I was 22 years old when I decided to spend 7 weeks in Africa. It was during my 8th and 9th semester at the university of veterinary medicine in Vienna (you have to study at least 12 semesters there) and I wanted to see a new country, learn about conservation medicine and, who am I kidding, just wanted to touch wild animals for the first time in my life. It were the last holidays before the clinic rotation started and after this we had a big exam that decided if you could chose your specialities that you would do during the 10th and 11th Semester.
My best friend found an organization in the internet called „African conservation experiences“ where you could work with wildlife. We booked a 2 weeks vet program in South Africa, close to the Kruger national park and a 2 conservation program in Botsuana in a bush Camp.
While Pia only booked the 4 weeks, I decided to stay longer and travel through South Africa after the projects. I know that someone from my university was there the same time so we decided to meet in Johannesburg and travel down to Cap Town together.
Our trip started with an overbooked flight in London. It felt like a nightmare, we arrived at the gate when they told us that there were no more seats on the plane. We just had to watch our plane to South Africa, that we had booked since months, departure without us.
The good thing was that we got a transportation to the next hotel, hotel stay with dinner and a Visa card with 600£ as compensation and could take the flight on the next day. (So if they ever ask you if they can overbook you and wait more than a day: say yes).
When we arrived in Johannesburg we found out that our luggage didn’t make it, so we only handluggage when we entered the little plane that brought us to our final destination. One day later over luggage arrived too.
We worked with a vet from the Netherlands and met 2 lovely girls in the program.
We shadowed our vet the whole day. Wherever she went, we went and whatever the daily schedule said we helped her doing it. The primary duties were
- Treating animals from reserves
- Treating animals in sanctuaries
- Dehorning Rhinos
- Game capture
- Blood tests of animals that got transported to other reserves
Treating animals from reserves and sanctuaries
First of all you have to understand that this wild and free Africa doesn’t exist anymore. There are cities and pastureland, which pretty much makes the main amount of the most countries and then there are little parts that belong to private people or the state, called reserves, where wild animals live that belong to the owner of the reserve, and theeen there are national parks with free animals that belong to no one.
So the animals we treated all belong to somebody who retained us to treat their animals.
As I already told you, the animal in a reserve belong to the owners. So when an owner decides that he wants to sell animals or transport them to another reserve, the vets gets a call to so the job. There are different ways of doing game capture. Either you take a group of people and walk in a line through an area to drive the animals into a truck at the end (we didn’t catch one animal doing that, only many many ticks) or you built up fences and curtains and rent an helicopter, as we did it with Galileo.
Game Capture with a helicopter
That was definitely one of the craziest things I ever did.
I was super excited to fly with the helicopter and play the camera girl for Galileo, but they organization didn’t allow it because the helicopters crash very often.
So what you do is, you built an big funnel with fences in the area. Inside the funnel are lines (we had 5 lines) made out of curtains, which are open at the beginning, or better said: pulled together. In every open curtain someone is hiding. The first line has the most curtains cause it’s the longest, and every curtain has a length of a few meters, so you have time to sprint with the curtain from one curtain to the next and close it. At the end the line looks like a brown wall and animals can’t see where to get out.
The next line has less curtains cause the funnel is getting more narrow and so it continues til the end where a big truck is standing for the animal to get it.
But why should the animals run deeper and deeper into the funnel? That’s why the helicopter comes in. The helicopter flies around and searches for animals. When he found some he flies very close to the ground so the animals flee and run into the funnel.
As soon as all animals are in the funnel the helicopter gives the first signal, it’s for the first line. The people who hide in the curtains of this line know that it’s their signal so they jump out and close the curtains as fast as possible.
Then the helicopter continues to drive the animals and they get into the second line and the helicopter gives the next signal. That’s how it continues til the end.
We were at the third line and oh gosh did I shit my pants. I felt the animals trampling around me who ran back and forward in panic, trying to find the way out. A zebra crashes into Pias Curtain and she was lucky she had enough space inside to not get hit by the animal. When the signal finally came the adrenaline flashed into my veins and I started running as fast as I could, pulling the curtain behind me. A impala crossed my way out of the inner zone, with such a speed that I was lucky it didn’t hit me. “There goes 300$ was my thought when I saw it escaping and ran the last meters even faster. As soon as the curtains were closed my heart could calm down.
It’s was sad fact that the only way to save rhinos these days was to dehorn them. Sadly also rhinos without a long horn got killed cause as less rhinos there were as more valuable the horn of the rest was.
The rhinos got dehorned every two years and only a few centimeters were left so the rhino wouldn’t feel any pain.
