Thursday, October 1, 2009

CONSERVATION: Saving the Elephants

By Mark Bottell

The Eastern Cape in South Africa was an area once inhabited by freely roaming elephants, concentrated in the thick forests found in the region. Sadly, these elephants no longer exist today, and it is highly unlikely, if not impossible, that you will spot an elephant in the forest. But wildlife conservation projects have brought elephants back into the Eastern Cape, with the Addo Elephant and Kariega National Parks making some noble attempts to restore a healthy elephant population.

Addo Elephant National Park

The Addo Elephant National Park in 164 000 km2 and includes an impressive 5 out of South Africa's 7 biomes. As well as hosting elephants and other big game, the park is home to 450 different bird species too. With a marine reserve included within the parks grounds, it can now boast that it hosts the Big 7 - elephant, lion, rhino, leopard, buffalo, southern right whale and great white shark. With a large amount of animal conservation work well underway, this park is a great choice for those wishing to lend a helping hand with conservation projects.

Many people are opting to take some time off work, and go on adult gap years. Addo Elephant Park is an ideal place to do this. It affords a hands-on opportunity to contribute towards animal conservation work and it gives you the chance to see some of Africa's finest wildlife.

The park is involved with other wildlife conservation projects too. With such a diverse wildlife make-up the park wants to preserve, and rehabilitate where necessary, the unique plant and animal species that are indigenous to the area.

Kariega Conservation Project

Also situated in the Eastern Cape is Kariega Game Reserve. 8,500 hectares of beautiful wildlife with two winding rivers make up this unique coastal reserve. The reserve is home to all members of the Big 5, as well as hyena, giraffe and zebra, and through their conservation projects, the park is re-introducing numerous indigenous species into the area.

If you're interested in saving the elephants, Kariega is another reserve which gives you the opportunity to do just that. If you decide to volunteer here as part of your adult gap year, you can get involved with their elephant research project. You'll be out monitoring the elephant's movement patterns, and record their unique ear markings. You can track their impact on the vegetation, and really get to know these giant creatures.

And gap years for adults aren't all work and no play. When you're not involved with the elephants, you can enjoy the beauty of this South African malaria-free reserve, or explore further regions of the country on your weekends.

An exciting and rewarding way to spend a gap year for adults is to become involved with elephant conservation work in the Eastern Cape. Whether it's at the Addo Elephant Park or Kariega game reserve, you have the opportunity to help and learn more about these amazing animals. And you get to enjoy the beautiful reserves South Africa has to offer.

Mark Bottell is the General Manager for Worldwide Experience, an online tour operator offering extended breaks working on wildlife conservation projects, and gap years for grown-ups.

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