The main attraction to stay/ volunteer at Kwantu is the wildlife that lives just a few steps from your front door. To say it wasn’t magical to be woken up by a roaring lion at 6am would be a lie, even for those who do like their sleep. The reserve is 6,000 hectares and home to a huge number of animals and all of the big five, well maybe quite possibly just four out of five. There are four different wildlife sections at Kwantu, first and maybe most impressive, the reserve itself. You can find different species of deer from springbok to kudu, elephant (there was even a baby one when we were there,) giraffes, zebras, rhinos, lions, buffalo, hippos and it goes on. There used to be a leopard but it hasn’t been seen for a while, they suspect it may have escaped. If you have an interest in animals this is literally perfect for you, right in the heart of the African bush, you get to see these animals on daily game drives. If you are picturing a zoo, think again, the animals live naturally among each other; the reserve has just recreated the wild in a defined space where they can be monitored. We were even lucky enough to experience a dawn and a night drive. We witnessed the lions after killing a zebra which they were all sharing. The night time drive is seriously fun as you have to keep your eyes peeled for two tiny glowing gold specs, the eyes of the animals who lurk in the dark. There are a number of volunteer options for those who are really seeking to learn about the animals. For example, you can complete a veterinary Internship or a Level one field guide ranger course, which takes eight weeks, a theory and practical exam.
Kwantu is home to a rehabilitation centre where lions, white lions, cheetahs and even the famous African tiger live. These animals are adopted by Kwantu due to illness, injury or because they’re orphans. Kwantu then carry out a rehabilitating process which eventually allows the animals to be transferred back into the wild. This is one of my favourite parts of the site as you can physically see the difference they are making helping to return these beautiful creatures where they belong. On a more fun note, as a volunteer you get to prepare these cute little kitty cats din dins. Every so often they will bring either a dead cow or horse right up close to the volunteer house and then, holding their nose with one hand, the vollies get to cut up the animal into lots of different pieces, watching their guts fly everywhere, I literally mean each of its four stomachs spewing out of its skin. This really isn’t for the faint hearted, I mean the smell is literally putrid. You will also learn the importance of gloves as the smell lingers on your hands for days on end, not so pleasant when you bring a spoon full of cereal up to your mouth and get a whiff of a cow’s stomach lining.
(hahaha sorry I didn’t warn you this photo was coming up, see the heap of guts in background)
More pleasantly, just a short drive from the reserve is their elephant sanctuary. In recent years, despite high levels of poaching, there has become an overpopulation of elephants in Southern Africa. Many reserves and farms claim to use ‘birth control’ but the sad reality is that these beautiful creatures are often killed as, according to humans, there is nowhere for them to go. The Kwantu elephant sanctuary if home to four beautiful African elephants, who were saved from this situation. At the sanctuary you can learn about the elephants, hand feed them and really get up and close, feeling their rough skin. They are such amazing creatures and being up so close is surreal. As a volunteer you get to spend more time with these animals, we spent an entire day at the sanctuary, cleaning out the enclosures and collecting fresh water for them.
Lastly and maybe what you would consider the least fascinating, the touch farm. Home to ducks, rabbits, horses, marmosets and of course the beloved faith the meerkat (rip maybe??) Faith is/was the cutest creature you could ever meet, she is sooooo friendly and will literally just climb all over you. I was so tempted to sneak that little madam into my rucksack although my back garden probably doesn’t compare to the 6,000 hectares she had to roam at Kwantu. The marmosets are also cool but kind of evil looking and they can be kind of vicious and take an occasional nibble on your hand.
The animals I met at Kwantu where like nowhere ever before, I’d never before had the chance to live among lions, deer and a meerkat who thinks it’s a person. You can’t leave South Africa without the animal experience and this really is it, the reserve is amazing and volunteering at Kwantu means you have the opportunity to maintain it and ensure future visitors enjoy it as much as you have.