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Volunteer Review: Millie B., African Savannah Conservation in Kenya

A giraffe at our Conservation placement in Kenya

I went to Kenya for three weeks at the start of January 2018 to do the Conservation Project in Kenya, which focuses on protecting giraffes. I always knew I wanted to take a gap year before going to university and I had been considering all sorts of destinations all over the world. What decided it for me was a documentary I saw about giraffes, which reignited my childhood love for these creatures.

Six months later, there I was on a plane by myself, watching the sun set over the vast expanse that is Africa. It seemed like a sign of good things to come.

After my late night arrival, I was met by Collins, a Projects Abroad staff member, who accompanied me to the hotel. It didn’t take me long to get to sleep, but I was awoken at 5.30am to the sound of early traffic and prayer goers. It took me a while to process that I was really in Nairobi.

My first day in Kenya

A leopard at Soysambu Conservancy

The three-hour drive to Soysambu Conservancy meant we had to take a matatu (East Africa’s public transport in the form of minibuses). I was quite nervous, so I focused my attention on the view out the window. The dirty bustling city gave way to green farmland, with animals roaming freely amongst stalls by the side of the road with people selling fruit. Suddenly the view expanded into miles and miles of desert below us. I hadn’t realized how high up we were and I certainly wasn’t expecting to see cacti in Kenya!

After stopping in Gilgil to get money and a SIM card, we set off by taxi to Congreve House. As we were driving through the conservancy, there seemed to be very few animals. I was feeling a bit disheartened until, through the dust, we saw a jeep heading towards us. Both vehicles pulled up and, amongst some confusion, I got into the other jeep and joined the other volunteers and two of the rangers. They were so welcoming and explained that they were on their way to see some lions that had been spotted by another ranger. Sure enough, there they were, on the other side of the fence lying under a tree!

My Conservation placement at Soysambu Conservancy

A lion spotted by Conservation volunteers

From the routine of activities each week, I soon discovered that the lack of animals on my first drive through the conservancy had been an unlucky coincidence. Every day, we would see giraffe and zebra and gazelle and all sorts of other fascinating animals. I was even lucky enough to glimpse two leopards slinking into the bushes one evening when we were out lion monitoring. This was an activity we did at least once a week, with varying degrees of success at finding them.

A firm favorite activity of mine and most other volunteers was giraffe surveying. We would drive around the conservancy staring intently out the windows, shouting “GIRAFFE!” at the first sign of these beautiful creatures. We would then get closer to photograph and record details about where they’d been found.

It was always so exciting to find a large group of them, but very challenging to take a picture of each one (they don’t like to stand still). These pictures are used to identify them. Everyone had a huge amount of affection for a small giraffe called Dirty - so named from a skin condition he has - who always seemed to be on the outside of the group.

A view of Hells Gate National Park in Kenya

Other activities included wetland and terrestrial bird surveying, and de-snaring. We would patrol areas of the scrubland, searching for snares carefully concealed by poachers. This is hard work in the hot sun, but very rewarding considering you are truly saving animals’ lives. We went out in a team with the conservancy rangers and there was a great sense of camaraderie between everyone as we dug up the traps.

For the rest of the time, we worked on the laptop to identify the giraffes we had seen, or relaxed in the house or garden. There was always a great atmosphere in the house, which might have been something to do with the complete diversity of people. Everyone comes from different parts of the world and completely different backgrounds, and I really enjoyed learning more, not only about Kenyan culture, but about other people’s countries and lives too.

Weekend outings

An eco-stove made for women in a local community

It seemed to be an unspoken rule that volunteers would all organize a day trip together for the weekend. The first Saturday I was there, we hired bikes to cycle through Hell’s Gate National Park. A guide cycled with us and gave us a tour through the gorges at the end. These were amazing to explore. I took so many photos. There was also a convenient spot there to have lunch. Or so we thought, until we realized we were under siege from a troop of vervet monkeys who were out to take our food! It’s safe to say we didn’t stay there long.

Things I’ve taken home with me (excluding the insect I found in my rucksack)

The time I spent in Kenya has given me so many amazing memories. One of the highlights was the community outreach project we did in my last week. We were helping to install energy saving cookers in the homes of elderly women, where they had been using open fires before. It was such a simple thing, yet it will hopefully make a huge difference to them and their families. They were so grateful, which was certainly very humbling.

Millie B.

This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.

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