I always knew I wanted to do a working holiday abroad with animals, I think I also knew it would be in Africa but with so many trips available when I finally got around to booking it was incredibly hard to decide. It is also extremely hard to find a place that is doing the best by the animals; there are so many horror stories of supposed rehabilitation centres contributing to the african lion canned hunting trade, I wanted to make absolutely sure that my time and money was going towards good, towards rehabilitating innocent animals back in to the wild where they belong.
After extensive research I found a place called C.A.R.E ( The centre for animal rehabilitation and education) in small part of South Africa called Phalaborwa, bordering the Kruger National Park. On arrival, a guided tour of the site was given and the mission of the centre explained, it was essentially ‘the successful release of all the baboons back into the wild’, I knew immediately I had chosen the right place. C.A.R.E primary take in Chacma baboons; whilst I have always had a love of primates, I wouldn’t necessarily say they were my favourite animal, I certainly had not had too much interest in baboons but this was something that would soon change.
Most of C.A.R.E’s Rescue cases involve orphan babies which have been the result of their mother being killed by hunting or poisoning, due to the Chacma Baboon being seen as vermin by many in South Africa. Adult baboons are often rescued from the pet trade, research laboratories or even more shockingly from witch doctors.
As a Veterinary Nurse Volunteer my main role at C.A.R.E was in their purpose built Veterinary clinic. With no full-time Veterinary Staff, the team rely solely on Volunteer Vets and Nurses to assist with the sick and injured baboons. I shared my time with two other Nurses from the U.K who quickly became great friends. The majority of admits to the clinic were underweight from high parasite burdens or from being low ranked in their troops. A lot of our time was spent trying to find new ways to disguise medication or inventing new enrichment to stimulate them during their hospital stay, I very quickly learnt just how intelligent these primates are. One particular baboon would pull apart and inspect every piece of food that he was given to ensure he was not tricked into eating any medication that he did not want, for him peanut butter and jam sandwiches finally became our trick – but even then he wised up to that eventually.
My time at C.A.R.E was also shared with three adorable Chacma baboon babies – Charlotte, Harriet and Alia, each of which made every single day a joy but each came with their own horrible story of how they come to be at C.A.R.E. Alia’s story was the most heartbreaking of them all; Alia was just three weeks old when was her mother was shot and discarded of in the river, even more horrifically the person that shot her was a girl of just thirteen years old who wanted to shoot her first baboon. This lack of humanity means that Alia is now looked after by a surrogate human mother until she is old enough to be weaned, then carefully integrated into a baboon troop, a scary and confusing process for any baboon let alone one so young. Eventually she will be released, but for now like the majority of all the other baboons, she is missing out on a life in the wild due to horrible human involvement. The centre is trying desperately to change this and South Africa’s perception of the baboon, they are currently in the process of building an education centre so that South African school children can visit and be taught all things baboon. When not in the Veterinary Clinic, nursery time with the babies was allocated, these hours were spent playing with the boisterous babies and monitoring their progression. I felt I learnt so much about primate behaviour and development during these times, but most importantly I came to understand the intelligence that these beautiful animals have, learning to play, interact and express a range of emotion – happiness, sadness and even frustration. I watched these fascinating mischievous little creatures for hours and I could watch them for a hundred more. I have always been a firm believer that people can learn from animals; but being with the baboons confirmed this for me, the innocence of an animal is so special, they have no hidden agenda, they just express what ever emotion they are feeling in that moment.
Baboons have taught me that the soul purpose of life is to enjoy it.
Another highlight of working at C.A.R.E was that it was set in the Grietjie Nature Reserve, we were constantly surrounded by an abundance of beautiful wildlife that chose to gather alongside the Oliphant’s river. It was not unusual to be late to the clinic in the morning due to a Bull Elephant blocking the walk way or to hear the roar of wild lion of an evening. Africa has an unexplainable magic and its wildlife is at the centre of it.
C.A.R.E has become another treasured place that has rightfully kept a piece of my heart; the tireless efforts and dedication that happens there every day has created something incredibly beautiful. I know I will return one day, hopefully sooner rather than later.
‘ I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up and was not happy’ – Ernest Hemingway
Find out more about volunteering at C.A.R.E here
Still not convinced? Read five reasons why you should volunteer abroad