The success of the long-term wildlife conservation and community development projects at Antelope Park has only been possible because of our wonderful volunteers. They are young, enthusiastic, creative and energetic, and come to Zimbabwe from all over the worldand are an essential component to the work we are doing.
Volunteering in Africa is an exciting and safe way to learn about new cultures and environments, experience independent travel, and positively contribute to long-term, sustainable programs. But we know that choosing the right volunteer project for you, and in the ideal location, can be tricky. And we also understand that this might be your first time travelling to Africa and that can be daunting.
To help you out, and give you an idea of what to expect, we’ve asked our resident Destination Manager, Felicity Gratton, some useful questions about her own first-hand experiences as a volunteer at Antelope Park…
We want to know more about you! Please tell us a little bit about who you are and where you’re from?
My name is Felicity, and I go by the name of Flick, and three years ago I started my African life here at Antelope Park.I’m from Southeast England and I was 18 when I first came as a volunteer on a placement in 2017. Things progressed and I continued to work full-time at Antelope Park and I became Destination Manager in July 2020.
What motivated you to do a volunteer project in Africa?
Africa has always intrigued me as it offers something special and a real sense of diversity and magic. I had my first taste of Africa a few years ago on a school expedition to Malawi, where we were a team of ten people building and renovating classrooms. During this time, we went on our first African safari and I was in complete amazement when I saw my first elephant—there and then I made the decision that I absolutely needed to see more of the African landscapes and wildlife and decided to do something constructive and rewarding in my gap year.
How did you find out about the volunteering opportunities at Antelope Park?
I had decided to do wildlife-focused volunteering while getting a feel for the African bush. While all the Big Five animals were appealing, I was specifically interested and intrigued by lions as they are a powerful symbol for African wildlife. I did some Google research and came across Antelope Park’s lion conservation programs.
What was it that helped you to decide to join a volunteering program at Antelope Park?
When I was choosing which volunteer project I wanted to do, there were a couple of things which I needed to have in place as part of the experience.
Firstly I needed to know about the practicalities, and I wanted something that I would enjoy and feel safe and comfortable at the same time. It was very reassuring that everything at Antelope Park was organized and sorted and there were no hidden costs. The volunteering programs are all-compassing in one place and I could simply show up and be looked after, and this was especially important as I was a solo female traveller.
Secondly, also important was the social aspect and the opportunity to meet new people from all over the world. As it turned out it was the people I met at Antelope Park on my placement that made it the best time possible and I made really good friends for life simply because we were like-minded and adventurous and shared the Antelope Park experience together.
Briefly describe your daily activities as a volunteer?
My days volunteering with the willdife were varied and never repetitive, and there was always something new to look forward to. Activities involved the real nitty-gritty meaningful work that needed to get done and is the core focus of the project—the behaviour enrichment and welfare development of the lions, wildlife protection with the snare sweeps and boundary controls, and animal maintenance like lion-feeding and cleaning enclosures and water troughs. But there was also a really nice balance about ensuring we were doing something fun and exciting too, like horse-riding and game drives to see the other wildlife at Antelope Park, and even doing game counts which contributes towards game park management. That’s what is great about the Antelope Park volunteer experience—you’re making an impact and having fun at the same time.
How much time off do you get and how do you like to spend it?
We get time off on Saturdays and Sundays and I always ensure I spend lots of time strolling through the bush with the wonderful friendly elephants that live at Antelope Park. Or playing polocrosse on horseback with the other staff and volunteers is always lots of fun, and we also jump on the mule-drive carriage ride on a Saturday evening when we can take some drinks and bring a speaker and some music and watch the sun go down.
I love the encounters with wildlife and to this day I still get a buzz when I see giraffe, so it’s the bush activities that are my favourite things to do—especially on horseback or on bush walks and it’s simply wonderful to get so close without the noise of a vehicle and enjoy the natural silence and ways of the bush.