As long as you dehorned all rhinos there is no problem to affect their hierarchy.
The anesthetics you use for wildlife are very stringy much stronger than for domestic animals.
We drove to find the rhinos, darted them from the truck and whethe rhino went down we covered it’s eyes and started to dehorn it with a chainsaw. While the rhino was down we checked everything that’s important during an anesthesia: pulse, heart rate, breathing frequency, mucosa, rotation of the eyes to know how deep the animals where sleeping and capillary refill time.
After the horn was cut off, where also the chips were collected, the rhino got an antidote to wake up again. The antidote works pretty fast and we jumped back into the pick ups so the rhinos didn’t attack us.
A Transmitter got put into the horn, so you could locate it when it got stolen, and together with the chips it for stored in a safe place.
How could we stop the problem?
There are different opinions. Of course more money could be invested in the security of the animals but you have to know that poachers invest a lot in there weapons and night vision device when they know that they can make a few millions.
There is the believe in China that a rhino horn works as an potency remedy, which is of course absolute bullshit. So educating these people would be another point. But why is it worth so much? Cause it’s illegal. If the countries would legalize the trading with rhino horns, people could breed rhinos, keep them in reserves and dehorn them every two years (rhino horn grows like nails). The price would drop instantly and without being worth so much the poachers wouldn’t risk there lives anymore to get it. But why not legalizing it? Of course there is the animal welfare aspect: do we really want rhinos to become the new sheep? Well if you ask me, living a “free life” (there are rules how big a reserve has to be to keep an rhino) and getting dehorned every two years doesn’t sound so bad for me. But the real reason is the black market. People (like politicians) make unbelievable much money with the penalties and trade on the black market. Sick right?
Filming with “Galileo”
We heads there was a film team coming to work with our vet. We were not really amused about it cause it meant that we (the students) could do less and the film team would assist instead of us. But everything changes when we saw who the film team was. Harro Füllgrabe, Gregor the regisseur and a Camera man. We spent 3 days together and Pia and I found. Out how exhausting it is to make a clip for tv. Many scenes had to be shot again and again. And with the fact that working in Africa comes with a lot of waiting anyways, we had even more time of waiting.
Kruger National Park
On the free weekend we rented a car and drove into the Kruger National Park. You should not leave the car and stay on the streets. I have to say that you see much more when you have a guide, cause the guides talk to each other on the phones so when one sees a predator or something rare they tell each other and go there. Still we saw many amazing animals.
The Jane Goodall Institute: Chimpanzee Eden
Chimpanzee Eden cares for chimpanzees who came from unbearable housings. Most of them are alcoholics.
Once they are no babies anymore they can get very aggressive, so people give them alcohol to keep them calm.They suffer from hairless cause people put them in clothes and most of them are asocial and have to learn to life in a group again.
Chimpanzee Eden tries to give this animals asecond chance. They try to repair what ignorant humans destroyed.
After two exiting weeks in South Africa we drove north, crossed the border to Botsuana and spent the next 2 weeks in a bush camp. We had no signal and the only electricity we had was from the car.
Crossing the boarder
We had to stay at a camp close to the boarder before we wanted to take the cable car to get to our next destination the next morning.
It was a nice place. We got butternut pumpkin, a thing we ate a lot in Africa and watched the crocodiles that lived in the crocodile farm.
During the nights we saw lights like from a helicopter for half an hour but didn’t know what was going on.
The next morning the lady of our camp told as that two guys were taking the boat the day before and went missing. They were sure that crocodiles from the river had killed them, they found one body but the second man, who was a friend of the lady, was still missing.
On this day we also found out that the cable car wasn’t working so we drove through the river on hanger pulled by a tractor.
I was pretty scared that the water would be too high and we would sink in the river.
I was also scared of crocodiles that used to jump out the water and catch people from boats as the had done it last night.
We stayed in wooden tents. The bath room was an area with wooden fences and you had to shout when you entered it to now if someone was showering or using the toilet. The kitchen was also open with a few cabinets that you could lock, to safe the food from monkeys.
We always ate around the fireplace and learnt to never leave our food unattended if we didn’t want the monkeys to get it.
At night you always told your partner when you went to the toilet and if the lions were to close or in the camp you couldn’t leave your tent at all. That was the moment I learnt to pee in a bottle.
When you walked through the camp at night you used to torch to flash in the trees and watch for snakes, in front of you and watch for eyes and on the ground to watch for scorpions and snakes.
I saw eyes and thought it’s a Lion, but then it started jumping and knew it was only a wildebeest.Pia, after coming back from the toilet one night.
