Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Khama Rhino Sanctuary

zebra and wildebeest at the pans

My major nature conservation work here in Botswana has been at Khama Rhino Sanctuary. I came in through the Botswana Workcamp Association, which was the most feasible way for me to volunteer in the sanctuary. I was there for two weeks at the end of November and returned in December for another two week stint.

Khama Rhino Sanctuary entrance
Khama Rhino Sanctuary is a non-profit community based conservation organization operated by the three neighboring villages of Serowe, Paje, and Mabeleapudi. It’s about 8500 hectares of protected land intended primarily to conserve the white rhino and black rhino populations, though there’s tons of other wildlife as well. There’s a perimeter fence which keeps animals in (most of the time) and poachers out (ideally). Both are capable of breaking through, like the pair of sparring kudu who crashed through several fenceposts one day during my time there. But the fence certainly makes one question the real definition of “wild.” Which is just what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s one of the major questions of my fellowship year.

But, this is supposed to be a travel blog, and I’m reluctant to post my yet-unarticulate philosophic mumbo-jumbo here. I want to tell you more about the rad things I’ve been doing.

I’ve been seeing so many animals that I never expected to see in real life, as well as (to be perfectly honest) some that I’d never even heard of before. In a lot of ways, this year is revealing so much of my ignorance and exposing me to listen to new stories, new ideas, new lifestyles, and new life histories. Nearly every day at Khama Rhino, on the drives between our campsite in the bush and our worksites at other places in the bush, I saw wildlife.

White Rhinos
Zebra, wildebeest, impala, warthog and white rhino were a nearly daily sight. I saw giraffe, kudu, eland, spring hares and springbok less commonly. The rarest sightings were a tortoise, chameleon, spotted hyena, jackal, and the crown jewel, a young leopard. Alas I didn’t always have my camera handy, but I felt incredibly blessed to witness these animals in the flesh in their real lives.

And I haven’t even mentioned the birds! Perhaps I’m listing too many things in this blog, but my life is flooded with all these amazing creatures. My heart is the ark and we’re set sail for far longer than forty days. Some of my favorite birds to see so far were the Maribu Storks (considered one of the Ugly Five that juxtapose Africa’s Big Five animals), Yellow-billed Kite, Go-away Bird (Grey Lorrie), and Crimson-breasted Shrike. Even the common Cape Turtledove that sings Bot-tswaaa-na Bot-tswaaa-na.

I’ve also seen so many neat bugs! Praying mantises have become my dear friends here. They are just too cool with all their different varieties. They all seem to love landing on me and climbing all over my arms and under my collar. It’s a bit tickly, but it feels like a blessing. The dung beetles zip across the pans at a zillion miles an hour and look like little hulks when they walk on land, deflty pushing balls of scat backwards in front of them.

The actual work at Khama Rhino often felt tangential to the wildlife, but I’m learning about how these tasks relate to the work of conservation overall. The people I met were an interesting mix of true nature lovers passionate about wildlife and others who liked wildlife but saw their involvement at the sanctuary as merely a job. Perhaps they’d rather be a nurse of a teacher or a taxi driver, but there’s work available here. Conservation is a business, and there are a lot of stakeholders.

After working, we cooked everything by open fire and I became good friends with the other volunteers as we chatted late into the night by the fireside. Fires and rivers and animals. I could watch them all forever.

More soon.


firewood collection in the pick up truck selfie

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