5 Reasons to Volunteer with Monkeys in Africa
If you're the type of person who loves animals and enjoys spending all day out in the hot summer sun, then volunteering in South Africa is definitely for you! This time last year I was counting down the weeks until I set off on the trip of a lifetime to look after orphaned and injured monkeys in a wildlife rehabilitation centre. I booked my trip through Oyster Worldwide and it was one of the best decisions I have made! Here's my top 5 reasons why volunteering here should be the next adventure you book...
1. Monkey cuddles!
Right from day one you get to be hands on with the monkeys which for animal lovers is an absolute dream! The centre mainly works with vervet monkeys and chacma baboons but they also have a small group of samango monkeys and, while I was there, we were also caring for a young impala (a type of antelope). The young monkeys need a lot of care and attention and many afternoons can be spent playing with the babies on the grass, sitting in the vervet enclosure for monkey cuddles, or walking the young baboons down to the pool for playtime and a swim. Expect to have monkeys clinging to your legs, swinging from your hair, and perching on your shoulders - the babies will also be happy to snuggle up for a nap with you if you need a break! Be prepared for hard work, but everything you do is totally worth it once the monkeys start to trust you and a loving relationship begins to unfold!
2. Learn a ton about animals
Working so closely with the monkeys on a day to day basis from 6 am through into the night means you will naturally learn a huge amount about each species. You learn about their diets, how they would live in the wild, about each stage of the rehabilitation process, and for me the most important thing you learn is about their behaviour. By the end of your trip you will most definitely know how to speak monkey! Interacting so closely with them gives you a massive insight into how they communicate with each other, and with you - facial expressions, grunting noises, lip smacking, and grooming rituals will soon become a part of your everyday life and will help you connect with the monkeys on a much deeper level. You will almost certainly develop a very close relationship with at least one of the cheeky monkeys during your stay, making it all the more difficult to leave at the end!
3. Make new lifelong friends
As well as befriending baboons and other cuddly creatures during your visit, you will also have the chance to meet a whole group of new people from all walks of life and various different countries. The evenings are a great time for socialising. When all the jobs are done and the baby monkeys have been fed before going to sleep, volunteers often gather on the veranda and relax with a beer to play cards, or head down to the dormitories for a bonfire. Once a week volunteers and staff also gather for an evening BBQ, giving you a taste of the local cuisine. Apart from loading yourselves up on grilled meat and pap (a South African delicacy that looks a bit like mashed potato) these BBQ's are a great time to share stories and chat with each other. By the end of your trip you'll all be like best friends, with crazy plans to meet up with each other again on your next adventures around the world! Friendships made when travelling can become some of the best friendships you have - you will already have so much in common and share the same interests in travel and adventure that in most cases you will discover the perfect travelling companion for future adventures!
4. Camp inside Kruger National Park
Volunteering in South Africa isn't all about looking after the monkeys (although that is a huge part of it). It's important that you make the most of your trip, especially if you don't have any plans to visit the county again any time soon. Excursions are offered by the centre and these include visiting Blyde Canyon, the Giant Baobab tree, a tree canopy tour and a 2 day safari trip to Kruger National Park. I had fairly limited time while I was visiting so I chose only to do the Kruger trip but it was such a good choice! Seeing wild animals in their natural habitat was such and amazing experience and we managed to get really close to some of them in the jeep!
When you need a break from bottle feeding baby monkeys what could be better than spending 2 days exploring the African landscape surrounded by giraffes, elephants, zebras, hippos, leopards, wildebeest, rhino, and the mighty lion. After a full day safari trip the group then gets to camp overnight within the park - a scary prospect, especially when there's a hole in the fence next to where you've pitched your tent! But in the morning you'll all be laughing about the night time hyena sightings, even though at the time all you could think about was how fast you could run back to the jeep if you needed to! After surviving the night, a second day of safari fun is in store before heading back to the centre for more cuddles with your favourite primates.
5. Feel amazing at the end of it all!
Finally, the most important reason for volunteering in Africa is the sense of achievement you'll get at the end! It might sound cheesy but you really will look back on your experience with pride, knowing that you've willingly given up your time and worked hard for a truly wonderful cause. Not only will you have cared for tiny babies, being a motherly figure for them in the most vulnerable time of their lives, but you will also have helped the centre to continue running and encouraged them to keep doing such a fantastic job in saving these monkeys and helping more of them survive in the wild.
So, if you're thinking of applying to volunteer with animals in South Africa (or any other country for that matter) then I highly recommend you doing so! You will have the best time of your life, with some truly unforgettable moments and lasting friendships (both human and monkey) and no doubt you will not want to go home at the end of your stay!
By Alice Wills