Something I loved about meeting the volunteers and talking to them was the way they carefully contemplated each question I put forward to them – and none more so than Annami, a local volunteer, hailing from Somerset West. She has found a perfect haven in Inverdoorn’s open spaces as she explains that she’s an outdoor person. “I like the bushveld and openness. I don’t like the city, so this is perfect for me.”
“When I was little I always went on safari,” she says. “I would see the no entry roads and think ‘I want to drive through there, why can’t I drive through there?’ Now I get to do it.” Making this childhood dream come true was preceded by her time studying conservation ecology. Clearly she is no stranger to wildlife, but says of her time at Inverdoorn “it’s the first time I’m doing something like this…I like the experience they give you with all the different animals. A lot of other places that I read up on, they don’t really let you get close to the animals."
Helping out with the big baby rhinos Bundu and Lavinia forms part of the volunteer work, but the principal focus remains with the cheetahs, an experience which is already becoming a highlight. “The best part of what we do, for me, is getting to know the cheetahs and to see how they start to accept you. The first time you are scared,” she admits. “But I can see every time I get close to them, or when we go tracking, or we’re with the wild cheetahs, how every time you feel more relaxed. That trust that is developing between you and a wild animal, I think words can’t explain the feeling that you get.”
Life at the lodge is not without its challenges and the subject of meat work has been brought up often by volunteers. Annami says, “that’s not something that I’m used to and you can’t say ‘no, I don’t want to do it’. You just have to get all dirty.” However, the common obstacle brought up by the latest team is definitely the physical work, a task made all the more arduous by the Karoo sun. “But I love it,” Annami says, “that’s why I came here.”
It has only been a few weeks, but already she has learnt to “keep an open mind and always remember that when you get face to face with a wild animal, it is still a wild animal, even with Izzie and Velvet. You want to let your guard down and think it’s a pet, but it’s not. You have to keep a clear mind the whole time and know that this is a wild animal, and the respect that you have for them must show all the time when you’re dealing with them.”
Her aim for the future is to do her Masters, and she is excited at the possibility of doing it at Inverdoorn. “It will be a gift from God if I can do that, because I really wanted to do it at the end of last year, but all the doors closed in my face. I couldn’t get an opportunity, so if this will then be an opportunity I would be so grateful. I know this is what I want to do.” Her love and passion for wildlife and the environment, combined with a warm spirit, have made her a perfect fit at the reserve and she is already making the most of her time, learning about the animals and working with them, as she says, “behind the scenes.”