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The Gap Year Blog

Lizzie Biddiscombe - South Africa Veterinary Internship

3 Nov 2017 16:05 PM
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Lizzie travelled to South Africa with Frontier to complete the Veterinary Internship! She wanted to further her skills in animal care, but she came back with so much more than just that! Read her interview for more.

1.    Why did you choose this particular project?

I chose this project to help me further my skills in animal care; get a taste of African animal conservation and to gain important knowledge on what it means to be a veterinarian and if it’s a career I want to take on myself.

2.    What kind of work and activities did you do on your project?

I had scheduled days with the veterinarian, on these days I was taught how to health check the big 5, to track rescue Elephants and then assess them hands on, I undertook dissection of a Cheetah leg, had hands on lessons with pigeons including how to administer drugs, I was also taught how to assemble and shoot a tranquilizer gun where I then used the gun to administer a contraceptive drug to Lions. On days where the vet wasn’t on site  I spent my days with the other volunteers, this gave me the chance to completely immerse myself and make friends with people from all over the world and get my hands dirty! We did a range of activities such as fence clearing – this makes sure the fences are all still intact, so nothing can get in or out!!! Erosion control was also a major part of the volunteering programme as was clearing alien trees from the reserve. 

3.    How did the culture and people differ to home? What were the locals like?

The rangers and the rest of the staff I worked with on the reserve were absolutely incredible and made the experience a thousand times better. They weren’t just there to help us with volunteering and to look after us; each of them very quickly became our friends and people who I’ll remember forever and hopefully stay in contact with for a very long time.  We were taken to a local school by the rangers and I’ve never met children who loved life more, they were so full of joy. Everyone that I met was so inspiring.

4.    What was the accommodation like?

Our accommodation was more than I expected it would be! We had warm comfortable dorms that were cleaned daily, a communal living room where we could all relax together at the end of the day and watch a movie. The toilets and showers were in a separate building but easily accessible, the shower was easily better than mine at home!

5.    What were the staff and other volunteers like?

As I mentioned the staff quickly became your friends and were genuinely concerned about your wellbeing. It was so interesting living with other volunteers who came from all over the world; you really were submerged into each other’s cultures and ways of life. I can truly say that I’ve made friends for life and I’ve invitations to visit all over the world! It’s important to make a good bond with the other volunteers; you’ll be living, working, eating and going on adventures with them for your entire time! Personal space is definitely not a known phrase, but in the best way possible!!

6.    What was the most amazing moment and what was your best memory?

Personally by best moment and memory was meeting the four female Elephants in the rehabilitation centre. I know you shouldn’t have favourites but the Elephants were why I was in South Africa!!! I was taught how to track them down and then given an extensive hands on lesson all about Elephants. It was incredible to be able to be shown the Elephants teeth as we were discussing them and to be able to interact with them. It’ll be a memory that’ll be with me forever.


7.    Do you feel the work you was doing was worthwhile?

Definitely. A lot of the work we were doing you never saw the “end result” but you could see the previous efforts of volunteers flourishing and you knew yours would do the same. Even though some of the work you didn’t see the end result (some, not all) you knew how grateful the reserve were for your efforts and how much it meant to them.

8.    What sort of wildlife did you encounter?

Being on a game reserve you were completely immersed by wildlife! The rangers made sure you weren’t short on game drives and are more than happy to part with their wisdom from the tallest Giraffe to the elusive Aardvark. If you’re a wildlife lover South Africa is a MUST.

9.    What were you hoping to learn while on project and have you achieved those goals?

When I joined the project I wanted to use the opportunity to shadow the vet to work out if I wanted to be a vet myself. Immersing myself into his day to day life really helped me put myself into his shoes and imagine if it’s a career I’d like to do. I definitely learnt a lot on the project, and animal care is something I still really want to success in, however after my time in South Africa I’ve realised that my passions lay in conservation. It’s been a really successful trip in that aspect, it really helped me realise what I truly want from life.

10.     Any tips and advice you might like to pass on to future volunteers?

Don’t be afraid to push your personal boundaries, the experiences you’ll gain from doing so will reward you! Chances are your project will help you plan excursions to get the most out of your trip, mine did, and I did some unforgettable things! As I said earlier make sure to put yourself out there and bond with your fellow volunteers, they’ll help you get the best out of your project! If you’re not sure on anything don’t be afraid to ask, it’s a cliché I know but honestly everyone will be more than willing to help and happier that you did ask than just being lost!

11.     What do you have planned next?

My next adventure is hopefully university! Although I’d like to do more projects they will come in time. Frontier has been such a good company to do my project alongside and have helped me every step of the way, even encouraging!

By Lizzie Biddiscombe - Frontier Volunteer | South Africa Veterinary Internship

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservationcommunityteaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!