Rachel M

New Zealand | January 2015

Cattle rounding, baby counting and and rhino proofing!
I enrolled in the equine programme and was so excited when I found out I would be riding alongside Judy Travers. She has been a bit of a hero of mine for a while now, and her passion and enthusiasm for wildlife and the surrounding community is so undeniable and inspiring!

She assigned us each a horse depending on ability. I got to ride a beautiful pony – Mware – who was a bit green, but we just clicked, and I had the most fantastic time riding her. We would meet Judy in the early morning and set out on our mission for the day. Sometimes it was rounding up cattle, or counting the new babies of wildebeest, or checking on the babies and mums of other herds to make sure everyone was in good health.

The cattle rounding was so much fun – you set off with a group of cattle in sight and yoop, whistle and yee-hah until they go in the direction you want for . It satisfied every little girl dream I had ever had about becoming a cowgirl all in one session.

The rides across the property were just breathtaking, and we got to see many areas and sights that you just would not see by vehicle.We could get right up close to the wildebeest herds and walk quietly past as the sable grazed in the distance. I remember cantering through a beautiful patch of land after a long ride with the others, zebras in the foreground and impala watching on from afar and just thinking ‘this is exactly what I had hoped for’ when I had signed up to Imire.

I am not kidding when I say I could pitch a tent on the vol house lawn and live at Imire forever. The place is incredible. My first impression came as I arrived at the volunteer house. The sunset was literally the most beautiful I had ever seen. Gloria, the dam’s resident hippo, was yawning with her massive wide open mouth just a hundred or so metres away, the insects were chirping the loudest I have ever heard, and I had already met three awesome volunteers. Catherine and Mike at the vol house were so much fun, and I could listen to their stories forever.

There is no mucking around, each morning we were up at the crack of dawn and getting on with the activities for the day. Might I add here, my first activity was clearing out Tatendas food pen and attaching a ‘rhino proof’ gate to keep him out… HA! It had a suspicious rhino horn shaped dent in it the next day..

What I loved so much about Imire is that it is not a sugar coated, ‘easy’ volunteer experience. You really get stuck in and do things that help with the running of the park.

I wanted to be able to get a sweat on, and feel like I was truly contributing. We built roads, painted fences, help track wandering animals and so much more. The rewards were being able to spend time up close and personal with the animals, like Tafika the baby rhino and her mum Shanu, or walking the elephants back to their ele-beds, or being diverted to see a massive python after its kill.

On my final drive out as I was leaving for the airport, the entire journey of giraffe surrounded the driveway (i like to think they were saying goodbye) and all I could think was two weeks was definitely not enough. I am already planning on going back!

If you want an experience that fills your soul and opens your mind, and then pours you a beer at the end of the day, come to Zimbabwe.. just be prepared to want to go back time and time again.

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