One time I left to the toilet and the moment I closed the door Pia could here the lions in the distance.
We left every morning and every evening to go for a long drive. We watched for everything that was leaving in the area, learnt to read animal tracks and counted the wildlife.
Now and then we would get off the car and walk around to see animals. It was very important to wear the right clothes that wouldn’t attract or scare the wildlife. We were not allowed to leave to group.
One night, when we stayed in the bush overnight we slept around a self made fireplace. It was the most exhausting night of my life. The ground was super hard and Pia and I were lying on the wind side so the smoke was covering us. When I tried to find a new spot, without smoke, there were many thorns and the ground was even harder. Everyone had to keep guard for one hour and I was awake during everyones watch. The only exciting moment was when a few elephants wanted to come close to our fireplace but then decided that it was to dangerous.
Of course we were excited about every animal at the beginning, but after the 100th impala you start to get more excited about the rare predators. We spotted hyenas one night but they were so far away that we only could tell with spy glasses which animal it was. Another highlight were wild dogs, who got pretty close to our car. But the most exciting day was the day we first saw lions.
It was early in the morning and still dark when they told us to get into the car and leave to find lions. I will never forget Pia, who brought the sleeping bag cause it was freezing cold at night and while everyone was already in the car and waiting the Guide pointed the car light on her. She stumbled and vanish in a gigantic dustcloud. Of course the only one that was laughing was me but you can’t imagine how funny it looked.
When we got closer to the area where we suspected the lion, the one who was normally sitting on an extra seat at the top of the car, came back. Our car had no roof or windows, so we actually had no protecting but the fact that we were looking and moved like one object and a metal frame was around us.
Suddenly someone said „lion“ and as the lights of the car spotted on the lion I could finally see my first lion in wildness. He was lying there and looking at us, not excited at all. It was dark and quiet around as except for some cracking sounds. „What is this“ someone asked and so we started to search for the source of the noise. We turned the car, which was around 10m away from the lion and pointed the light into the bushes. And there it was: a second lion hidden in the middle of a bush, chewing something that looked like a anteater.
We watched the lions for a moment when a girl of the group got scared and the guide decided to back off. He wanted to start the motor but instead of running it turned off. And with the motor also the lights died. From one moment to the next we were standing in pitch black. All we could make out was the sound of the cracking bones and the blubber of the motor that wouldn’t start again, no matter how often the guide tried it.
Of course I was sitting at the not existing window and Pia was sitting inside, so the lion would eat me first. I knew that the guide had a shotgun but it was pitch black and I wasn’t sure he would be fast enough to protect us. He called an college but we had no idea how long it would take to pick us up. The only good thing was that I could still here the chewing lion.
After a few minutes that felt like hours, the motor started again and the lights went on. The two lions where still on the exact same spot, not interested in us at all, one eating the prey and the other one waiting to get the remains.
I felt pretty stupid but was glad the scary moment was over.
Whenever you get into your shoes, sleeping bag or take a wood pile, you have to be careful that no snake or scorpion sits beneath it. That’s what our guide always told us. At the end it was him who took a wood pile for the fireplace and got stung by a scorpion. The pain is 16x of a bee sting and he could do nothing against it because painkillers don’t help. So this night he would just drink and cry, couldn’t feel his arm until the shoulder, although he was stung in the thumb.
Shopping in the near supermarket
When the guide asked us if anyone want to come to the next town to go shopping we were super excited to see something else than bushes for a moment. Also I love going through supermarkets in other countries and see what they have.
We drove a while til we got into the little town with a supermarket that looks like a warehouse but were nicely surprised when we saw how many vegan products they had.
People stopped beside us and glared at us form head to toe and back go head. They looked into our basket, what we were shopping, looked at our clothes. First I thought they were looking at us like this because we were wearing the bush clothes. It took a few minutes until I realized what the real reason was: we were the only white people.
From Johannesburg to Cape Town
Pia and I said goodbye at the Airport and I didn’t know how to survive without her.
I travelled to my backpacker in Johannesburg called „the Ritz“ and spent one night there before I met my friend from university.
I will never forget this night. At 4am in the morning the people from my 12 people dorm came home from partying and went to bed. It got quiet and everyone was exhausted and tired as suddenly an guy started snoring really really loud and an totally exhausted voice asked „is this a joke?“
There were many things you could experience on the way down.
Driving in South Africa
South Africa is one of the countries where you drive left.
Still it was very nice to drive through the country. Our vet had a pick up and would let people just hop on who waited at the side of the street and needed a ride. When you passed there spot they just knocked on the door and you stopped so they could hop off.
