Kerri McGrath

Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa. January – April 2022

While we await Kerri’s full report we asked her for a brief outline of her preparations, thoughts before going, expectation and initial impression on arrival. We met Kerri after her return and heard how much she saw and did and how much the funding helped her fulfil her dreams.

“Living in the South African bush waking up to elephants walking past your bedroom & disconnecting your only source of water is the stuff childhood dreams are made of. When I lost my dad to a battle with pancreatic cancer, he told me not to wait till I was retired to explore the world like he’d intended to, grab every opportunity with both hands. I’d longed dreamed to make a real impact on conservation, but the reality of living in the most basic and dangerous of environments, a Big Five reserve, was a great adventure.

I did a lot of research into the camp where I’d be staying in South Africa before I fully committed to going. Staying from January through to April meant that I’d experience their hot summer with temperatures averaging 30-40 degrees Celsius daily. I’ve lived abroad before so am used to the heat, but we were based in Greater Kruger and the humidity was a killer when working. They themselves made it very clear before I arrived that it was a basic camp with no hot water or luxuries, brick-built chalets without air conditioning and solar panels for electricity.

“Private” facilities!

But all power and water was very precious so not to be abused. Not that the elephants got the memo on that, because once they discovered that they could pull out the water pipe from the tank and use it as a personal straw, that was the end of our water for a few days (something that was really joyful to experience particularly at first but harder to appreciate after a long sticky day when you just wanted a shower and a drink).

The adjustment to camp life wasn’t too bad as it was what I had expected but the long physical days were really tough, no matter how much I thought I’d prepared. I thought it may be more working in the morning then I’d have afternoons and evenings to myself perhaps to decompress or go do my own thing. I knew it wasn’t a volunteer experience like you often see advertised which is often part-holiday, part-experience where the volunteers may get a taste of what life is like in that position. I knew going into it that this was going to be a lot more hands on as I was living with the management of the reserve directly. They had researchers, conservationists, anti-poaching teams and the odd person dipping in and out or living elsewhere within the reserve but at it’s core, it was a very small group.

 The reality of how much work there was to look after a 10,000-hectare area and that there were only really 7 of us to do it, was a bit of a shock. I’d anticipated going out in the field to help researchers or anti-poaching teams but wasn’t fully aware that in reality I’d actually become a full-time member of the team and get involved in everything, rather than a casual observer who occasionally was allowed to pitch in but kept far from the danger. Now that I’ve had that experience, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way because the experiences I got to have and be a part of were once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunities that I would never have dreamed I’d get to be a part of unless I had years and years of experience under my belt in conservation. My respect for the team there also sky rocketed seeing how strict their budget was for food, petrol and car repairs or how little they actually slept. Yet none of this ever impacted the incredible work they did. We had a weekly schedule that we tried to stick to in terms of maintenance or weekly tasks that were required around the reserve, though these could be interrupted for any range of emergencies. Yet even on the most mundane of days, I never took for granted where I was and the beauty and danger I was surrounded by. My whole body and mind were always on alert in the most primal of ways that we probably forget about it in modern society and the awe I had looking up at a 6-metre-tall giraffe casually browsing while we worked, never faded.”

Thanks for this Kerri, and we look forward to your full report, which I know may need to be edited, but I am really looking forward to that, too!