The Ripple Effect of Volunteerism

As we gathered on our last night together, over pizza and drinks in a sandy-floored outdoor bar, we reflected and shared our thoughts on the past 10 days – what brought us here, what we gained and what we will take away with us.  When we ask each other what the high points are, we get an array of answers.

By volunteers BTEH’s Elephant conservation expedition, Feb 23 – March 4, 2023

‘I don’t think I could choose any individual highlight’ says Amy, but immediately thinking of one and reminding Brooke of how special it was to identify a female elephant from photos, establishing a definitive ID, ‘It’s all been one massive highlight’.

Kati told us that she was drawn to this experience by ‘a love of animals, a love of traveling and being outdoors in nature’.  Having never done anything like this before, she has been so moved by the experience that she is committed to doing more, learning more, even reigniting her academic pursuits.  ‘I don’t want this to be my last experience with this project … I want to see where this data leads’.

For Alisa, this was also her first-time volunteering with animals and she noted how she was taken by just how breathtaking and inspiring experience has been with ‘so much learning from the people and the animals’. Alissa adds that ‘For people thinking should I take this step or shall I not, and then they see you (Antoinette and Brooke) taking this step and it’s such an inspiration.  Its proof that you can do anything you set your mind to’.  There is lots of agreement about the admiration and inspiration we all feel towards Antoinette and Brooke for the work they do, the passion they demonstrate and the openness they have shown to this group of ‘rookie researchers’.   

Katherine, with her Veterinary background told us that she was even more surprised than she thought she would be, not expecting to have had the opportunity for such a close encounter with elephants having always loved them.  ‘I don’t know what I felt but I know that I will never forget that.’ Contribution is a highlight for Katherine – ‘I felt like we worked with you, we weren’t just tourists.  Our work as a team is going to change so many things that we are not looking at yet as part of the bigger project’.  Nancy agreed and added that it is so rewarding to be small but concrete piece in the larger complex One Health issue. Brooke concurred explaining that ‘It’s the ripple effect – every elephant you ID, every blog you write, every data you enter – that’s how conservation works. You have to do it in little pieces because if you look at the big picture it can be too overwhelming …. but there is something you can do and you all chose to do it’

Katherine K brings the unique perspective of a volunteer who is a second-timer.  She jokes that she must have had such a terrible experience in August that she had to come back.  We all laugh because from what we’ve seen there is no possibility of a bad experience. She highlights the different focus of the first experience collaring the elephants and how this time ‘it’s been an opportunity to dig deeper into the behavioral component, particularly in the context of the rewilding programs that we learned about.

Brooke and Antoinette took it all in and explained that for them too, this is an impactful and rewarding approach to conservation work.  It gets the work done but on top of that ‘it ripples out.  You will all leave here and spread it to the people around you’.  For Antoinette, she speaks from her own experience “If you follow your heart and you are passionate you are doing something that is really meaningful, you get so much back. And it’s so important to share it.”

And as for the elephants, our team uses words like magical, peaceful, awesome and grateful to describe this opportunity to observe and appreciate nature.  Birgitta reminded us all of the peacefulness being among the elephants and the gratitude that it inspires.  And Amy makes the point that an elephant never forgets.  Neither will we. 

October 2023

The next Elephant Field Program has been planned for October 10-20, 2023, when Kariega’s internal fences will be removed and two herds of elephants will likely meet for the first time. More information about this unique expedition.

Read more: The Ripple Effect of Volunteerism ‹ Back to previous page