Additionally there are loads of additional excursions. One of my favourites is to visit Free to be Wild trip which is a wildlife sanctuary in Bulawayo. It’s Zimbabwe’s first and only sanctuary for rescued and orphaned primates and it’s a special day out to be around the animals and be able to contribute to their nurturing and rehabilitation in a small but special way.
What do you think of Zimbabwe and have you seen other parts of the country?
Zimbabwe really is such a special place. It’s brimming with natural beauty, incredible animals and stunning landscapes. And Zimbabwe absolutely has the friendliest people you will ever meet and the team at Antelope Park are super-welcoming. I have visited the amazing Victoria Falls, on most people’s bucket list I’m sure. There’s very good reason why they are one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World as seeing them is simply breath-taking. And there’s so much going on up there, loads of activities and opportunities to go on safari, and the town has a great touristy vibe. Another incredible experience that I’ll never forget is the rhino tracking on foot in Matobo National Park outside of Bulawayo, and it was really thrilling to get to close to white rhino in their natural habitat.
What do you think about the accommodation and food?
Both the accommodation and food and Antelope Park are amazing, and I don’t think volunteers expect to get such good standards. Our shared volunteer accommodation is in a separate and secluded part of the camp, and is super-comfortable with excellent bathrooms. There’s a laundry service too, and it makes a big difference to volunteers to know they can get laundry done when spending so much time with the animals and out bush.
The food is delicious—fantastic in fact, and we get three hearty meals a day. Breakfast is a choice cereals, yoghurt and fruit followed by a full fry-up which is a great start to the day. Lunch and dinner is a real variety from tasty home-cooked stews, rice and veggies, to pizzas and pies and yummy desserts. I particularly love Friday braai night (braai is the African word for BBQ) and there’s also a great traditional roast with all the trimmings on Sunday. We never go hungry that’s for sure, and I think that the new volunteers are quite surprised at how well we are taken care of at Antelope Park!
Do you have any advice or recommendations for future volunteers coming to Antelope Park?
My advice I would give to any potential volunteers is not to come with any pre-concluded judgement about how life in Africa is. Open your minds, expect the unexpected, be flexible and go with the flow, and you will be blown away at how amazing and varied the experience is. The more you allow yourself to get to know Zimbabwe, the more you’ll get out of the experience, and as I’ve said before, each day is exciting and new.
Another thing I should mention to would-be volunteers, and I’m not sure people will believe me when I say it, the weather in Africa is notalways hot and sunny, and bear in mind when you’re packing what season you’re coming into. It does rain in Zimbabwe, especially right now as we are in the middle of a very wet rainy season, so bring raincoats and gum boots. And trust me, in winter it gets very very cold, and I’m talking woolly hats, big jackets and fluffy boots!
How do you think the volunteering experience at Antelope Park has influenced you (personally, professionally, etc.)?
My volunteer experience allowed me to experience Zimbabwe, explore a different culture and meet amazing people, and at the same time, make a significant difference. It has been one of the bestexperiences of my life and has totally shaped my future for the better. My journey started when I came here on a volunteer placement in 2017, andthen an offer came up because I think the owners recognized my passion for Antelope Park and thought I could be an asset. I started firstly with building the direct bookings system for Antelope Park, which evolved into Volunteer Encounter (www.volunteerencounter.com), where I was doing the marketing. I then took on the role as Destination Manager in July of 2020.
Before my volunteer experience, I was very much going to go down the narrow path of going to university and getting a degree, entering a graduate job where I was most likely to spend my entire young professional career climbing a corporate ladder. So I have gone completely the other direction, which is personally the best thing for me because I don’t see myself living such a structured lifestyle.
I cannot imagine my life without Antelope Park now, and Africa has taught me so many things and given me the sense that it’s actually OK not to know what your movements are all the time and that we don’t need to conform to planning ahead for months. Now my open-air office overlooks the savannah grasslands (how lucky am I?), and I spend my time on practical guest managerial duties, talking to people about arranging their visit, and by sharing my own experiences, encouraging people to take the first step and embark on the special volunteer opportunities that Antelope Park offers to young people like myself.