fruit. We were also given talks on the work and research carried out at Taricaya and the issues faced by the rainforest.
All the staff were great and the work is so worthwhile, it makes you feel good that you can do your little bit. We also went on frog hunts, bat hunts and a caiman hunt – my personal favourite.
One of the main projects while I was at Taricaya was the turtle breeding programme. It was awesome seeing the hatching of these tiny turtles as they dug through the sand to reach the top of the purpose built sandpits. We released six hundred into the river with the help of some local children which made it an even more special occasion.
Projects Abroad gap year view
My adventure at Taricaya came to an end all too quickly and then it was off for the next part of my journey, to do Conservation in South Africa!

Conservation in South Africa

The tiny plane from Johannesburg to Polokwane really tested my nerve. Then it was off to the Country Blue Lodge for probably one of the best sleeps of my life, 13 hours straight, I was so tired. Arriving at the magical Kwa Tuli block is also something I’ll never forget. Sitting on the back of the truck I saw my first sighting of wildlife – numerous impala running free (the first of many). It was just fantastic. Soon I arrived at my accommodation with its stunning scenery and beautiful bush camp set up. Showering under the stars will make your own shower seem very boring!
Every day on the project is different, and tasks involved research drives, data entry, building bridges, clearing wire fences and bird walks to name a few. Volunteers take it in turns to cook the evening meals by lantern light which is great fun. If you take just one thing with you though, I would recommend a head torch – invaluable as there is no electricity – and makes cooking at night much easier. Beware of the bugs though. Many evenings were spent sitting round the fire eating dinner. It was very relaxing.
The Projects Abroad staff arranged many different activities so it wasn’t all work. We visited a nature reserve to track lions and within 25 minutes we were parked a few metres away from twin lionesses, a male lion and their three cubs. Watching these animals in the wild was totally mesmerising. We also visited a local school where the children sang and performed plays for us. This was definitely one of the highlights for me. The children were fantastic and it was such a good trip.
The scariest moment of my whole trip was not angry elephants, poisonous snakes or scorpions but when I took a midnight toilet trip only to come face to face with the affectionately named porcupine Brian. He was absolutely huge and came charging towards me in as much of a panic as I was. I had to jump onto the sideboard in the kitchen to avoid full on contact. This chance meeting still haunts me now. Night time toilet visits were never made alone again!
Projects Abroad porcupine
On my last day we visited a cheetah conservation project and managed to track Chaos and Mayhem, the resident cheetahs. I was able to stand just a few feet away from them and watch them lounging in the shade. However, I had yet to see one of my favourite animals during my stay, the giraffe, but on this, my last day, as we were travelling along, Jamie brought the truck to an abrupt halt and to my right stood staring directly at us was a beautiful giraffe. It was like a goodbye gift from the wild!
So that’s a short summary of some of the many things I did in my three month break that made me realise there really is more to life, more than you can possibly imagine. It totally changed my perspective on things, gave me a new lease of life and opened my eyes to a whole new world! So what are you waiting for?

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