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Volunteer Reviews

Name: Alessandra Beltrame
Country: Italy
Date: November 2015

It was such an amazing experience! It was wonderful to watch lions, rhinos, giraffes, elephants and many other animals living free in a huge private reserve, a wildlife sanctuary where we were the "caged ones" (had to live in the camp and follow strict rules to observe the game) and the animals were protected yet totally free to wander around. We monitored the pride of lions and the endangered rhinos everyday, working with skilled and passionate guides: Koos Niemann, Sabrina Colombo and Dylan Lupton. The activities (game drives, walks, quad rides, exursions to Kruger Park and Panorama Route) were intese and fullfilling. The camp was big, well organized and I enjoyed a warm hospitality. Thanks to everybody for two wonderful weeks in beautiful surroundings with the company of great volunteers!

Name: Rachael
Country: Northern Ireland
Date: Feburary 2015

My first 4 weeks at Leo have been incomparable to anything else I have done in my life. I just graduated university and wanted an experience of a lifetime, while also being able to cement my data skills and my interests in African wildlife. Seeing animals every day, spending time with great volunteers and some of the funniest, and, nicest staff. Walking into lions sleeping in riverbeds, being charged by two elephants, snake catching in the house, following tracks and being so close to a lion roar that you can feel it in your bones have been just a few of my many highlights. I never expected a volunteer project to change my life, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't! I'm so happy every day even with the 5.00am starts. My favourite sighting has to be just recently when we saw Acacia and Mbhurri by themselves as the sun set Matumi, Mfuti and Dela appeared and the reunion was incredible to watch. Lion hugs and head butting and gentle roaring made the evening incredible.

Name: Stephen
Country: Sweden
Date: November 2014

Getting up at 5.00am daily quickly just becomes a routine. Morning game drives can be cool at first but it normally warms up quickly. You usually return after dusk from the afternoon drive-eat and go to bed exhausted before the electricity cuts off at 10.00pm! There is great variety of what you see and experience from day to day . Lions, Rhinos, Elephants and Leopards are sighted most days. Inevitably there will be times when you do not see much. Most of the reserve is fairly close bush with few open panoramas. Volunteers have daily assigned duties-there is a sensible amount of structure and sound organisation for an African volunteer project. Overall however the atmosphere is quite relaxed. Tracking collared animals with telemetry (lions, leopard and elephants) brings a feeling of certainty-but in practice you will still find your targets can still be highly elusive or evasive! Rhino monitoring on the quad bike can be an unpredictable but always a fascinating day out. You can spend well over eight hours a day on an open 4wd if you do both morning and evening game drive. Not everyone finds climbing in and out of jeeps that easy! Most drives have breaks -for Phuza! (tea/coffee or a smoke etc !) The household duties for volunteers are light and not normally onerous. Evening meals are normally cooked by the staff. The Volunteers are mixed both in terms of ages (20- 68 when I was there) and nationality. English is still the main language used. The atmosphere is quite relaxed and with only about 12 volunteers most mix together really well. Accommodation is very clean if rather basic but absolutely fine for this sort of project. You are living in the bush in a remote location. Sleeping is mainly in bunks in rooms for four or so. Electricity is basically solar powered -so provided you can find a spare power socket you can charge phones. The wi fi works well once you find the right spot! The food is simple and wholesome -lots of pasta. Most volunteers do buy back up supplies from Phalaborwa on the shopping trips. Rusks highly recommended (as eaten by real Afrikaners!) Each LEO drive you will go on will be with a Leo FGASA qualified guide of varying experience. Each one has a different approach and interest-providing a really good variety and opportunities to focus not just on wildlife but on plants trees insects or birds too! You will routinely stop on the game drives to clear trees off the road (elephants routinely push them over), and build "Bolsters" to channel away water in the raining season. You have to be prepared for some bursts of hard labour-so do bring gardening gloves. You also keep a very detailed log of things observed during the drive. On some days you may get the chance to participate in activities needed for the Reserve management -these can be really interesting and all day activities. You may also have to help dig up and remove alien plant species. I have developed a far better understanding and insight of the bush generally and some of the issues related to maintaining a sustainable wild animal population in a wildlife reserve-and a far better insight to the importance of in managing numbers of species. The opportunity to see Lions elephants, rhinos and leopards at really close quarters frequently was a unique experience-particularly when on foot!. Overall -a wonderful experience! I want to go back! Koos, Sabrina and the rest of the staff work hard to make the project both successful and enjoyable for volunteers. A wonderful experience!