The streets were wide but mostly had only one line into each direction, so when a truck saw you coming it would drive to the service lane so you could pass and after this you hit the hazard flasher to say „thank you“ and they would turn the headlights on to say „welcome“.
Hop On Hop Off Bus Drive in South Africa
South Africa is a pretty dangerous country and because of this there is a Bus for backpackers that drives from Johannesburg to Cape Town and from Cape Town to Johannesburg every day. On the way it stops at every backpacker hostel, all you have to do is get a ticket for a time period and then you can use the bus how often you want. You just call the bus one day before that he should stop at your backpacker.
Because of this I met some people again and again and because the guy I travelled with me got on my nervous pretty fast I was glad I found new friends.
One of them was Floor and we found out that we both where in the same hostel in Johannesburg and both remember the „is this a joke“ story.
The book of the bus hop on hop off was also the guidebook of the backpackers and we always had a really nice stay.
One morning at a backpacker by the sea we wanted to go boogie boarding when someone at the beach told as that they had just seen a shark. That’s the thing about South Africa. It can be pretty dangerous
A really nice experience was canyoning through the coffee river. It’s called coffee cause it’s always brown, so you have to be careful that you don’t hit any rocks.
On the way we had an 11 meter jump where you had to run and jump so you got over the rocks into the river. You had no time to stand on the edge and think about it cause you needed to take a run up to get over the rocks. Of course I did it and had a really nice jump that felt quite long before I hit the water.
I never wanted to do bungee jumping. The simple idea of jumping head first wasn’t a smart thing in my opinion. But then we arrived in the town next to the highest and safest bungee jump in the world. „And if all your friends jump from a bridge?“ well seems like then I would do it too.
It was an absolute crazy experience. I didn’t want the guys to push me so I said „I jump! I jump“ and the moment my feet left the bridge and I was looking at the canyon beyond me I felt like the world stopped. I felt like I was suddenly in space cause I was in the air but because it was so high the ground didn’t seem to come closer. I just felt like floating in space. It took for seconds until I felt the rope on my legs that started to pull harder and harder and finally through me back up.
I have to say I only felt safe when I was finally back on the bridge.
Find the whole video on my YouTube channel! Click here
Contact with my family and friends
In 2011 I had no Instagram but Facebook and I loved to post pictures every day (that’s probably the reason I became an influencer).
I also texted my mom that I was fine but she didn’t reply, but I knew she was fine cause she liked my pictures.
After I jumped from the 11m rocks and my bungee jump she finally texted me back.
Could you please stop jumping down from things.
When you drive through Austria you have to be careful that you don’t hit a rabbit or a deer. When you drive through South Africa you have to be careful that you don’t hit a monkey.
One day I was running on a small road close to me backpacker beside a stonewall. At the end of the stonewall was a giant monkey statue. The moment I passed the statue I looked over to it and realized it wasn’t a staute. It was a huge baboon, with canines looking out of his mouth that were as long as my fingers. Wide eyed I kept running and stared at the monkey who stared back, probably the most stupid thing but I couldn’t fight it. Luckily instead of attacking me it just jumped down the stonewall and ran off.
Shark Cage Diving
My favorite animal is the great white shark. So you can imagine that the thing I was most excited about before going to South Africa was cage diving with great white sharks.
We took a shuttle from our hostel that got us to the shark center. I was relieved when I saw the signs of „Shark Project“ that supported this trips. The thing is, as long as people want to see sharks, the people kill less of them.
We saw surfers when we left the beach and I was quite shocked when our boat stopped only a half an hour later on the open water. How could people go surfing there?
We saw 4 different great white sharks and when I was in the cage and saw the first shark passing by a few centimeters in front of me, outside the cage, I thought „okay but it isn’t that big“. It continued swimming pass me and continued swimming and I thought „damn it doesn’t stop, okay it is big!“
The scariest part was stepping from the boat into the cage that was fixed to the boar and swimming on the surface, cause if you stumbled and fell you would and up in an open water with a bunch of great white sharks around you.
Cape of Good Hope
From Cape Town Denise, a friend I met on the road, and I booked a tour to Cape of Good Hope. It includes a bike tour, a bus ride to Cape of Good Hope and a tour to the Pinguins who live in this area.
Whoever visits Cape Town can’t miss Table Mountain.
There are 2 routs to get up. The long route is longer and takes longer and the short steeper one. Guess which one is more exhausting and guess which one we took..
After this exhausting hike I had to get down as fast as possible to catch my flight home, with thousands of memories and a many new friends. Two of them I would visit soon and travel with them. One in Mexico and one in Colombis.