At Askari we pride ourselves on providing an ethical volunteering experience. Our work benefits the natural environment, the animals that roam freely within it and those who choose to work with us. Sadly, in a growing and competitive industry, this is not the case for all volunteer programmes. We would like to take some time to help you make the right decision when selecting a volunteering experience. Even if Askari is not the project for you and not the one you choose, please consider the following important information when deciding who to give your time, money and moral seal of approval to.
The majority of what we talk about here relates to volunteer projects where you can touch, cuddle, walk with, feed and help rear animals, specifically carnivores. Many of these animals are young; babies and cubs making the opportunity even more attractive to prospective volunteers. Who doesn’t want that Facebook profile picture cuddling a lion cub? If these are your interests PLEASE DO NOT CONTACT ASKARI. Please take on board the following information and think very carefully before pursuing that volunteering choice.
Conservation is a real buzz word; companies use it to describe many types of work and attract volunteers. Ask yourself about the real conservation value of what is being done at the project. Is it working towards securing wild habitats and functioning ecosystems that WILD animals need? Do animals ever have a chance at being WILD? How will cuddling those animals be conserving them? Ask for facts and figures and be suspicious if these are not made available.
The sad truth is that many people exploit wildlife as well as the goodwill of people who believe they are helping. Wildlife ‘orphanages’, ‘sanctuaries’ and ‘rehabilitation centres’ advertising interaction with wild animals should be treated with real suspicion. There are only a handful of authentic wildlife sanctuaries in South Africa and they do not breed, trade or allow interaction with animals in any way. If your project
ASK QUESTIONS. It is highly likely that it is not a legitimate project and one that you should not support.
While some organisations are exploiting wildlife, others are carrying out practices even more devastating. A project that allows you to interact with animals and help rear lion cubs is very possibly linked with the canned lion hunting industry.
This industry breeds lions in captivity so they can be shot by trophy hunters. Lions are kept in cages, often in terrible conditions and released into a very small area only when the hunter arrives to shoot them. The lion is not born in the wild. It never has the chance to roam free, it never hunts for itself or does anything a wild lion does. It is literally “bred for the bullet”.
Predator breeding farms around South Africa are part of a multimillion-dollar industry. More than 200 breeding facilities cage between 6,000 and 8,000 predators. The majority of these (mostly lions) are sold into the captive/canned lion hunting industry. Those who are not, meet no better fate, being sold to Asia to supplement the “tiger bone” trade. This not only happens in South Africa but also in Namibia and Zimbabwe.
The owners of these establishments will have a variety of stories to legitimise their breeding. The simple fact is THERE IS NO CONSERVATION VALUE TO BREEDING LIONS IN CAGES. Captive breeding is not a conservation recommendation for any carnivore species in South Africa. Adult lions being shot is just one part of this terrible story. On their way to adulthood the lions are exploited in a number of other ways to create revenue.
Lion cubs are removed from their mother when just a few days old. The reason for this is two-fold. Firstly, it brings the lioness back into oestrous to reproduce again as soon as possible. Secondly, it provides an endless supply of ‘orphans’ for volunteers to rear, cuddle and walk with. Volunteers are told that the cubs were abandoned by their mother and they are saving them so they can be returned to the wild. Everything about this statement is a lie and here is why:
Many projects are very vague on the details and this should be a warning sign. What is the name of the reserve on which you will stay? Where is it on a map? If this information is not available, why do they not want you to have these exact details?
Search online, look for comments and reviews by other volunteers who have been there. If there are no reviews, why is this? Use social media, review sites and volunteering forums – what are other people saying?
Ask to be put in touch with past volunteers. Can you email someone who has done the project before? Even ask the past volunteer the same questions you ask the project.
The Risk of Captive Carnivores; Environment 23, Winter 2015: 8-9.
With permission from Ian Michler and Blood Lions
Every day means new tasks, and you will get to participate in and contribute to many of the various challenges and tasks that managing a game reserve is.
Plus, I now have the best stories to tell in the pub about holding scorpions, camping next to rhinos, hearing a wild lion roar, watching cheetahs hunt.
It’s fantastic because we are not only working but enjoying the wildlife of the place and the staff are always able to answer every question and explain you the features of the animals.
