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Life in the South African Bush

Amelia McKinlay

I'd never lived outside a city. Now, I live amongst wild animals.  

I have spent much of my life moving. Eight times to be exact, spanning five countries and three continents. However, until I moved to South Africa, I had always lived in an urban environment. So when I told my friends and family that I would be living in the middle of the South African bush for a year, I received a broad spectrum of reactions.

The majority of people were excited to hear about my upcoming adventure, but of course there were those who thought I was completely insane. What if you get malaria? What if a snake bites you? What if you get lonely? Although these concerns were valid, I was eager to experience a completely different pace of life.

Life on a wildlife reserve

I have been volunteering at DAKTARI Bush School and Wildlife Orphanage for over two months now and have grown to love life in the bush. DAKTARI is located on a nature reserve near Kruger National Park. Nature reserves are numerous in this part of South Africa and primarily serve to protect and conserve plants and animals. The reserve in which I am situated is home to a number of wild animals including leopard, hyena, impala, zebra, giraffe and buffalo. Our camp is located at the heart of the reserve and it is here that I live and work.

This is my new normal: regular sightings of Africa’s most extraordinary animals.

During my first night in my new room, I was woken up several times by the calls of a giant eagle owl and the muffled scurrying of bats in my roof. I later learned that there are a myriad of animals living in the thatched roof above my bed. As with any move, it took me a few days to adapt to the sights and sounds of my new surroundings, but I now delight in waking up to the noises of the bush coming alive in the early morning.

The call of the wild

After spending two months here, one thing I’ve learned is that life in the bush can be unpredictable and you never know what a new day will bring.

A few weeks ago, we were driving back to our reserve and spotted a cheetah just over the fence. (The dirt road that leads to our camp is bordered by game reserves and occasionally we see wildlife.) The cheetah was only a few metres away from us lying in the shade. We stopped the car and climbed into the back of the pickup truck to get a better look. It was twitching its long spotted tail, taking refuge under a tree from the midday sun. While I have had several memorable animal encounters since arriving here, this incident stuck with me. I think it was because I was overcome with the realization that this was my new normal: regular sightings of Africa’s most extraordinary animals.

Although there are certain things I miss about urban life, I know I will be able to access these things once my time here comes to an end. For now, I feel beyond privileged to be able to call the South African bush my home and I look forward to reporting on what the coming months will bring.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Amelia McKinlay

Amelia McKinlay is a master's student based in London, passionate about conservation and the environment. She has lived in five countries around the world. Previously, she blogged for Verge about volunteering at DAKTARI Bush School and Wildlife Orphanage in Limpopo, South Africa. Currently, she's researching tropical forest ecology in Borneo, Malaysia.

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