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African Conservation Experience

Nature Conservation at Grass Roots Level

*Mawana Nature Reserve is situated on the Northern side of the South African/Botswanan border and is land formally occupied by a cattle ranch but is now a nature reserve and education centre.** The driving forces behind the project are Steve and Kerry and the reserve provides a safe haven for wild animals, which have been subjected to years of persecution by human inhabitants over not just a few years, but many generations. To get to the point where this safety can be secured, there is a lot of work to be done. That’s where volunteers like me come in.

So, what is the point of sending ½ dozen volunteers to such a massive area where there is so much to be done. Can you really achieve anything? The answer is ‘absolutely’! The sense of sheer achievement and pride that you get when you complete a section of area management is immense, although the work is hard, dirty and unglamorous, you do know that you have made a difference at the end of each day and the stiffness in your muscles reminds you of it the next day!

So what do you do all day and how does it help? At Mawana the primary goal is to get the area included in the Transfrontier Park, and this means that the miles and miles of old fencing wire that has been left all over the park needs to be removed so the animals can roam free without being hurt. We also need to make many of the impassable roads useable by cutting back the bush using ‘Pangas’ (that’s a great big knife to you and me!). If these roads are clear, then the rangers can move around the park to make sure the habitat is developing suitably. With the view of building for the future, Steve and Kerry also need help there!

The current group of students are helping to build the accommodation for the next group of students so the programme can continue to develop. Once built, it will serve as a constant memorial to the work we achieved and to the future of the reserve.

Running parallel with this work is a study to habituate and hopefully radio collar a leopard, which although still in its infancy is an interesting second stream of activity to our other work. As I mentioned before, the reserve is also home to an education centre where local Botswanan children can come and learn about nature. Myself and the other students were privileged to watch Steve and Kerry educate the children. I say privileged because they both have such commitment and passion for the cause that you can’t help but feel the same thing for yourself.

Finally, the part that ties the whole experience together is the environment you live in while at Mawana. The reserve is very isolated and you are thrown together with a group of strangers who you would not normally meet. There is the need to live and work together and very quickly a unit is formed with everyone bringing their own strengths and personality to every job so the task can be achieved. Whilst this is happening you get to know every individual backwards and forwards and this is how friendships that last forever are formed. So, if you want to challenge yourself and do some good in the world, come and give this a try – you won’t be disappointed! Huw James