Name: Katherine Blakey
Dates of stay: 02/06/15 – 11/8/15 (10 weeks)
Your background: Graduate in Wildlife Conservation with Zoo Biology
Why did you decide to volunteer?
I came to Lilongwe Wildlife Centre to gain experience and to learn as many different things as I can about how a good conservation and rehabilitation project works. As I wish to pursue a career working with wildlife and in conservation LWC seemed like the perfect opportunity to gain knowledge and experience.
Why did you choose Lilongwe Wildlife Centre?
I chose Lilongwe Wildlife Centre because I had already heard about here through the Born Free Foundation and really liked the work the centre does. The fact that one of the main goals of the centre is to rehabilitate animals and release them to the wild, if they are able to, was definitely a main reason for my decision. Many other ‘volunteer’ experiences didn’t necessarily have that as a main purpose and also many others didn’t have the no contact policy that LWC has. I knew through studying wildlife and conservation that a no contact policy is important to keep the animals de humanised and give them the best possible chance of being able to be released. I also liked the fact that I have had the opportunity to get involved in many different things such as education, animal care, orphan feeds, vet course, a week in Kuti and some projects rather than just focusing in one area.
What kind of work are you able to get involved in? What do you enjoy the most/least?
I have been able to get involved in many different aspects of work whilst being at the centre. It very much depends on how long you are here and where your interests lie, so if you prefer to stick to one are that’s usually okay but there is always the opportunity to get involved with more. As I am here for ten weeks I have done quite a few different things. I have got to work on orphan care helping to feed the baby monkeys and owls and going out and collecting branches for their enclosures. I have had the opportunity to get to work on some enrichment for the animals which are here which can sometimes be challenging but also great when you see the animals foraging and playing with the things you have made for them. I got the chance to help study the pre-release group to see how they all interact together and behave before they go to the wild, and I have also gone out on the wilderness trails and done some wildlife surveying to help get a better idea of the species found around the centre. I also took part in the vet course run here which was a great opportunity to learn about how veterinary medicine ties in with the work the centre does and the importance of health checks and monitoring to make sure the animals are in a good, healthy condition. It was a great chance to also learn some basic veterinary skills that I hadn’t had the opportunity to learn before and to learn about veterinary medicine in the wild. Since being here I have also been on outreach and gone out with the education team to give a local school a briquette presser which was a fantastic experience. I most enjoy getting to see baby vervet monkeys every day, especially my two favourites Littlefoot and Whitney! I also really enjoy getting to speak to all the staff here and learn about how all the animals came to be at the centre and their plans for the future and see how it all works from being orphans to going out in a release troop. My least favourite job definitely has to be washing the orphan care towels! It is an important job that needs doing every day but washing owl poo off towels isn’t all that fun at 8am!
Can you describe a typical day?
A typical day for me would usually involve waking at 6:30am and feeding Littlefoot and Whitney (two orphan vervets who still need bottle feeding milk) at 7am. This can usually take some time as they are very fussy eaters and quite easily distracted! At 8am I am normally either scheduled on orphan care duties such as washing towels, collecting branches for the orphans and chopping veg, or I will be doing a project such as wildlife surveying, enrichment or outreach. I will usually have one or two more orphan feeds before lunch which is at 1pm. The lunch cooked by Joseph is always good and we have days where certain foods are made, like Thursdays which are samosa day! After lunch I will usually have some more orphan feeds and also have the opportunity to continue with some projects such as making displays, pre release or wildlife surveying. Occasionally there is also clinic work to get involved in or you can help observe integrations. Dinner is at 5pm but depending when your day ends you may end up eating a bit later! Usually in the evenings everyone relaxes and watches a movie or sometimes we go out for a few drinks.
What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of the charity work we do?
From what I have seen whilst being at the centre the charity work of the centre seems to have a positive impact on not only Malawi’s wildlife but also the local communities. Having been on outreach I can see the effect the education team have had on local schools and how they are helping them live sustainably using briquettes instead of firewood and charcoal. The centre also educates many people on the impacts of wildlife crime and the importance of animal welfare.
If you have volunteered at other projects, how do we compare in terms of volunteer experience/welfare etc?
Having volunteered a few times previously before I can definitely say that LWC has been the best experience so far. The animal welfare is of top priority and that is made clear from the beginning of your stay, also the opportunities available to volunteers are much more varied than any previous projects I have been involved in and the staff are always more than happy to tell you about the centres work and what the plans are for each animal. This is always nice as you never feel like you don’t things about the animals and you always know what you are doing has a purpose for each of these animals’ future.
What do you hope to take away from your experience at LWC?
I hope to leave here with a much better understanding of how a good sanctuary works and the many aspects involved in creating the best future for these animals. I hope to be more aware of how working with the local communities is key to good conservation work and how protecting habitats and the environment is just as valuable to the animals’ welfare and ability to survive as their health and safety. I also hope it has given me a better chance at securing a job with wildlife and conservation in the future, and will help me whilst studying for my MSc which I start once I return.
What could be improved?
Many things here run very smoothly, however sometimes there can be a lack of communication between volunteers or between volunteers and staff. There are always opportunities to speak to staff, however maybe having a general meeting with volunteers every morning or evening would make sure that any daily issues are kept on top of. Any other issues like power cuts or cold showers are usually common but not unexpected and most people get on with it pretty well! There have also occasionally been issues with noise in the dorm at night but living with 12-15 other people makes it difficult to control this!
Who would you recommend this project to in the future?
I would definitely recommend this project to anyone wanting to work with wildlife or animals in any way. There are people from all backgrounds here but many are vets or people working in animal management or conservation. It is a great way to gain valuable work experience to anyone wanting to pursue a career in this field, but I would also recommend it to anyone who likes wildlife and the idea of being able to help make a difference to these animals’ lives.
Out of 10 how would you rate:
Overall personal experience – 10
Volunteer facilities e.g. accommodation, food etc – 8
Staff and Management (professionalism, approachability etc) – 10
The effectiveness of the project in helping Malawi’s wildlife – 9