What it means to be a LEO volunteer
Being a LEO volunteer is an experience that can change your life. It is a great opportunity to learn about conservation, wildlife monitoring and sustainable living and make lifelong friendships. All this while having exciting days out in the African bush!
The work that LEO carries out is of a great importance for the Marataba Section for the Marakele National Park, and for this reason it is taken very seriously by the whole team. When you come to LEO you spend about 11 hours a day in the bush in which you will both monitor 7 key species and take part in conservation activities. You will go back home with so many memories and a sense of achievement! You never know what you can find around the corner in the African bush, whether it is a lion, an elephant, an impala or an alien plant to be removed! Some days can be really exciting in terms of sightings while other days can be quieter; but the beautiful backdrop of the Waterberg Mountains will always make you smile during your time out on drive!
Life in the bush follows the rhythm of nature, and so we do, learning about appreciating the small things together with the big things and simply accepting the events as they come to us. Sometimes you look for a leopard for hours following the tracks without finding it, and other times you take a turn and you find it walking in front of the car for five minutes! Always be ready for an adventure and to take ID photos with your camera!
The days start early, but with the beautiful sunrises and the excitement ahead, you can’t wait to jump out of bed and get in the 4x4 for another day of adventures! Once back from drive, a good meal is waiting for you; meal times are a great time to talk about the day and discuss more about the sightings you’ve had and the conservation efforts LEO work so hard to achieve. After lunch there is some time off until the next drive but sometimes there may be a car wash and for some there's data input and photos to upload, all important for our ID kits and monthly report for the Park Manager. At LEO we are a real team, in which everyone does their bit, so duties go quickly and it is more fun!
Without LEO volunteers the Park would look very different. It is part of our responsibilities to scour the bush for 'rubbish'. The land used to be many smaller cattle farms. Some old fences, wires, broken glass and pottery and even electricity poles are still present in the Park, posing a risk to wildlife. All of this is collected by LEO volunteers, sorted and reused, recycled or sent to scrap. The environment is the base of everything, and without a healthy ecosystem, the wildlife and all the animals and vegetation would not exist!
For this reason, volunteers also play a vital part in the management of the eco-system of the Park. According to the time of the year, we focus on different activities. Now it is time to remove the annual alien plants for example, and there are real “challenges” between the volunteers on “who picks out the most”! Pretty funny and useful for nature! Thorny apples and pom pom weeds are not grazed by animals and take over areas, stopping grass and indigenous plants from growing. If we do not remove them, in a few years there won’t be any food left for the herbivores. Knowing this, it feels great when you know an area is cleared of harmful waste and alien plants – team work makes the dream work! Click here to watch the video about thorny apples removal!
All this work is for the benefit of the Park and its wildlife. It is a stunning place to call home. Of course spending so much time in the bush means we get to witness the magic of nature. Herds of 40 elephants playing and drinking in the water, lion cubs chasing after their mother, spotted hyenas on the hunt. Such sightings are unbelievable and have you smiling all week! All the hard work feels worth it when you get to spend time immersed in nature, observing the natural behaviour of the wild. Of course this still has a purpose. The Marataba Section of the Marakele National Park is home to the Big 5. Our time is spent monitoring and collecting data on these magnificent animals plus cheetah and hyena.
Back in the LEO office, photos from camera traps and the ones taken on the field by the volunteers are processed and identified; sightings added to our data collection which also need inputting on the computer. Each month LEO sends a report to the Park Manager. Data on sightings, activity, populations, locations and conservation work help the Management team make decisions on how to run the Park. Volunteers help LEO's dedicated staff in the office whilst on house duty. Once or twice a week each volunteer spends half a day at base. As well as the office work, there are other camp duties such as sorting the rubbish taken out of the Park and cooking for everyone. This is a chance to learn how everything we do in the bush comes together.
Not every week is the same however! LEO offers many other opportunities to experience activities such as sleep outs, camp fires, microlights flights, boat rides, wildlife darting and game capture (when requested by the vet and park manager). Obviously the longer you stay the more chance you have to experience everything and maybe catch a glimpse of one of the rarer animals such as a pangolin, aardwolf or African wild cat. Life in the bush is unpredictable, you never know what is going to happen next! That makes volunteering at LEO exciting and all the hard work worth it.
Last but not least, here at LEO you will be taught a lot about the importance of “thinking before acting” for our beloved environment and for your time here you will join our anti-plastic campaign, with the hope that once back home you will share this experience with many friends and continue to follow our tips to go plastic free (or almost!).
LEO couldn't conduct this vital work protecting the wildlife of Marataba without volunteers, who are our unique support at home, on the field and financially! LEO in fact provides a free service to the Park. If you are hard-working, enthusiastic and passionate about wildlife and conservation then we would love to have you at LEO.
We look forward to welcoming you soon!
The LEO Team