I’ve spent the past week volunteering at the N/a’an ku se wildlife sanctuary in Namibia – established in 2006 by Rudie and Marlice van Vuuren, with friends Chris Heunis and Jan Verburg, to protect and improve the lives of the country’s people and wildlife.
The world famous sanctuary provides a haven and second chance for countless injured, orphaned, and conflict animals. The sanctuary’s goal is to release them whenever possible so that they may be free to live a natural life in the wild. In the sanctuary, they have cheetahs, lions, leopards, troops of baboons, warthogs, meerkats, kudu, a beautiful Hartebeest called Elsa, herds of goats including a pygmy called Milo who loves to sleep in the fire pit, tortoises, horses, sheep, a stroppy vulture called Gomez, several cats, two dogs and several porcupines who snuffle around the camp and try to break into your tent at night.
If you love wildlife, then this is the place to be. The camp itself is basic but comfortable and the access to wildlife is unprecedented. Many of the animals are semi- tame and habituated so can no longer be released back into the wild. So far, I’ve walked cheetahs and caracal, carried smelly, large and sometimes boisterous baboons on my shoulders to a nearby waterhole for their daily walks and spent time grooming hairy warthogs and affectionate meerkats in their enclosures.
I’ve fallen in love with the baby baboons such as Lulu (pictured below) who is missing half an ear and one toe after she was cruelly used in witchcraft practice – her mother probably killed – and tiny Bobbie who only arrived at the sanctuary a couple of weeks ago after his mother was shot by a farmer. In Namibia, baboons are sadly regarded as pests and often shot on sight by Namibian farmers. At the sanctuary you get the fantastic opportunity to babysit the baby baboons in your tent overnight as they need to be bottle-fed nearly every three hours. You can read about my own babysitting experience by clicking here
There are also plenty of wild animals kept in enclosures on the farm further away from the sanctuary which N/a’an ku se hopes to release back into the wild. They also have to be fed on a daily basis – an activity which the volunteers also get involved in. Each day, the volunteers throw huge pieces of meat over the electrified fences to leopards, lions and cheetahs and do game counts to check on other wildlife on the property.
N/a’an ku se prides itself on its strong ethics with regards to both animal welfare and animals being kept in captivity. In accordance with Namibian law as stipulated by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), breeding with captive large carnivores is strictly forbidden, as is the touching of large carnivores.At N/a’an ku sê, they limit human contact with those large carnivores ear-marked for potential release, as habituation of any kind can lower their survival chances in the wild.
The sanctuary staff have incredible and close relationships with all of the habituated animals and dedicate themselves to making sure all wildlife at the sanctuary are well looked after, exercised, fed, enriched and given affection where applicable.
Namibia is hot, hot, hot, flat, dry and dusty but the sunsets are an explosion of colour, white popcorn clouds hang low in the clouds, red hills rise dramatically in the distance and the thunderstorms are some of the most spectacular I’ve seen. On a couple of walks across the enormous farm I’ve even been hit by a couple of mini dust tornados which leave you spitting dust and eyes filled with grit. The tornados are so small that they can often only be one person wide. When it rains, it really pours, and we have to be extra careful of scorpions, poisonous spiders and snakes – nature’s weathermen – which tend to surface just before it starts to rain.
There are about 35 volunteers at N/a’an ku se at the moment from all walks of life and around the world including New Zealand, Canada, Germany, Norway and the UK. Our accommodation consists mostly of shared tents complete with front porch, sleeping section and shared bathroom plus a ‘lapa’ where we have our daily meals, listen to music, swim in the pool and watch the sunsets. If you fancy a bit of luxury you can also book a couple of nights at the beautiful, rustic N/a’an ku se Lodge near the sanctuary which overlooks a dry canyon and has spectacular views of the sunrise.
Later this week, I’m off to the foundation’s research centres – Neuras and Kanaan in southern Namibia where we’ll be monitoring hyena, leopards and cheetah – before returning to the sanctuary for my final week.
I booked my volunteer programme through The Great Projects – thegreatprojects.com – and flew to Namibia from Nairobi, Kenya with South African Airways which included a brief stopover in Johannesburg in South Africa.