Volunteer with servals in Africa just like volunteer Ashleigh has done before – and will do again – was one of the best things of volunteering at the African Dawn Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa.
The sanctuary is also a refuge for cheetahs, lynxes, monkeys, birds and more…
Read below Ashleigh's amazing adventure as she socializes with monkeys and plays with serval kittens!
Ashleigh and serval kitten...
All pictures supplied by Ashleigh
I volunteered at the African Dawn Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary – Rehabilitation Centre and Endangered Cat Breeding Centre, in Tornhill, South Africa.
I was there twice – in January 2012 for 4 weeks and again in December 2013 for 6 weeks. You too will want to go back!
The atmosphere at African Dawn is indescribable.
Probably the best word to use is home.
African Dawn becomes home to people who visit and will always have a place in their heart.
The basic layout of an African Dawn working day is simple.
Wake up, stumble up the hill to the sanctuary and start the animal feeding.
The food is already laid out in the mornings and ready to go. You check the roster for your partner or group and what route you are on. Then you collect the food and go around to the enclosures to feed the animals. Some animals just need their dishes left on the ground and some animals can and/or need to be hand fed. Then you just refill the water dish and you’re done!
You finish off you’re route and head back to the main building for breakfast.
Once breakfast is done, the managers will read out the jobs list and you can call out your name to complete any of the available jobs.
There is all sorts!
Anything from gross things like scrubbing yucky water bowls or moving pondweed around the lake, to much nicer things such as feeding the servals or socializing with some of the permanent residents like the monkeys, birds or duiker.
The morning jobs take a few hours but then its time for a rest before lunch. Some volunteer’s head back to the cabins for a nap, some spend time with the animals and take some photos and some hang around with the staff and have a chat.
African Dawn Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary
After lunch, its time for feeds again but the volunteers have to prepare them this time. There’s a simple sheet to follow and lots of fun and icky things to do but it’s always a lot of fun with everyone joking and carrying on in the prep room!
Then it’s time to feed the animals again, just like in the morning and you’re done for the day!
Then you’re free to do whatever you want!
The accommodation at African Dawn is great.
Beautiful settings of the accommodation for volunteers at African Dawn Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary
There is a set of cabins, down the hill from the sanctuary.
There are several private cabins for longer staying volunteers, some big group cabins but mostly several paired cabins.
They can get a bit drafty in winter but they’re well made and comfy, all built around a beautiful big tree.
There’s separate bathrooms for guys and girls, and plenty of place for everyone to spread out on the verandah or the grass and there is also a large common room just to the side that has a TV and fire pit that everyone likes to get together and use.
You will meet people from all walks of life at African Dawn.
Young, old, experienced, fresh from school and everything in between.
There is always a great mix of nationalities as well. On my first stay we had British, Austrians, Australians, Swedes, Swiss, South Africans, Japanese, Brazilians, Germans and Americans!
You will make friends for life, I still talk to a lot of them regularly and have met up with several again!
Friends for life meet at African Down
There is an option to go through travel companies to African Dawn but I highly recommend going privately.
You will save thousands of dollars, yes I mean thousands, and it will be much easier.
All you have to do is send them an email and ask about prices and whether they have room for you at your chosen time and they’ll help organise the rest with you!
They’ll tell you what you need and they’ll be there to pick you up at the airport.
The money you pay goes towards your accommodation and 3 square meals a day. The food is sometimes a weird combination of things but even a fussy eater will be absolutely fine and you will never go hungry!
There is also a fridge down at the cabins that you can put your own snacks in for in between meals if you would like.
You don’t need any kind of qualification to volunteer at African Dawn, all you need is a real love of animals and a genuine want to make a difference.
I cannot recommend African Dawn highly enough.
Serval kittens... No need to say more...
I actually spent Christmas day 2013 at African Dawn.
As always, someone needed to work, so we were told that we needed to work a half day. Some of us did the morning feeds and the rest did the afternoon feeds.
We were all a little bit down that we had to work Christmas day and we were missing our families of course.
So we carried on as usual but were told periodically during the day to make sure to look a little nicer than usual for dinner, which we thought was interesting because usually we dress in old clothes and bare feet almost every day!
We arrived for dinner and when we walked into the outdoor eating area, there was the nicest dinner set up! The staff had made a giant long dinner table for every single person to sit at, each place had a setting with a block of chocolate and a little bottle of sparkling wine.
We had a beautiful Braai (Barbeque) for dinner with a lot of laughing and joking and it all just felt like one big amazing family dinner and no-one missed home at all.
We talked, played guitar, sang together, hugged and danced long into the night and it ended up being one of the nicest and most memorable Christmases any of us has ever had.
The volunteers are an essential part of African Dawn, without them the place simply could not run. African Dawn really makes you feel needed and appreciated as the volunteers are the life-blood of the place.
I learned so much from my time at African Dawn.
I learned about animal care, compassion, compromise, sacrifice and co-operation.
I learned hundreds of things about different cultures, different countries and different people.
I left African Dawn changed for life and have never looked back.
Volunteer with servals, cheetahs, lynxes, monkeys, birds and even wallabies and crocodiles at African Dawn!
Be part of a dedicated team helping rehabilitate injured African wildlife, rescue abandoned wildlife pets and provide a loving home for wild animals that cannot be released back into the wild.
You can see more about the conditions of booking your volunteer experience at the African Dawn Sanctuary Volunteer page.
Want more African volunteer real life experiences?
See how to volunteer with Rhinos!