Galen Schultz - 2015 Program Participant

Tracking animals at sunset in South Africa

Radio telemetry is used to track the animals twice a day: early morning and late afternoon.

Why did you decide to apply for an international program? 

The Wildlife ACT team contracted me as a journalist in July to get a more in-depth view of the conservation work that they do. One of my first tasks was to interview current and previous volunteers and to get my hands dirty so that I could experience wildlife volunteering work in South Africa for myself.

Why did you choose Wildlife ACT?

I had heard good things about Wildlife ACT before I came to know them, but after doing a little online research, the overwhelming number of positive reviews indicated that there was surely something to this organisation! I had to investigate further.

What was your favorite part about the Hluhluwe Game Reserve?

In the Hluhluwe Game Reserve (one of South Africa's oldest reserves) there is a lookout point known as "The Rock". It overlooks a huge section of the reserve and allows one to spot entire herds of animals. Think of Pride Rock from the Lion King and you'll get the idea.

What makes volunteering with Wildlife ACT different from volunteering with other organization in South Africa?

Volunteering with Wildlife ACT is not a safari cruise. It's about hands-on conservation work, REAL conservation work. The knowledge that you will gain during this experience can be life-changing. Many volunteers are inspired enough to quit their office jobs on their return home. Nature is also unpredictable, but the animals you'll monitor are tracked, so you and your team will know exactly where to find them. You will see stacks of action!

Wild dogs and their pups in South Africa

So glad to have been with Wildlife ACT while it was wild dog puppy season!

What is one thing you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad in South Africa?

That English is not spoken by everyone, especially in the more rural parts of the country. All Wildlife ACT staff speak English, though.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

After inquiring about joining a conservation program via the Wildlife ACT website, a staff member will connect with you the same day. Plenty of well-structured info is provided and they encourage you to be 100 percent sure that you want to join the team as a volunteer. They also encourage you to ask as many questions as possible, something that I did not hesitate to do!

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently? 

In hindsight I really wish I had spent a lot more time with Wildlife ACT. Not only to experience life on more than one reserve (which happens every two week cycle), but because I was learning so much about wildlife conservation and was developing a genuine love for the animals that we were protecting. Your heart gets invested in their lives and you get so motivated to do more to save them; you will sometimes be moved to tears.

What is a typical day like as a Wildlife ACT volunteer? 

One morning we awoke at 4:30 a.m. to track some African Wild Dogs before sunrise. This is to be with them as they are starting to become active and playful. We watched them play with big smiles. Next thing they were on the hunt. Just meters away from our vehicle they started following a scent and then next thing a hyena appears! Our monitor was basically able to follow the hyena bumper-to-tail as it tracked the wild dogs pursuing breakfast. This entire experience constituted a single morning with Wildlife ACT. Who can say they’ve done that?

What did you enjoy doing after your volunteer placement duties?

Relaxing back at camp after a hard day's work, sitting around a campfire drinking a beer with some food sizzling away, and listening to the sounds of the African bush.

People enjoying the view in South Africa

The views from the Wildlife ACT camps are spectacular to behold.

Do you have any packing tips for volunteers headed to South Africa?

Each person will have their own thing (or things) that they “never leave home without,” but my only suggestions are to pack light and use a backpack. You will be laughed at if you rock up with a massive suitcase. This is Africa; surrender yourself to it.

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it? 

The accommodation was far better than expected. As a journo I was, however, afforded a private room. I had internet, electricity, a big comfy bed, and a heart full of dreams. There were also clean flush toilets, a spacious communal kitchen, hammock chairs on nice wooden decks, and hot water for the showers.

What surprised you most about South Africa?

South Africa is a surprising place in general. It has such a wonderful and varied mix of people, landscapes, beliefs, etc. One should generally visit any country with an open mind, but this may be specifically true for South Africa. Do not get put off visiting the country because you think you might get skinned alive and have you body parts fashioned into a purse. Most people who visit are pleasantly surprised.

Now that you're home, how would you say volunteering abroad has impacted your life? 

The Wildlife ACT staff are some of the most dedicated and passionate people I have ever had the fortune of meeting. The inspiration they filled me with during this program re-awoke something deep within me. I couldn't believe how out of touch with nature I had become after eight consecutive years of city living.

They changed my perspective for the better and made me reconsider what is important in life.

Man putting a tracking collar on a cheetah in South Africa.

Cheetahs are one of the many animals that get collared and tracked by Wildlife ACT.

What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?

Travelling in general is very good for you, and if you can throw volunteer work in there as well, you are a pretty awesome human being. Challenge yourself, broaden your horizons, and give something back to the world. You won’t regret it.

If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?

ANYWHERE! But I have a specific affinity for island life. I have also heard about WWOOFING (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and that sounds pretty cool.