Me brushing one of the sanctuary's rescued cheetahs
A couple of years ago I took the plunge and booked my first volunteer trip in Africa. Not only was I going to be volunteering in a completely alien country to me but I was going to be doing it solo. I booked to volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary through a third-party website who didn't actually tell me the name of the sanctuary I would be working at. Good research on my part, huh? As a result, I did zero preparation. I only knew I was going to be around animals as I had seen photos of volunteers cuddling orphaned baboons and taking majestic cheetahs for walks. I also knew it was in Namibia. Other than that nothing. Not even the foggiest clue about whereabouts in Namibia it even was. A more sensible individual could have probably emailed the company to find out more but I guess I like to live life on the edge.
In this article I will compile a list of all information I can think of to help you prepare for your volunteering experience - in other words, all the information I really could have done with knowing myself.
Or perhaps you are still debating whether or not to volunteer at N/a'an ku sê wildlife sanctuary and have some questions you'd like answering. I'll try my best to go through everything! If I don't answer your question in this article, you may wish to leave a comment below (I reply to all comments!) or check out my in-depth day to day experiences whilst volunteering at N/a'an ku sê - my 'dairy' as you may wish to call it.
So let's get into the juicy details!
Me with some of my new volunteer friends taking the baboons for a walk
Is N/a'an ku sê wildlife sanctuary the right volunteer programme for you?
With so many different volunteer programmes available throughout Africa, it's so important that you find one that fits your needs. N/a'an ku sê wildlife sanctuary offers a very versatile programme so there's a good chance it will be perfect but hey, it's good to know more about a programme before booking it!
What does the Volunteer Programme Involve?
There are many aspects to N/a'an ku sê wildlife sanctuary including the main sanctuary, the Clever Cubs School, the Lifeline Clinic and Neurus wildlife estate (to give a few!). When you sign up to the volunteer programme, you will mainly be based at the main sanctuary with opportunities to go to the other parts. You will therefore mainly be around animals.
If you are going to volunteer at the sanctuary, it's important you have an interest in African wildlife as this will be the key aspect of the project. This may sound obvious but a couple of people who I met whilst volunteering were a little disappointed that they couldn't spend more time around people in the Clever Cub School and Lifeline Clinic.
One of the sanctuary's rescued leopards that you can feed during the carnivore feeding activity
How Does the Volunteer Programme Operate?
When you arrive at N/a'an ku sê wildlife sanctuary, you will be allocated to a team with a team leader. There are a couple of different teams - the exact number will vary depending on how many volunteers there are at that given time. When I visited it was apparently the highest number of volunteers in record (70) and so there were numerous teams which consisted of around 6 people each.
There is a rota of jobs that need doing. Each team will to a different job. This is great as it means your days are incredibly varied. The jobs work on a 2-weekly cycle so every 2 weeks the jobs will repeat.
The jobs are pretty varied but to give you an idea of the kind of thing you can do, here are some examples:
Carnivore feeding: throwing food to the sanctuary's big predators
Baboon walks: walking some orphaned baboons for a walk
Meal prep: preparing the food for the baboons and farm animals. It's messy!
Research: this can range from looking at the tracking on released animal collars to learning the technology behind the collars to checking camera traps around the reserve
There are many more activities which can vary depending on the time of year you visit and exactly what needs doing. For example, I got to build a house for a fox and help build a road to the bushman village.
What does a Typical day at the Sanctuary look like?
Each day is off to an early start, waking up before 7am for breakfast. At breakfast-time you will be told what your jobs are for the day. Each day consists of 2 jobs, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, separated by a lunch break. The afternoon job finishes around 5pm where you can then wind down for the evening, eat dinner and have fun with the rest of the volunteers. It's up to you when you go to bed!
A cheetah at the sanctuary, rescued from life as a pet. Here we were taking part in a 'research' activity and trying to get clear paw prints from the cheetah
How Do You Take Part in Additional Activities?
Taking part in additional activities is rather straight-forward. The staff will tell you what is available and you can put your name down on a list. Additional activities include visiting the Clever Cub School which you can do instead of a regular day activity. You can visit the school a couple of times a week.