Name: Sadie and Liam
Country: Netherlands
Date: November 2014

Our time at LEO so far has been incredibly rewarding. We have learnt so much about the bush and had some amazing visuals of the animals. The lions have given us a fair few picture-perfect visuals, including them sprawled out on the riverbed and dam wall and allowing us to get within metres for their close ups! The elusive Cleo the leopard has also been not so elusive since we've arrived - we've seen her sleeping on a tree, eating and running through the bush so far! Our favourite visual of her has to be with an epic electric thunderstorm looming in the background, one we had to speed directly through on our way back to base! We have also bumped into many a herd of elephants, from 30 to sometimes around 100 of them. One of these encounters was at night where we had to turn our lights off so as not to disturb them, and it was incredible to hear ourselves surrounded by enormous elephants and their young, trumpeting loudly and knocking down huge trees which we would inevitably have to remove from the roads the next day! Moving trees off the roads, building bolsters and using telemetry to find the collared animals is just part of the work we do. One night the car got stuck fast in the riverbed sand and we spent a good 20 minutes digging and pushing it out in the pitch black and pouring rain - and did we mention the lions were sat just some metres away? Back at base the LEO family is friendly and helpful, we cook and eat together, have movie nights and play with Bessie's puppies who can either be sweet and innocent, or, down-right little terrors. Base is perched on top of a hill overlooking the reserve in a great position to see beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and having breakfast with Spotted Hyenas, Warthog and Vervet Monkeys at the water hole here just tops off the experience.

Name: Jenna
Country: Germany
Date: September 2014

How do you adequately describe the best two weeks of your life in a short story? It isn't possible, so I'll just give the volunteers of the future the clip notes version of what to expect at LEO Africa... The Staff - From the moment you arrive, at the tiniest airport you have likely ever seen, you realize just how helpful and friendly the guides at LEO Africa are. By the time you reach the gates of LEO after a quick shop and an hour's drive you will have already made at least one friend. By the time two weeks have gone by you will be saying goodbye to your new family! The guides are pretty much pure awesome - they will happily answer any questions you have (and if they can't answer straight away, they will definitely answer the next day once they have done some research). The guides will teach you something new and interesting on every drive, and during down time they will laugh and party with you. Liz, Emilie, Francois, Simon, Sabrina and Koos - thank you so much! The House - While the house may not be a 5 star resort - with its rickety bunk beds and limited electricity (solar power only) - the house will become your home away from home. Waking up at 5:30am has never been easier. The view over Selati at dawn is breath-taking, and the house is alive with the excitement of the volunteers as they prepare to go out on drive. The "family table" on the deck is the venue for meals, conversation, quiet reflection, reading, and card games such as Shithead (i.e. Testa di merda). If you are stressing (like I did) about encounters with the insect, spider or snake community, then stress no more - you will forget what you were worried about soon after arrival. The Volunteers - You will arrive knowing no one and leave knowing everyone. Volunteers of all ages come from all over the World. During my stay we had volunteers from America, Australia, England, Spain, Germany and MANY crazy loud but super fun Italians. I was the 2nd ever South African volunteer on the project (something I find surprising and disappointing and hope to change if I can). Everyone is unique and yet everyone is the same - united by a common love of the wild outdoors and the animals that lie within. If you are as lucky as I was, you will have the most incredible memories to take with you, and hopefully a few special people that you will stay in touch with. The best part - the Activities! - Everyday, twice a day, your World will be rocked by several hours of game driving. Even on the days where all we saw was a million impala and the inevitable giraffe, the joy of being on drive remained constant. And then there were the days when I got to see Leopards - those were the most unforgettable, incredibly special, moments of my trip. Furthermore, any day on which we got to watch the beautiful Mica laze about (to quote Liz "she's all about the bass... no treble") or watch Mbhurri roll around or roar (goosebump moments of note) was a perfect day in my books. The sunrises and sunsets are never disappointing at Selati and Phuza by the river cannot be beaten (especially in good company). Surprisingly, some of my favorite activities were road clearing and alien plant removal. Be careful not to kick at branches too hard though, the not yet very dead ones tend to kick back, lol. While being on data duty might force you to tear your eyes away from the animals for a minute to write down your findings, it feels good to be a part of the research. Getting used to the telemetry can be incredibly frustrating, but when you get it right and find what you are looking for, it is truly rewarding. Saturday nights out - whether it be dinner at the Three Bridges restaurant or a night away at Mahlahla Lodge (which apparently means "wild and exciting") - are a lot of fun and a great opportunity to spend more time being social with the other volunteers. I highly recommend taking these opportunities when they present themselves! I give you the advice that I took from another volunteer that wrote a story... clear all of your expectations away and go with an open mind. If you are anything like me your mind will be blown anyway and you will walk away with memories to last a lifetime... and possibly even thoughts of a new career. If you haven't booked yet what are you waiting for? Go. Now! Book! Maybe I'll see you there!