Last summer, 19-year-old Samantha Caunce set off on a massive volunteering adventure, caring for injured and abandoned lions, cheetahs, rhinos and more in South Africa. She told us more about her incredible experience.
What were you doing in South Africa?
I took part in the Moholoholo rehabilitation centre and the Zingela predator project through African Conservation Experience (ACE), each for two weeks. The rehab centre involved looking after the animals, keeping their enclosures clean and stuff like that, and the second one was about tracking the animals and watching them in their natural environment. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before! It was just amazing. How did you find out about ACE? When I was at school, they did a gap year fair and they sent leaflets and stuff around, so I had a look at that and decided I wanted to do it. I just love animals, and at the time I wanted to do zoology, so I thought it would help me get into uni.
What was a typical working day like?
In the rehab centre, there was an aviary which some people had to work on each day, so they’d get up at six to feed the birds. If you weren’t doing that, we had to get up at half six to do our rounds, see to all the animals and feed them. When that was all done, we went to breakfast at about eight o’clock. After that, we went back to clean out all the big cages and then we had our two to three hours in the afternoon off, where we got to sit with the animals, go in their cages and sit with them for a while. After we did that, there was time in the afternoon where you had to babysit the rhino – sit with her for a bit, check she was OK and not running off, charging at people. After that, we had to go and feed the animals again, same as morning, then it was dinner. We all went to bed really early because we were so tired!
Did you meet any interesting people while you were out there?
There were a lot of different nationalities there. There was a Guatemalan girl who I became quite good friends with. There were some English people, some Scottish people and some Brazilians.
What was the accommodation like?
In the rehab centre, it was like little lodge things which all had a few rooms with four beds, two beds or three beds. When we went to dinner we went into a hall – it was attached to the centre, a place for visitors to stay. At the other one, we lived in big tents with beds in them.
What sort of animals were you working with?
Loads! Cheetahs, lions, hyenas – the bush baby which was very cute, I liked that. Was it pretty surreal getting so close to wild animals? It was amazing. There was one cheetah there that was always in an enclosure on his own. Because he was used to people, you could put your fingers through the bars and stroke him. I’ve got a video of me scratching his belly and he was
purring really loudly. It was really cool! Moholoholo was incredible. You get to be so close to the animals, take the cheetahs for a walk, stuff like that – it was just amazing.
What advice would you give to people looking to take part in similar animal conservation projects?
Do it. Don’t worry about the money, because it’s worth it, 100%. It is a lot of money, and people will worry about that, but just do it and enjoy it. Every person that I did it with is planning on doing it again. I’d like to do another project, or go back to one of the same places.