The Devils, Ukatulu
Wildlife Tourism

[Interview] – Animal volunteering in Africa – Part two

The Devils, Ukatulu
With ‘The Devils’ in Ukatulu.

We continue our interview with animal volunteer Sarah Magalotti, who’s had the opportunity to work closely with African elephants and big cats. Here she talks about her highlights working in the animal sanctuaries, the friendships she’s made and her plans for future animal volunteering work.

For those who missed it, here’s a link to part one of Sarah’s interview….

So, it’s tough work, but you’ve had some amazing experiences. What are your personal highlights from your time at Ukatula?

Somebody once asked me did I prefer being on cub or on ranger duty. My answer was I liked both. I embraced the chance to have a hands-on experience with the animals. When there were any veterinary procedures to do, within the boundaries of health and safety we were encouraged to help as much as possible.

That’s amazing, but doesn’t make the whole experience, because at the end of the day it was the ability to see what goes on behind the scenes through the ranger management that made it a really stand out for me.

It’s all the little things that you get involved in too. Every day is different,  special and teaches you something. One day I got to spend time with tigers, which was amazing. I had the opportunity to swim with them. So I’ve got a tiger on my back, I’m in the middle of the pool and I’ve got the tiger floating around beside me that’s making a really funny, happy noise. You’ve got that vibration from its throat on the back of your head as it’s just gently resting its jaw line on top of your head. You’ve got two stripy paws that you’re holding onto your shoulders, and you’re bopping around this pool with his back legs kicking…if I’d had a spare hand, I’d have pinched myself to see if it was a dream. It was surreal!

Swimming with tigers.
Swimming with tigers.

Another time I had the opportunity to go into to an enclosure with Emma the cheetah. Having the honour of her choosing to sit next to me, purr and curl up with me was brilliant.

Something that also stands out was when I was called out on ranger duty to an emergency. A tiny, three day old cub was found on the floor injured by one of the other lions. It had a great big slice down its elbow, so we had to get it out of the enclosure and to veterinary help.

I scooped it and ended up sitting precariously on the back of a tractor to get it back to the office and on to the vets where it was sewn up. For the next three days I nursed the little thing back to health. That’s always stuck with me.

It sounds amazing but very physical work, can only the very healthy undertake this kind of animal volunteering experience?

 It’s so important to the lady that runs Ukatula that each volunteer has their own personal experience within whatever boundaries they feel comfortable with. We had a female Australian volunteer aged 72 years old who didn’t feel happy prepping meat and wasn’t physically fit enough to come out on ranger duty. She’s been out a couple of times, but it was exhausting for her. She told the staff about her concerns and they worked out a plan that fitted her ability and the rest of her time there was working with the smaller cubs, something she was able to handle.

Have you built new friendships through this volunteering work?

Thanks to social media sites like Facebook it’s amazingly easy to stay in contact with people. I actually had a weekend recently where a bunch of volunteers came to stay with us – a reunion of types!

But I’ve also kept in touch with the guides and rangers and the owners of Ukatula itself. We have a very close relationship and email regularly. I get updates on the lions I worked with –  not the usual ‘adoption’ stuff, but quirky stories about what certain characters have been up to etc. We loved it so much there that we returned, but when we came back we arrived as friends. It’s one big happy family there.

Emma the cheetah
Sitting with Emma the cheetah

So what next – any new animal volunteering projects you’re looking into?

Now we’ve done the best of the elephants and lions I’m looking for something new. I’m looking into working with orangutans in Borneo or perhaps returning to Africa to focus on game reserve management work.

You can do game capture and management, which is really extreme and adventurous because you go into somewhere like Kruger and be part of a game management team. You could be up in a helicopter or be down on the ground. You know where you see the giraffes being roped and being put into the back of a truck and then relocated somewhere? You would be part of that team.

Do you think you’ll ever have a ‘normal’ holiday now?

This is just a different way of holidaying now, the thought of going on an ordinary holiday doesn’t appeal anymore!

Whenever I’m with animals I feel grounded. When you’re sat there bottle feeding a cub and you look into that little cub’s eyes and and know that it’s reliant on you for its care, you can’t call that hard work. It’s a privilege, its not hard work.

*All images courtesy of Sarah Magalotti.

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Ukatula Lodge

By day Co-Editor Keri is a freelance journalist and copywriter, but spends most of her free time either travelling or planning her next trip!  A complete travel fanatic, she has a love of tropical climates, wildlife and afternoon tea (hence the creation of her Global Afternoon Tea Challenge!)

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