GoAbroad Interview

Jane Palmer - Marketing & Programme Manager

Jane Palmer - Marketing & Programme Manager

Conservation Travel Africa was set up to help restore Africa's wildlife and wild areas to their previous abundance and reestablish areas where communities and wildlife can live and prosper in harmony. As Marketing and Program Manager, Jane helps CTA work with local organisations who need manpower on the ground to help achieve their long term goals and runs CTA’s volunteer programs that cover two main areas: conservation management and community development. By ensuring that each program maintains the CTA mission, Jane continues to help restore Africa’s natural habitat and provide better environments for the unique wildlife that resides there.

How long has Conservation Travel Africa been working with local organizations and communities in Africa to bring about the restoration of Africa's wildlife and wild areas?

We have been working in southern Africa since 2011, but our staff have been actively involved in a variety of conservation programmes and game parks since at least 2006. Our CEO is still the game park manager at a Black Rhino Breeding and Release Programme in Zimbabwe.

What was the inspiration behind the founding of Conservation Travel Africa? 

We have a vision to bridge the gap between wildlife areas and communities and we believe that the only way to do this is to work with communities to show them the value of the wildlife heritage that surrounds them. We want to reintroduce animals back into areas which were previously rich game areas and encourage local communities to welcome this reintroduction.

We have worked with volunteers for many years and know the value that they can bring to an area, both in terms of their financial input, but also their positive outlook, ideas, and enthusiasm. Volunteers help to lay the groundwork in schools and communities, help with poverty alleviation and sustainable farming programmes, as well as assisting in game parks both small privately owned areas and massive conservancies.

Tourists in the wilds of Africa

Why is Africa the ideal volunteering destination for both conservation management and community development?

Africa is amazing. It is captivating, colourful, and vibrant, and it has everything for the traveller who wants to get off the beaten track and do something amazing. It has welcoming communities, the best wildlife, spectacular scenery, and most importantly it needs help from overseas and has a willingness to accept help from outside.

Volunteering programs in Africa are a dime a dozen. What makes Conservation Travel Africa and its programs stand apart from the rest? 

Our programmes are down-to-earth and driven by responsible values. We do not work with large commercial partners; our local projects are staffed by small, dedicated teams of professionals who have a real need for volunteer involvement to help them achieve their goals. We believe that in many cases small projects working hard on the ground are more beneficial for volunteers, than huge programmes where the long term goals and reasons for taking volunteers are questionable.

What is Conservation Travel Africa's most popular program?

Our two most popular programmes are our Hands-on Black Rhino Conservation Programme, where volunteers get involved behind the scenes in a family-run game park in Zimbabwe. They get to learn about rhino conservation first-hand and look after the six rhino on the property.

The other project is a combination Teaching & Big 5 Wildlife Conservation Programme in the Save Valley, which is based in the heart of Africa’s largest privately owned conservation area. Volunteers get hands on with teaching in the local school and tracking and monitoring big game. It’s an amazing experience!

Which type of volunteering placement – Wildlife Conservation, Wildlife Research, Childcare and Orphanage, Teaching, Community Development – receives the most number of applications?

We definitely get the most enquiries for Wildlife Conservation Programmes. We are driven by wildlife so we try to have incredible conservation programmes. But because the community is so important to the survival of wildlife, each of our conservation programmes has an element of community work.

Do volunteers need specific skills to join any of these Conservation Travel Africa programs?

No formal skills are required, just the ability to communicate in English, a passion for wildlife and a flexible, can-do attitude!

How do you help participants adjust to the new culture and environment?

Our volunteers get a comprehensive pre-departure pack and access to an advisor seven days a week before they leave for Africa. Every volunteer has a briefing and orientation when they arrive on a programme and, where possible, they are given a current volunteer to “buddy” with who shows them what’s what and helps them settle in. We encourage all our volunteers to ask lots of questions and we have group meals so that they can share their experiences and learn from each other.

Safety is of paramount concern when traveling abroad. How do you ensure the safety of your participants?

We have staff on-call 24 hours a day and all our programmes operate in areas equipped to handle medical emergencies and evacuations. Our staff and guides have medical training specific to the African bush.

We have exceptional destination managers and programme staff. Our staff are all familiar with the country of operation and live, or have lived, within that country and travelled to the programme locations. They have been chosen because of their passion and expertise in their field. Where volunteers are working with or near to wildlife, they are accompanied by fully trained rangers.

Each one of our programmes has an advanced risk management plan. By understanding every detail of our programmes, we are well equipped to keep guests secure and trained to avoid situations that could compromise safety.

What can we expect from Conservation Travel Africa in the next five years?

We are working towards big things! We would like to offer more projects, but we have a strict screening process on the volunteer programmes which we offer and we like to get more involved in projects than just be a sales agent, to ensure that it has true responsible credentials.

We will definitely be offering projects in Namibia and Botswana and we are also working on a school and youth travel programme aimed at 12 to 18 year old high school students.

We would also like to put Zimbabwe back on the map for volunteer travel as we believe it is one of the most stunning and overlooked countries in Africa.