“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” — Nelson Mandela
Thorough research must be and have been done to ensure the organization chosen is ethical. It is easy to be blinded by companies whom abuse the kind hearted via voluntary work opportunities as well as growth in tourism, with offers such as human interaction experiences with the supposedly wild lives. Understandably, it fascinates us mankind in either endearing or self-satisfactory ways recognizing the idea of coming up close and personal with beings we seldom cross path with, let alone deemed dangerous and impossible. Truth is, cubs (or other baby species) could be intentionally bred within ranches or sanctuaries, offered for petting and feeding and eventually grow to not be afraid of humans. When they are old enough, it is on the agenda to be released into the confined “wild” where canned hunting takes place for mankind’s redundant desire of trophies collection. Either that, or the animals are basically in captivity for business purposes, which can sometimes be caught in morally awkward situation. Some NGO-sanctuaries exist with the aim of rescuing those animals in captive from inappropriate breeding intent and those that could not return to the wild without adequate survival/hunting skills. As starters, for a piece of mind while I commence to explore deeper into this walk of life, a WWF-supported organization should/will never go wrong.
(Thoughts penned down in real time, despite publishing delays)
As I comfortably nestled myself on a two-seater wooden couch with feet stretched out onto a rattan armchair at the common area between the sleeping and kitchen huts of Wildlife Act’s research camp, while battling the inconsistency of the (weak) network in this rural area and documenting this journey simultaneously, my heart is already filled to the brim nevertheless.
And I am only three days into it…
(Please be more forgiving: Short clip filmed and edited by yours truly, for the first time.)
May 8, 2017 — Despite lugging a bag of worries from home, with much excitement, I embarked on this journey of my furthest and greatest solo travel thus far. Tagged along a strong belief that I will love it.
Assuming it is rare; how an urbanized girl from the little Singapore ended up here and all by herself. A first to many I met along the way — from on to off flight, at the immigration counter, in Vodacom shop to cafeteria, at the domestic check-in counter to the involved volunteering parties and game reserve management. It is precisely, though not solely, the reason that would appropriately explains my presence here in Zululand, South Africa.
It was a (belated) birthday gift for myself; with adrenaline craving put aside this time round and sought for something no one (I know of) in my country has ever done, and probably no interest in (because what could animals contribute and/or do for us and society? Saying it on all of their — typical — behalf :P). Intended for something meaningful, educative in a foreign field yet close to my heart and most importantly, the constant yearn for something that feeds my soul. Definitely did not choose a place where I know I’d feel comfortable and assured, nor filled with alternative activities I could deviate to for selfish personal interests. The line of course established is to focus on the subject of interest — Wildlife Conservation: Animals. To be placed in the project sited on part of Isimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO world heritage site which in recent years had also included Mkhuze Game Reserve all the way to Mkhuze waterfalls, is an additional joy. I set out here not to be a tourist, but to learn and feel (out of my comfort zone) of what majority would highly unlikely do so. Hence, it allows me to not think and feel the same way as everybody else.
Introduction was interesting — Greeted by a considerably huge Golden Orb Weaving Spider hung at the top corner of our bedroom entrance on the one temporary night stay in Manyoni Game Reserve, formerly known as Zululand Rhino Reserve. Their large, strong web comes with a golden sheen under the sunlight. That on a first night, definitely sounded more beautiful than it looked.
Night fell and I was somewhat comfortably tucked in bed, under the blanket of a standard thread count, by a confused rhythm of buzzing right by my ear. To my horror, this long and slender worm-like fly with a pair of fore and hind wings — looking like a malnutrition dragonfly was hovering around my bedhead. It could be a (weak) damselfly… but of course, one of my roommates bravely swept it out of the window as she found me hiding entirely under the cover. The french girl next to me giggled while she had herself semi-hidden… Managed to put myself to a good rest for the night with a laugh though. At that instant, my subconscious mentally armed myself for more inevitably privileged meet and greet sessions with other (mini) wild lives.
While the warm sun’s glow gradually turned into heat in this African autumn, Mkhuze Game Reserve had us a lovely welcome visual experience during the monitoring session in the late morning. An impala fell prey to the fastest animal on the planet — Collared cheetah mom (MCF11) made a kill, dragged the carcass into a well-shaded bush. Together with her four juvenile cubs, the cheetah family nestled comfortably within a spot amidst the land of greens. Camouflaged. As silently as possible, I insinuate to the side railing on the back of our open vehicle. Watched them fed on their food source, had mommy lovingly cleaned them up in such wildly natural state and their beautifully formed eyes stared curiously at us through the gap between the leaves, all of which had muted my heartbeat, my breathing, and the buzzing of flies hovered around me. At that point, I am so glad to know we are all the same.
Time came for the golden blaze of rays to merrily light up the woodlands into a display of royalty in all its glory, at the same time better camouflaged the cheetahs in an embrace. While they stayed put, the light of glory dimmed and shadowed the earth; gradually swallowed by the dusking sky, we continued the evening drive on bumpy off-roads in almost desperate search of lioness (MLF10) and her (remaining) two yearling cubs — to no avail unfortunately. More background story on them in later post(s).
Braai off the night…