Jonathan McTaggart - 2014 Program Participant
Why did you decide to apply for a wildlife expedition abroad? What made you choose South Africa?
I have always dreamed of seeing animals in the wild, and Africa has always been high up on my list of places to visit. I also wanted to take part in conservation research, and this expedition looked like a great opportunity to do.
Jonathan taking photos at a road junction for a elephant impact survey
What made GVI’s program stand out when looking at the many international opportunities out there?
This program stood out in particular because of the training you're given. For a week you go through all the research techniques you'll need in the field. The GVI staff make sure you're fully prepared before heading out on research drives.
What did your training and orientation look like?
It was really interesting and contained many things that helped me with research, and with settling into life on the project.
Describe an average day on the expedition.
An average day would start around 5 a.m. for the morning research drive. We would go out and search for the focal species, which could be anything from elephants to lions. Drives would last until 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. Then, midday would be yours to relax, eat lunch, hang out with your fellow volunteers, or use the resources to learn more about South Africa's wildlife and conservation efforts.
At 3 p.m. we’d go out for the afternoon research drive, and sometimes also take part in reserve management work. We’d return to base about 6 p.m. for dinner. The evenings were spent hanging out and getting to know fellow volunteers.
What was it like living on the Karongwe game reserve?
Living on Karongwe in the middle of the African bush was a dream. You could be sitting overlooking the bases garden and a giraffe mother and baby walk by not far in the distance.
What was the most memorable part of your expedition in South Africa?
It’s hard to pick the single most memorable moment, but high up there would be successfully telemetry tracking elephants and finding them feeding. It was like something out of dream. For such big animals, they move so quietly and gently, but also very powerful and awe inspiring.
What was the biggest challenge you faced abroad?
Probably learning new skills for wildlife research. It took a while to be able to telemetry track properly.
How did the GVI staff support you throughout your program?
The staff at GVI Karongwe would be there if we had any questions or concerns, whether it was about the work, feeling homesick, or just wanting someone to talk too. They were very friendly and helpful.
An elephant that moved really close to the vehicle that Jonathan was in
What advice would you give to others interested in GVI’s South Africa Wildlife Expedition?
Go for it! If you are interested in wildlife and travel this project is a great introduction to wildlife conservation in Africa.
Do you have any packing tips?
Good walking boots, if you’re going to be walking a lot you need comfortable boots. Wet wipes, it gets dusty out in South Africa, so wet wipes are great to have while you’re out there.
What makes Limpopo, South Africa such an amazing location to volunteer with wildlife?
It has the incredible Bushveld habitat which contains the most iconic wildlife, from leopards to rhinos. Wildlife in Limpopo is very accessible and you can see and be part of conservation research that is making a difference.
How did your experience abroad impact your life?
It has given me the travel bug. I really want to travel to other wonderful places around the globe. It also increased my love and passion for animals, wildlife conservation, and working in conservation one day. I also made many like-minded friends from all over the world.
“Suby” the lion showing his ferocity
Would you recommend GVI to others?
Definitely, GVI are a great organisation to volunteer with. You get to go on a great adventure while also gaining experience that will help you in the future.
What is the biggest lesson you learned during your time with GVI?
Jump in to new experience. If you’re traveling and you get the opportunity to do something new do it. New tastes new cultures, new adventures jump in to it. But also be safe, don’t do anything where you feel at risk.
If you could volunteer again with GVI, where would you go and why?
I first thought it would be an easy choice, but after researching GVI’s conservation projects, it was hard to chose because there are so many wonderful looking projects. However, after looking I would go out to Costa Rica to take part on the wildlife conservation project there. I would pick it because I want to gain more wildlife conservation experience. It’s an awesome looking project volunteer can take part in biodiversity surveys, sea turtle nest surveys, putting up camera trap to help spot jaguars, observations, and record keeping for migratory bird. Plus Costa Rica has epic bio-diversity with an abundance of colourful and fascinating wildlife. After South Africa it would be another life changing experience.