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Get your hands dirty

Ever since we started the O’Reilly Animals project last summer, people have been asking how they can really help. Although there are a number of ways to bring your tech skills to bear on behalf of non-profit conservation organizations—by designing websites, setting up databases, and developing mobile apps that enable crowdsourcing, among other things—there’s no substitute for walking in the shoes of the people working hands-on in the wild.

Opportunity Knocks

Wildlife ACT, a non-profit conservation organization working in Zululand, is currently accepting applications for their volunteer program. Wildlife ACT monitors wildlife on reserves that don’t have the resources to do it themselves—and the volunteers actively participate in the work. The fees paid by the volunteers fund Wildlife ACT’s projects.

The minimum stay is 2 weeks; most wildlife volunteers join Wildlife ACT for 4 to 12 weeks. The cost per volunteer is ~$1275 for the first two weeks (and about $900 for subsequent 2-week periods), plus airfare and approximately $130 for ground transportation to and from the airport in Richards Bay, South Africa. You must be 18 or older to participate.

Volunteers work with researchers in small teams, tracking cheetahs, African wild dogs, rhinos, and leopards with telemetry, and using hand-held GPS devices to record their location data. Depending on the time of year, volunteers may also be involved in trapping and radio-collaring various species, relocating game, identity tagging, setting and checking camera traps, game counts, and invasive plant control.

White Rhino

Photograph of white rhinoceros by Coralie (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

From a volunteer’s testimonial on the website:

“We spent nearly three days locating a white rhino…, helping the vet and other staff to get her on her feet after being darted and “walk” her into a huge moving van so she could be relocated to another reserve where breeding would be more successful for her. There isn’t more hands-on work than actually touching a beautiful animal like that.” 

The Wildlife ACT experience is not a vacation safari. There are a number of companies that offer ecotourism experiences in South African reserves, but Wildlife ACT sees volunteers as capable resources, and puts them to work.

“Due to the nature of our work, we often have to track one animal for a whole day, covering large distances without success – but it’s important we do it. This is not a safari operation and we don’t want to romanticize the work we do. It’s not always pretty or easy, but what we can tell you is that this is real Africa…”

For more information, visit the Wildlife ACT volunteer site.

P.S. And while you’re tracking black rhinos or uploading field data, you just might spot some opportunities to use your technical expertise to contribute in other ways. You never know.

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