After 3 plane journeys and over a day's worth of travelling, I finally arrived in Namibia. Since visiting Africa last year, in 2012, I had been determined to go back. In fact, as soon as I got back from Zambia last year, I almost immediately booked my trip to Namibia. Namibia was my first solo trip and I was quite frankly terrified, yet completely excited at the same time. I hadn't asked anyone to come with me - first of all, I didn't think any of my friends would be interested in volunteering at a wildlife sanctuary for 2 weeks, but also, it just felt right.
I arrived very late on and was greeted by 2 other volunteers and one of the sanctuary's staff members. From the airport, we embarked on a minibus ride which took around 1 hour. I was exhausted and practically falling asleep. A mixture of both nervousness and excitement kept me awake. I saw my first wildlife sighting on the bus ride - a black-backed jackal. The jackal was in the road, almost completely oblivious to our vehicle travelling along the dirt road. It was ahead of us, maintaining a steady trot, its bushy black tail swinging elegantly behind it. Our bus driver thought it would be funny to follow right behind it, causing the animal to break into a run, yet it still refused to leave the road. We must have been following the canine for around 10 minutes before it finally veered off into the undergrowth.
We reached the gates of N/a'an ku sê reserve and once through the barrier, we travelled along a narrow dirt road for a long time. It really makes you realise just how big the reserve is when it takes you so long to get to the heart of it. We finally arrived. I was incredibly nervous as I disembarked from the bus and was guided to my sleeping place. Apparently N/a'an ku sê were seeing the highest number of volunteers in record (78) and so the house was full. They had set up several tents outside of the main volunteer house and I was going to be staying in 1 of those tents with a tent-mate. My tent was called 'Steenbok', after a little antelope native to southern Africa. My tent-mate had already arrived earlier that day and was sleeping. Needless to say, I woke them up with my arrival and got to chat a bit before I went to sleep - she was called Claire.
The next morning, we were up sharply at 6.30 and finally I got to see my surroundings.
1 of 3 orphaned cheetah cubs
Black-backed jackal chilling under a truck
There were so many animals. I passed several enclosures, some of which were home to cheetahs, others to baboons. There were also many animals wandering around including Polo the meerkat, 2 mongooses, 1 gazelle and 1 black-backed jackal. There were also at least 3 dogs.
N/a'an ku sê is a wildlife sanctuary who take in orphaned and rescued animals. If the animal is healthy and wild, the sanctuary release the animal back into the wild, in an area where it hopefully won't come into contact with humans. If the animal is orphaned or too badly injured, the sanctuary will take the animal in and look after it for its entire life. Conflict between farmers and wildlife is prominent in Namibia and Africa in general. Many farmers will kill an animal that comes too close to their cattle and sometimes they discover that the animal had young. Often N/a'an ku sê are called to take the orphan into their care. Sometimes farmers will trap the animals and N/a'an ku sê are called to relocate them so that they will not be a problem for the farmer anymore.
Polo the meerkat
A hungry gazelle
On my first day I was allocated to a team with a team leader. Volunteers are split into teams of around 6-8 people and the teams alternate different tasks across the reserve. For my first day, we went to the striped hyena enclosure to drop off food for the hyenas and to clean up the enclosure. Striped hyenas are very elusive predators and incredibly wary of humans, hence it was safe to enter their enclosure. They are also largely nocturnal.
Somehow, we lost a member of the team. We were calling and calling in the hyena enclosure. The odds of her being attacked by a striped hyena are virtually none but still, you can't help but feel worried when she disappears in a predator's enclosure. Ten minutes passed and she was no where. Note, this enclosure is not like a zoo enclosure. It covers a massive stretch of ground, taking around an hour or so to pace the perimeter.
We had to split up. We did it tactfully to avoid anyone else becoming lost. We all lined up a few metres apart from one another at one end of the enclosure and parallel to one another, started to cross to the other side. We continued to call her name as we walked.
As I trudged through the undergrowth, I remember seeing a flash of brown out the corner of my right eye. I turned my head sharply to see what I'm certain was the blurred figure of a striped hyena as it dashed out of sight, likely to the safety of one of its burrows.
We eventually found out lost team-mate. She was very startled as we approached her, completely oblivious to the worry which she had caused.
On my second day, our team's task was 'Food Prep'. This task involved preparing food for some of the rescued animals including: baboons, the farm animals, the gazelle and Samira the cheetah. Most of the animals ate something called mieliepap. Mieliepap is Afrikaans for maize porridge. We had to mix in leftover fruit and vegetables to the mielipap and then it was ready to serve!
Samira the cheetah required a special dish of her own and I had the honours of preparing this for her. Samira was raised as a pet and fed dog-food her entire life. When she was finally rescued, her teeth were all rotten due to being fed a poor dog-food diet. So, her meat has to be chopped into small cubes so that she could manage it.
Samira eating the food I prepared for her
The two local mongooses
We took part in another activity in the afternoon before unwinding for the evening by a fire pit outside. Despite my initial concerns about travelling alone, I was making friends very easily. I'm sure that if I'd travelled in a group, I probably would't have socialised anywhere near as much as I did whilst travelling alone.
As I indulged in my dinner and a native 'Savvanah' cider, I felt completely excited, wondering what my activities would be the next day.