The volunteering and "eco-tourism" boom: be careful!
Replies: 12 - Last Post: Feb 17, 2013 6:38 PM Last Post By: mikehuxley
Jun 1, 2012 12:35 PM
The volunteering and "eco-tourism" boom: be careful!Just got back from a fabulous trip around Southern Africa with one serious stain on the map: my experience at a wildlife conservation outfit between Windhoek and Gobabis (google it if you're interested in knowing which one in particular; it's mostly famous due to a visit and huge donation from the Jolie-Pitts). SO disappointed. I booked through a third-party organization - Enkosini Eco Experience - and right from the get-go all that anyone cared about was my money. The animal conservation place in question does some good work, so I don't want to just outright bash them, but I would never, ever return or recommend it to a friend. The general vibe was unfriendly, unaccommodating and unappreciative of the volunteers (the general manager of this place yelled at a group of us and sent us to bed without dinner when we declined a 2-hr hike in the dark after a day of farm labour; I wish I was joking). The owners' beautiful luxury home overlooks the supposedly non-profit property; guests of the stunning holiday homes and expensive lodge accommodation get to feed/play with many of the most "in-demand" animals (lions, leopards, wild dogs, etc.) while we volunteers paid about $150 a day to shovel shit, chop fruit, clear bush and sleep in shared tents/dorms.
Did I get some token good experiences (bottle-feed a zebra, throw meat to a lion, pet a cheetah, etc.) out of it? Yes. Do all of these organizations do the best they can at responsibly rehabilitating wildlife rather than keeping them in captivity so they can serve as tourist attractions under the guise of "eco-tourism"? Well that's not for me to say I guess. All I can say is, be extremely careful. Plenty of these places are nothing more than glorified petting zoos with owners/staff enjoying a cushy ride on the good intentions of paying volunteers. At the end of the day, make absolute certain that you have: a) some insurance of some kind so that if everything goes wrong (illness, missed flights, family emergency, etc.), you will be able to get some kind of monetary refund/compensation; b) some positively glowing reviews from past volunteers; if the organization flatly refuses to give you any (like they did to me), then that's a pretty clear sign right there - and one that I am kicking myself for not interpreting correctly)!
Email me if you'd like more details on Enkosini or the Namibian Wildlife Sanctuary; I should also note that I met at least 12 other people who were fuming over their negative experiences with the same two organizations. :S Not a good sign!
Jun 1, 2012 2:31 PM
Jun 1, 2012 8:46 PM
Jun 2, 2012 2:30 AM
3...... agree with Kira and Mark, there's all sorts of Scams out there and innocent travellers are falling into the traps, I encourage you to expose the company that took advantage of you, too late for you but a lesson learnt, warn other potential victims, spare them the bad experience...... please.
Jun 2, 2012 5:05 PM
4A litmus test for supposed non-profit organizations is always: Are they dominated by a "director"/"founder" and could he/she possibly have created the non-profit as a vehicle to assure a comfortable lifestyle for self?
Animal "rescue" centers worldwide, are very dubious enterprises where animals rarely ever get released sucessfully back into nature, so they assure a stream of revenue and volunteers for their owners/founders forever.
Jun 2, 2012 6:59 PM
5I echo the expressions of saddness. We spent two lovely nights at the Solitaire Guest Farm with the Carnivore Conservation Project next door. It is one of the sponsored projects for the N/a'an ku se Foundation. It is also a smaller project with only a couple of volunteers who spent the days tracking the cheetahs. It was not luxury accom. but really really nice. We had very nice little cheetah drives just before sundown. I think volun-tours are no different than any other tours- you need to do your homework. We considered volun-tours but found them to be so varied in prices and expectations that in the end we just decided to enjoy a reasonably priced all-encompassing tour.
Jun 6, 2012 2:09 AM
Jun 6, 2012 1:36 PM
Jun 13, 2012 9:59 AM
8Whilst we appreciate Domino88’s comments, and have been working very hard with this previous volunteer to resolve any issues we would like to share with you a recent review from a volunteer who stayed around the same time as Domino88. This email is a more typical review. Please feel free to contact me directly for more information.
Hello everyone! Here's a review that you can do with as you like!
I love Naankuse! Upon arriving at camp, stepping out of the truck, I was greeted by a baby zebra named Benny who I would later take turns bottle feeding every 2 hours. I knew right then that my experience here would be memorable.
What captured my attention immediately was the passion of the staff; it was inspiring to say the least. Not to mention their vast knowledge of animal behavior. These are people devoting their time, energy, expertise and hard work towards caring for and conserving these amazing animals. Their selflessness is humbling. Thank God there are people like this so perhaps the wildlife in Namibia will flourish for generations to come.
As a volunteer, be prepared to work. It takes time to care for all the animals, but you will be amply rewarded with activities like the baby baboon walk, the caracal walk, carnivore feeding, etc… A baby giraffe was even born during my time at Naankuse! These memories are etched in my mind forever.
Thank you Naankuse for an experience of a lifetime!
Jun 16, 2012 7:44 AM
9Funny how the postive comments are new/one time posters on TTT.
Makes you wander.
Volunteering indeed is starting to become big business. Ofcourse there are still good ones out there so take your time to investigate in advance. You really do not want to end up in a "zoo" or even worse raise the animals for the canned hunting industry.
Jun 16, 2012 8:04 AM
Jun 20, 2012 12:49 PM
Feb 17, 2013 6:38 PM
12No offense to anyone here, especially the OP, but this makes me really angry. The OPs attitude is part of the problem that has become voluntourism or egotourism. Encapsulated in the one sentence "Did I get some token good experiences (bottle-feed a zebra, throw meat to a lion, pet a cheetah, etc.) out of it?"
People like this with no specialist skills or professional qualifications who roam the world wanting to 'give something back' (and by that read sooth their egos and/or concience whilst getting a great travel story and a facebook profile picture cuddling a panda/lion/elephant or feeling very self important while having their serious faced photo taken with a group of disadvantaged children) do nothing to help the organisations or causes they claim to want to help. Most of the money they dish out (and it is often quite significant amounts) end up as profits for the companies that arrange these 'voluntourism' trips, and very little of it often gets to the cause they are paying for. Groups of freshed faced 'volunteers' turn up to places all over the world and take genuine jobs away from locals and often cause as many problems as they think they are solving (culture of dependency etc). GENUINE causes, GENUINE conservation efforts etc will always need your money, but as for volunteers? I am frankly a little sick and tired of every backpacker waxing lyrical about wanting to do some good, unless you have specific specialised skills and quals such as a veterinarian, a doctor, a nurse, etc etc etc, then what help are you exactly? You rock up expecting to 'work with the in demand animals' yet have no experience, knowledge or skill that can genuinely help them and will probably do more harm than good if you tried! TRUE conservation efforts now are hands off, they don't want you anywhere near the animals, and if you do not have specialist training, experience or quals, quite frankly the only use you have is to "pay about $150 a day to shovel sh**, chop fruit, clear bush and sleep in shared tents/dorms".
By all means go backpacking and travelling. Donate money to various causes around the world. But please stop trying to peddle the myth that voluntourism is all about altruism. It isn't. If you really cared you would help clean up your own neighbourhood, give a bed to a homeless person in your home town for the night, you woulddonate all the money you saved for your trip to the cause you wanted to help but hey that doesn't give you that travel story that will have all your friends marvel at what a wonderful person you are for helping out the poor disadvantaged third world, does it?
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