On starting my own volunteer programme

I did write a rather scathing post on volunteer programmes in conservation and how little they actually contribute except financially and volunteers serving as ambassadors.  I suppose some will then go ahead and say how hypocritical I am because I’m pretty opposed to the very structure of volunteer programmes and yet I’ve just gone and launched my own.

Let me explain, not that I feel I have to justify it but rather to illuminate what I am trying to do from the start with this programme.

My programme is NOT about hugging cute orphaned animals.  It is NOT about the poor starving children in Africa.  It is NOT about the alleged war being waged between poachers and protectors.  It is NOT about the Myth of Wild Africa.  It is NOT voluntourism.  It is NOT a way for me to get a salary.  It is NOT open to anyone.

I need volunteers for the following reasons:

  1. To finance the wildlife monitoring I carry out – I don’t like to rely on donors
  2. To provide money to buy wildlife monitoring equipment, e.g. camera traps, GPS units, a vehicle one day, etc.
  3. To provide money to buy anti-poaching equipment, e.g. patrol rucksacks and water bottles, tents, Android devices for SMART law enforcement tracking one day, etc.
  4. To help me process the data from camera traps placed in strategic locations for large carnivore identification
  5. To help me coordinate the wildlife monitoring transects we carry out twice annually
  6. To start building up money we can use for large carnivore collaring
  7. To start building up money we can use to implement a common radio frequency in the area for improved law enforcement and reporting of poaching incidents between properties
  8. One day, the fees paid by those who can afford it will subsidise Zambians who cannot afford the fees to get the same experience.  These could be youngsters from rural areas or university students needing to fulfil internships.


For me to even consider allowing a volunteer they have to meet certain criteria (and no, I don’t care about how much you love wildlife unless you can prove to me you have skills I can use):

  1. Academic background in natural sciences, preferably tertiary level; anthropology and social sciences can be made use of as well but an understanding of the scientific method is CRUCIAL
  2. Similar volunteer experience of at least 2 weeks – I don’t want a novice to the bush or a person who can’t deal with bugs and hot sweaty days
  3. Or work experience in conservation and/or field work
  4. Volunteers have to be professional, open minded and objective.  Conservation is far more complex than most know or are willing to admit and I do not shy away from the harsh reality of it, so they’ve got to be able to stomach that.


So, really, my programme isn’t too bad.  It is geared towards utilising volunteer’s skills and enthusiasm to my advantage while offering them an education in how challenging and complex conservation in Africa is and the different ways in which it can be approached. All the while aiming to provide the same opportunities to Zambians who cannot afford the fees I have to charge to keep the programme going.

Each volunteer is NOT going to make a huge difference but collectively they WILL and it WILL be lasting and the difference WILL be positive.

It’s about educating the next generation in a holistic manner, warts and all, NOT an idealistic manner focusing on the daisies and elephants only.

It’s work and education in one, NOT a holiday and NOT for those with a guilty conscience wanting to ‘give back’.

That’s why I think my programme is better geared to actually working.  But I could be wrong.


A charred 2017

Still think fire isn’t a cause for concern in the conservation realm?  Think again.

This is without National Park boundaries…and I can see EXACTLY where Kafue, Sioma Ngwezi and Luiwa Plains NPs are.

Note the western side burns earlier in the year than the eastern side.  This can be attributed to rainfall and vegetation types, possibly even human population (most notably in the north-western part around the Bangweulu swamps and the lakes).  Human population cannot be used to explain the fires in Kafue NP though…or the lack of such huge fires in the GMAs surrounding the Kafue NP.  The Luangwa Valley is also easily found, with the river being quite an obvious black line (i.e. lack of burnt area), as is the upper Zambezi River.

Zambia burns 2017.jpeg

This is with National Park boundaries.

Zambia burns 2017 with NPs.jpeg

This map, while not giving much information to the audience, shows the extent of burnt area in Africa south of the northern DRC border in 2017.  Note the Miombo belt was significantly burnt and the absence of fire in the central African rain forest.  Interestingly Malawi doesn’t show much burning, which, if we’re using human population or density as a predictor of fire, contradicts our general linking of population and fire prevalence.

central southern africa burn 2017.jpeg


I made these maps using NASA MODIS burned area data in QGIS.


Burning to the ground: first 1/2 of 2017

As I mentioned in a previous post, fire is rarely cited as a significant threat to wildlife.  Of course, it is acknowledged as a threat to habitat…which means it is a threat to wildlife.

I’ve just made a couple of simple maps here using NASA MODIS data and QGIS mapping software to illustrate just how important fire is in conservation.  One is of Zambia and the other shows Africa south of the northern DRC border.


zambia fire jan-jul2

Burned area extent in Zambia from January – July 2017; green areas indicate National Parks. Note the difference between Kafue National Park (the big one on the left) and South Luangwa National Park (the big one on the right); they have different conservation programmes. Which do you think is more successful, looking at this data?  Data: NASA MODIS, software: QGIS

congo south fir jan-jul

Burned area extent in Africa south of the northern DRC border between January and July 2017.  While fire doesn’t seem like a huge conservation issue in several countries (e.g. Namibia, Botswana and Kenya; all are pretty arid, desert-like anyway), it is most definitely a challenge in South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania and DRC.  It is said that Zambia has some of the most important big carnivore populations, given this illustration it would be safe to say fire management is right up there with poaching as a threat to wildlife conservation.  Data: NASA MODIS, software: QGIS