You can also volunteer to look after a baby baboon for the night. There's no limit to the amount of times you can do this for. But let me tell you, it's hard work! I tried it for one night and it's certainly a once in a lifetime experience that I'm so glad I got to do. However, it wasn't easy. I learnt that I was not quite ready for motherhood yet!
Volunteering at Neurus is something that I sadly didn't get to experience. You can take a week off your regular activities to volunteer here and meet some of the sanctuary's other animals. As it takes a week, I recommend this option if you are volunteering for more than 2 weeks in total at N/a'an ku sê wildlife sanctuary.
How Long Should You Volunteer For?
I volunteered for 2 weeks and it just wasn't long enough! I got through a full rota at the sanctuary but I truly regret not going to Neurus for a week and remember, the longer you're there, the more you get to see. Activities can vary a lot depending on the day you do it. One day you may have a very calm walk with the caracals, on another they could be stalking something. Also, the weekend activities change too. On my first Saturday, I got to clean the lion enclosure whereas on my second, I got to visit the bushman village and learn about bushman life. Who knows what would happen the next Saturday?
I won't ramble too much here! I'd recommend at least 1 month to fully embrace time at N/a'an ku sê wildlife sanctuary.
One of the sanctuary's first rescues was this cheetah and her sister
Volunteering Solo Vs Volunteering with Friends & Family
When I volunteered at N/a'an ku sê, I took the plunge and volunteered solo. I doubted that any of my friends at the time would be interested and I wasn't prepared to miss out on something that I'd always wanted to do so I booked my tickets and stay. Obviously, I was scared, especially in the run-up to the trip. I remember asking myself "what was I doing?" and dreading it. I even rang up the sanctuary the day before double-checking I was booked. However, my mood changed as soon as I arrived. I was greeted by numerous people in the exact same situation as me, volunteering solo. As a result, it was so easy to make friends. Within days, I was chatting to people like I had known them for a while and obviously we had a same common interest as we were all here, which made it so effortless.
There were also several people volunteering with friends and family. They were still able to socialise but I do truly think that volunteering solo allows you to make better friends. I'm also a believer in pushing yourself out of your comfort zone as that's when amazing things can happen.
One of our activities involved cleaning out the lion enclosure and to do that the lions had to be sedated
N/a'an ku sê Volunteering Packing List
When volunteering at N/a'an ku sê, there are a couple of essentials that you need to take with you.
For information on what clothing to bring, I have a whole article on that here. It really isn't as easy as you might think!
Essentials You Must Take With You
Water Bottle: You will need this! Activities can be tiring and you will be working through the heat. There's a point in the volunteer area where you can top-up your bottle and I recommend doing this before every outing.
Camera: If you could bring just one item, this would be it! There's so many opportunities for amazing photos as you are so close to animals all the time. Plus, who wouldn't want to remember such an amazing experience!
Telephoto Lens: This links in with bringing a camera but you'll definitely want a zoom lens. On some activities, the animals are a little further away and the standard lenses that come with cameras cannot zoom sufficiently enough. I bought a 70-300mm telephoto lens and have never missed a shot since!
Sunscreen: You don't want to burn.
Mosquito Repellant:Sleeping bag: Whilst there are beds, you may wish to have a sleeping bag as well. That way you know it's clean and also in peak-season (May-September), Namibia is freezing at night so having a sleeping bag provides extra warmth.
Back-pack: An essential for carrying around all your must-have items on activities.
Money: Meals are included within your volunteer package but if you want to buy anything else such as additional food and snacks from the shop or even clothing, you'll need money. Additional activities also cost extra. Remember, currency in Namibia is the Namibian Dollar but they also take South African Rand.
Whilst that is all my specific information on volunteering at N/a'an ku sê, you can find tonnes more information about Namibia in general such as what injections to have, safety in Namibia and much more in my ultimate guide to Namibia.
I hope you enjoyed this article!
My Experiences in Namibia
If, like me, you like to read about personal experiences, learning all those ins and outs of a country, then you may wish to check out my blog posts of each day I spent in Namibia. There you can find all my honest thoughts and fears and in-depth information on what I liked and what I didn't like. Check it out!