A week in the wild for conservation

Group of smiling volunteers
Category: Sustainability

As proud supporters of the Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary (CFWRS), we were extremely pleased to send our very first Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary volunteer group to help out at the sanctuary. The team of seven volunteers consisted of the following employees from our group:

  • Sales Co-ordinator, Leanne van Eeden;
  • Regional Sales Manager, Neil Claassens;
  • Legal Representative, Melissa Ghannam;
  • Collections Manager, Matthew Kapp;
  • Debtor Liaison Officer, Lerato Motloung;
  • Solar Administrator, Louise Rodway; and
  • Financial Accountant, Rachel Adendorff.

The team departed for Mpumalanga in the early hours of Monday, 14 November 2022 and spent almost a week at CFWRS. During this time, they gained practical experience in wildlife care and learned from leading conservationists, before returning to Gauteng late on Sunday, 20 November.

We could not wait to hear about their time at the sanctuary, and the only way to do justice to this story is to unpack it in their words.

All the volunteers reported being deeply touched by this life-changing event.

This has been the most rewarding experience of my life thus far. I still cannot find the words to explain what this trip has meant.”


Louise described it as “a metamorphic, mind-blowing, and revitalising” and Lerato as “an eye-opening” experience.

Neil has always been passionate about wildlife and the outdoors. The recent birth of his son ignited a fervour for conservation as he realised the need to preserve our natural heritage for future generations. He recounts the following highlights of his time at CFWRS:

Baby rhino and zebra grazing

“Each day presented new and special experiences and, in most cases, everyone was given an opportunity to do all the duties, at least once. I was lucky enough to have walked a rhino calf called Daisy, as well as her best friend, a female Zebra foal named Mdjaji. Due to the relatively small enclosures, the two were required to be walked twice daily to assist with good blood circulation, use of muscles and general health. This definitely was one of the main highlights of my experience.”

A truly life-changing experience

All members of the Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary volunteer group are still feeling homesick and would jump at the opportunity to go back. Melissa describes it as follows:

“Words cannot explain the incredible time I had. I wish my ride left me there, honestly, I considered hiding or running straight into the bush just so that I could stay. It is an experience that has changed my perspective on life and truly pushed me out of my comfort zone”.

The volunteers had the amazing opportunity to feed the rhinos and other animals at the sanctuary. Calves were hand fed with bottles and pellets, while adults were fed bales of grass off the back of a bakkie. Matthew recalls “being chased up the hill by a bunch of hungry juvenile rhinos that individually weigh more than the vehicle”.

A baby rhino being bottle-fed

Despite thoroughly enjoying the experience, the team had anything but a holiday. As Rachel says, this was a “proper work in the bush experience”, complete with spiders, snakes and insects to contend with.

The daily routine started at 6 am and finished around 5 pm. They performed strenuous physical activities like mucking enclosures, cleaning the storerooms housing food supplies and distributing bales of grass. As the only male volunteers, Neil and Matthew prepared wallowing pits consisting of sand and water for the rhinos to roll in. The mud helps protect the animals’ hides from the sun, and flies and midges that potentially carry diseases. All of this work occurred in the humid sub-tropical Mpumalanga heat.

The bigger picture

This past year has been tough for many of us. We had to re-adapt to “normal” and faced challenges brought on by an ailing economy and unreliable electricity supply. The hustle and bustle of our daily lives can easily give us tunnel vision.

Rhino poaching is a very serious reality and has driven the species to the brink of extinction. Sadly, this is an ongoing crisis with 259 rhinos poached in South Africa in the first six months of 2022 alone.

The full-time staff under the leadership of the incredible Petronel Nieuwoudt, Founder and CEO of CFWRS must witness and deal with the brutality that these animals have to endure at the hand of poachers. They also perform the strenuous tasks involved in caring for the rhinos and other animals at the sanctuary daily with remarkable passion. We are proud of our team of volunteers that provided the staff of the sanctuary with a bit of relief and in Neil’s words “fill up their tanks again and keep doing what they do for such an incredible and much-needed cause”.

Matthew gives a very sobering perspective with reflections on his volunteer experience:

“The experience was both uplifting and humbling, it brought joy and heartache, it gave you pride for your efforts but also made you ashamed to be a part of a species that was so cruel that it necessitated yours and the immeasurable efforts of the heroes you stood next to.

I was able to interact with and earn the trust of an animal whose entire life (past, present and future) had been violently dictated by the greed and selfishness of another and yet that rhino bore no grudges, from bottle-feeding an orphan, to hand feeding a juvenile, to laying out teff for a fully grown adult an arm’s length from me, there were never any signs of hate or distrust. There is a life lesson to be learnt from them.“

On a final note

As we can glean from the recollections of our team, the volunteer programme is a bucket list item not to be missed and provides the opportunity to be a part of the incredible conservation efforts of the sanctuary.

“For anyone who is up to being one with the bush and experiencing God’s creations, it is an experience not to be missed.  The Care for the Wild team is doing an exceptional job and I feel blessed and privileged to have been a small part of the work that they do.”


Even if you are not able to join the volunteer programme, Care for Wild has several initiatives that people can get involved with. Please visit their website should you wish to contribute in any way.

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