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9 Weird and Wonderful Animal Encounters

Amelia McKinlay

My most remarkable wildlife experiences volunteering in South Africa. 

Living in a wildlife orphanage in the African bush has meant I’ve had my fair share of memorable animal encounters. I wanted to share my top nine highlights so far:

1. Cuddling meerkats

At DAKTARI, if you’re having a rough day it can only mean you need one thing—meerkat therapy. A few of our meerkats are very friendly and you can go into the enclosure with them. When you sit down they immediately jump up on your lap, expecting some pampering.

2. Playing football with a baby bush pig

Molly the baby bush pig is without a doubt the cutest pig you will ever meet. Not only is she incredibly friendly and sociable, but she is also a very gifted footballer. We realized one day that she loves to play football and if you kick a ball towards her she will bump it back with her nose. Never in my life did I imagine a time where I would be playing football against a pig, but I have to say it is one of the most hilarious and adorable experiences I have ever had. (Check out Molly’s skills here.)

3. Having a marmoset fall asleep on me at the office

At our camp we have a very mischievous marmoset (a small monkey) called Thor. He loves nothing better than to run around the camp causing trouble. This often involves stealing food from the breakfast table, peeing on any unguarded phones and biting the odd volunteer. On the rare occasion he is in a good mood, he comes into the office, settles on my neck and falls asleep.

4. Getting chased by jackals

A few friends and I decided to go for a run one day after work. We often go running around the camp and have had no serious issues in the past in terms of animal encounters. What we didn’t take into account was that the day before this incident, we had released our jackals back into the wild. We set off running and after a few minutes came across two of the newly released jackals in the middle of the dirt track. We all stopped for a moment but quickly agreed that if we kept on running, they would move out of the way. As they were so used to people, instead of running away they very aggressively started running at us. I started began to sprint back to camp, but luckily someone had the sense to stop and start throwing rocks in their direction to scare them away. In the end, we all made it back to camp in one piece and could not stop laughing about it for days after.

5. Syringe feeding baby squirrels

On my first week here, a volunteer discovered two baby squirrels in the wardrobe of her room that had been abandoned by their mother. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a baby squirrel but they have small fluffy tails and back legs that look far too big for them. Like all baby animals, these squirrels needed a lot of care and attention including being syringe fed several times a day.

6. Being roadblocked by baby giraffe

A few weeks ago we were driving out of the reserve and were stopped by three baby giraffe, blocking the road in front of us. They stood there looking at us, curious as to what we were doing. Soon something scared them and they made their way back into the bush in that fascinating slow motion manner that giraffe move. Watching giraffe in their natural habitat is definitely something that will never get old, no matter how many times I see them.

7. Feeding a wild porcupine carrots

Almost every night after dinner we receive a visitor in the form of a porcupine. Esther the porcupine was hand-raised here so although she lives in the wild, she still likes to come and visit the camp to get scratched behind her ears and fed raw carrots. I was so surprised when I first saw her up close as despite my preconceptions, porcupine ears are actually very human looking and incredibly soft.        

8. Releasing six banded mongooses into the wild

Last week, I had the opportunity to aid the release of six mongooses into the wild. Mongooses are small rodent-like animals primarily found in Africa. They were kept in the same enclosure for nearly a year so they could bond as a pack before their release. Once we had captured the six mongooses we drove them to an isolated part of the reserve and released them. It was incredible opening their cages and watching them run to freedom.

9. Spotting a male lion

On our way back from town we spotted a magnificent male lion sitting next to the fence. It was a very hot day and he was lying in the shade under a tree. We stopped the car and opened the door so we could admire the might and strength of the king of the jungle.

Four months in and I am still blown away by Africa’s wildlife.

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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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