I especially liked the focus on creating a wilderness area, as large as possible, to house endangered animals while developing the native habitats those animals need, rather than creating a maximally stocked reserve built for taking tourists on safari.
Well where to start - every aspect of my two week trip on the Askari Wilderness Conservation project was amazing. If you’re looking for a volunteer project with a huge variety of activities, wildlife everywhere, great food, fantastic homely accommodation, no two days the same, great value, friendly and knowledgeable staff, then Askari is for you.
My time at Askari was amazing! I really want to come back and stay longer. The surroundings are beautiful and you really feel like you are doing something useful.
I have been on a few volunteer projects around the world but especially in Africa and I can honestly say Askari is by far the best value and the most amazing project. I highly recommend it anyone and think you are crackers if you don’t consider spend some time there.
This month has been one of the best of my life! I feel like I now have a greater understanding of the ecological balance of life out here.
You leave Askari knowing that the time you spent as a volunteer did make a difference to the running of this benchmark reserve. The experience will change your life and leave you wanting to return again and again.
It isn’t one of those volunteer programs where the project is running and the volunteers are extras. Here the volunteers are vital for the functioning of the program. We were always doing something important and were always aware of the rationale behind every activity.
Unforgettable! Unmissable! Sensational!
The closeness to the animals you get to experience here teaches you an even greater respect for them and their habitat. Definitely an experience I will remember with great joy for the rest of my life.
My four weeks at Askari have been at times exhausting, at other times breathtaking, but always inspiring and rewarding. The dedication and enthusiasm the team here is very contagious.
Having been at Askari 3 years ago I have been following it’s progress on facebook with Katie’s great picture. 3 years later I am back in South Africa and it would have been rude to not pop into Askari for 2 weeks. It was just as much fun as I remembered , if not even better with the additions of the pool, sable station and the bird loving South African bloke. So cheers guys. - December 2015
I very much enjoyed my time here in the African bush and was so happy to return as the intern. It just goes to show that hard work and commitment really pays off. It was almost 5 years ago since I was last here, so I’m really pleased this opportunity came to fruition. I enjoyed every sighting, big or small. Seeing the big 5 was just the icing on the cake. - January / February 2016
This experience has been extremely life-changing. The knowledge and experiences I gained here have helped me learn a lot more about myself. The small group sizes allow for a more intimate experience with the wildlife.
As someone who has been involved in quite a few volunteer projects, I can honestly say Askari is one of the best. Fun, interesting and you leave feeling you have done good with your time. The staff are awesome and make your experience here fun and rewarding.
Best way to learn about wildlife and vegetation, conservation and reserve management. Came here with the idea to learn a lot about the animals, leaving Askari with way more knowledge that only about the animals. Thanks for everything. - February 2016
Having returned for a second time, I was continually blown away by the knowledge and passion shown by the Askari staff. My time at Askari will push on to be the highlight of my year. This programme is highly recommended.
My stay at Askari has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. The amount of things I learned and saw was unique and soul-satisfying. Katie & Ed are amazing people in so many ways and I would love to come back for another stay at Askari
Askari was hands down the greatest experience of my life. The staff are amazing and friendly and the backbone of this reserve is strong. When you're not enjoying the countless wildlife you are partaking in meaningful activities that lead to the longevity of this reserve's ecosystem. I would suggest it for all who want to make a difference in their own and this earth's life.
Askari is a unique project where one can truly get to experience the African wildlife. Do not come here expecting to find lions or cheetahs that you will pet and touch, because this is not that type of project. But what you can find in very friendly staff, extremely knowledgeable guides such as Ed and Katie and memories to last a lifetime. Thank you Ed and Katie. - June 2016
I'm so very happy that I chose Askari for my south Africa volunteer program. The quality and knowledge of the team here is well above average - they are a superb team! I learned more than I expected and most importantly, I felt that I contributed to a highly ethical conservation program. "July 2016"
Askari was more than a satisfying experience for someone looking to see a great part of South Africa. I think you all do an excellent job of maintaining the reserve and properly teaching the importan and current values of wildlife conservation. I recommend Askari to anyone trying to visit South Africa for its wildlife.