Hannah Needle

Hannah Needle Testimonial – Volunteer, 3rd October – 31st October 2016

Honestly as I write this I am in tears, I have now entered my last week of 4 and I am absolutely devastated to be leaving. If I could wave a magic wand and extend my stay immediately I would – alas I have a few things I need to get straightened out at home first.

(I actually had to leave writing this as I got myself in a right old emotional mess, I have picked this up at the end of my fourth week so here goes…)

From the moment I was met at the airport with a friendly handshake from Kathy, followed by several hours chatting with the previous volunteers and Nicki with their tales of ellie adventures I knew this trip was going to be a great experience (I also instantly regretting only booking myself on for four weeks and I hadn’t even got to the park yet).

My time as an AERU volunteer has been insightful to say the least, who would have thought I could have fallen in love with so many things in such a short space of time! I have never been a morning person and yet here I get up with little difficulty. Catching a tractor into a field to monitor and walk alongside elephants on a daily basis soon became second nature – I mean could you get any more surreal?

Before I came here I believed the role was going to be a lot more labour intense than it is not that I am complaining, I love the versatility of it – sometimes sitting making crafts out of felt or dung paper is exactly what you need (although stuffed ellies was not really my forte).

I understand how important the role of the volunteers is here and I took it very seriously but I did so with much humour and good spirit, I have had so many laughs with AERU and KEP staff alike. I have learnt so much from everybody – about elephants and much beyond.

As for the elephants, wow! Where do I start? I honestly don’t think I have a favourite; I love them all for very different reasons. It sounds like a cop out I know, but it is true!

Having only the space to recount a couple of my fondest memories from the park I guess for me I must choose: When Thato wandered off too far or for too long and upon her excitable return to the rest of the herd she was greeted with trumpets and trunk hugs – seeing how grateful and happy Thato had been to be back in the safety of the herd was a beautiful sight.

Another amusing memory was seeing Mac having to run after a naughty Shungu to get him away from the tractor. Shungu had tried his luck at getting fruit from the guests which led to the tractor doing a full 360 and going to the next barrier. Shungu showed his displeasure at going from first in the queue for fruit to last by trumpeting and running across the field!

The enrichments on special occasions also have to be a highlight – not many people can say they made and gave a princess castle cake to an elephant! Not to mention making bubble writing out of fruit and popcorn for the elephants to eat and watching the herd and their guides walk on the dam wall just after sunrise – a truly breath-taking moment and well worth the 4.45 alarm!

I haven’t even mentioned the landscape but just look around you it is all stunning, get out there exploring! I can highly recommend Robberg and Featherbed and if you like the outdoors with an adrenaline fix go to Afri-canyon or the Bloukran Bridge bungee.

All in all I have had some of the best few weeks of my life and I have made some very special friends here – both human and beast.

To all the staff and elephants this is not “good bye” but “see you later”.

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