My name is John McIlvaine and I am from Seattle, Washington, USA. This is my second trip to South Africa to do volunteer cheetah conservation work, but this is my first time at Inverdoorn. I am here because I love animals, especially cheetahs, and want to work with wildlife and do conservation work as a career. My first week at Inverdoorn has been pretty awesome. The lodge and reserve is kind of in the middle of nowhere, but that’s what I like about it. It makes the experience seem more real; I didn’t come here to go to the mall every day after work.
Every day is a little different, but mainly the mornings consist of cleaning the cheetah enclosures and prepping their food. We also get to feed the two “baby” rhinos which is quite awesome. Then we normally help set up for cheetah interactions and a few other chores. And sometimes we get to go track the two recently released cheetahs on the reserve with a radio and antenna, which is one of my favourite things to do. Then we have an hour break for lunch which is a nice rest, then we normally get to walk the two tame cheetahs (Iziba and Velvet) to a facility that is fenced off where we can let them off their leashes and they can just run around, we just sit with them and pet them for like an hour or more. That is quite awesome and I’ll never get tired of that.
One day I spent pretty much the whole day out on the reserve walking around with the two elephants and their handlers, I got to watch them go swimming in the lake, eat, and knock down a tree, it was really nice. I also tried some of the lunch the handlers brought with them, they call them worms but in America they are more like big caterpillars. They find them in the trees and then cook them, it wasn’t bad actually. And on my day off I am hoping to go on a safari, or if you can catch a ride with another volunteer you can go into town and shop or grab lunch.
We also help with the cheetah runs, that is awesome to watch, it happens just before sundown and it’s gorgeous. There is lots of fun stuff, but also lots of cleaning and physical work. Yesterday we came into the kitchen to do meat work. It is not easy and not always fun. You are going to get dirty, it’s not glamorous work by any means. But when Iziba or Velvet comes up to you and licks you and starts purring, or you see a cheetah run at 70mph, or you hand-feed a baby rhino, you completely forget about all the other chores you did that day. The time with the animals makes it well worth it and in my first week I am very happy to be here. I am looking forward to the next three months very much.