"As an aspiring conservation scientist, my experience within the Nkombi volunteer programme was amazing. Not only I had the opportunity to follow my research interests working on large mammals, but I also learned a lot about the conservation in South Africa. I loved the fact that there are many research projects on different taxonomical categories, and you can focus more on the ones that match with your research interests. My best experience was to work with the southern white rhino, a species threatened by poaching. I gained knowledge regarding the current situation; fact that motivated more me to continue on my path. At the same time, the people working in the reserve are very dedicated to their job, and you can see their passion from far. In my opinion, this place gives a great opportunity for aspiring researchers or conservationists to learn and act for the conservation of biodiversity."
"My experience at Nkombi was an eye opener into the complexity and importance of the management of such a diverse environment. It has reinforced the importance of conservation and the protection of valued species. The hard work, dedication and knowledge of the team and the way they make you feel a part of the family is so comforting when so far away from home. To know that the activities I participated in such as grass surveys and behavioural studies actually contribute towards real research projects being undertaken by scientists and PHD students is so rewarding. Nothing is ever to much trouble and the team will go out of their way to ensure you get the best experience. Overall, a life changing experience I will never forget and I would recommend it to anyone with or without previous animal knowledge or background."
"My time at Nkombi has truly been one of the best times of my life. Between the amazing friendships I made, the varied and stimulating activities and, of course, the truly incredible reserve, it is hard to decide what was the best part of my time at Nkombi. Not only did I get to closely observe many different animals, I also got to assist in data collection that will go toward making a long term impact on the survival of the animals and the species. I was able to challenge myself and expand my knowledge and skills in hands on and written data collection. The days off were huge amounts of fun. With my time there, I love knowing that not only was I able to have fun but have also participated in having an impact on conservation that is tangible. I cannot wait for the opportunity to return to my second family!"
"I first came to volunteer at Mankwe back in 2019, and that trip has changed my life.
Each day brought a new challenge, whether it was identifying giraffe and tracking animals, or checking for snares on foot patrols and undertaking burn management, to name just a few of the tasks we carried out, all in the most idyllic setting you can imagine. Working alongside such a friendly, knowledgeable, and welcoming team just added to the whole experience.
Not only do you get to spend a lot of time on the reserve, but the days out are extra special. One in particular, Pilanesburg National Park, which was just 15 minutes away. You get up at 4am and witness the most incredible sunrise over the dunes while the animals slowly wake up. After a wonderful day of driving around spotting all the African wildlife you can think of, I was very excited to get back to Mankwe, a place that felt like home.
One experience that was most precious to my heart was getting up close to the rhino. For a short while, all I could feel was the beauty of the moment: me, the rhino, the sound of munching as they grazed. Time quite simply stood still, nothing else existed. Whether you are passionate about animals or not, your heart will just stop at the sight of these beautiful, endangered and gentle giants.
There are no words to describe the feeling you have when you see and even hear the animals in their natural habitat for the first time. And that sense of happiness, serenity and awe will stay with you forever.
Between the surreal sunrises and sunsets, the distant sounds of birds, wildebeest and jackals, I had to remind myself daily that this isn’t a dream but reality, and how lucky I was to be there."
Ella Le Borgne
"During my stay I was involved with lots of management and maintenance – fixing road signs, clearing areas, carrying out VCIs (Veld Condition Index to assess the veld grass composition), helping with student groups and their activities, going on day and night patrols, assisting with game capture, body indexing animals and so on.
The programme is very well organised. They have set tasks that they need help from volunteers with so you feel like your presence is appreciated and not a burden, but they also let you have a say in what you would be interested in participating in. The staff are incredible, not only are they friendly and welcoming, but they are also remarkably supportive, caring and patient.
This volunteer programme has been one of the best things I have ever done. It not only showed me that conservation was what I wanted to spend my life working on at the young age of 17, but it is also where I have met some of the most inspirational, beautiful, kind, strong and down-right sensational people in my life. It will forever have a place in my heart, along with the incredible people who make it possible."
"I first visited the reserve where the Nkombi Volunteer Programme is based back when I was studying at university studying wildlife conservation. Through this trip I learnt about the volunteer programme that they offered there, and straight away I was interested.
My first time as a member of the volunteer programme was a moment I will never forget. I stayed for 1 month on this beautiful reserve, surrounded by the kindest people you can ever know. (I have returned since, and I will in the future). They organised many different activities for us to be involved in, such as game drive/walks, research projects, data collection, and anti-poaching training, to name a few.
You do really become one with the wildlife, in a bubble of beauty. I felt so lucky to be able to have this opportunity, to be able to help protect the animals and contribute to the conservation of the reserve.
The skills I learnt while on the programme where in-valuable. Not only did I become a stronger person in yourself, but I also gained the knowledge of the habitat around me, the animals, tracking, and the global crises surrounding rhino horn.
That is one thing which will always stick with me, seeing a rhino in its natural habitat for the first time. Seeing how each one shines, through their personalities, there care, and the amazing bond they have with the people that care and protect them. Seeing the babies bouncing around will put a smile on anyone’s face.
I would recommend this programme for anyone who wants an experience of a lifetime. To students, photographers, or anyone who wants to try something new. You become part of a family that you will hold forever."
"Whilst there I took part in a range of activities including; controlled burns to ensure there is fresh grass for the wildlife, I assisted staff on game drives with students staying at camp on field trips. My favourite activity was visually monitoring and filling out Ethograms on certain animals. I also helped out with data entry, we carried out scientific research on the grass quality on the reserve and input the data onto the digital spreadsheets. On less busy days we carried out camp maintenance. We did things like clean the communal areas, paint cabins and clean/garden the campground.
The staff that work there are so welcoming and friendly, it feels like you’re joining the family. The staff are available 24 hours a day and are extremely supportive of any issues you may have. It is very social, you are likely to make friends for life. There’s communally cooked dinner every night and special occasions call for a braai, a South African style BBQ around the campfire. Living in the bush is very unpredictable but this program runs smoothly due to the effort of the staff.
Situated in the middle of the bush the views were amazing and sometimes animals like giraffes and antelope come into or near camp to graze. I would 100% recommend this program to anybody, it is life changing."
"Pre-booking a 2 month stay at Nkombi during my gap year was one of the best decisions I have made in my life. Travelling alone to South Africa at 18 years old was slightly intimidating, but I arrived to a warm welcome at Nkombi that put me at ease immediately. My lingering home sickness quickly dissipated as I ate a home cooked dinner surrounded by other volunteers; many of whom were graduates in degrees I was considering.
As a volunteer, I assisted college and university students on their field courses at Mankwe. I in turn was able to ask the older students for advice regarding my own upcoming university course.
Volunteering gave me valuable practical experience and helped me build up a stronger personal statement for my UCAS application and served as the ‘residential’ portion of my Duke of Edinburgh Gold award. But most importantly, I made some lifelong friends who I miss dearly. I enjoyed it so much that I found myself a job and worked hard in order to be able to return to South Africa."
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