Ever since completing the certificate in Veterinary Nursing in 2015 I have wanted to start a career in helping exotic wild animals mainly lions, cheetahs, tigers and elephants.
When I came across the International Working Holidays (IWH) ad on Facebook at the end of 2017, offering volunteer programs in Africa, I decided to contact them to find out more about the programs.
International Working Holidays then helped me find the best programs to suit my wants and needs. I started saving money and then in July 2018 I contacted International Working Holidays and the great team help me book my awesome trip to South Africa which I finally went on in June 2019. They arranged everything for me including flights, transfers, insurance, accommodation for when I stayed in Cape Town.
The trips I chose were ‘Save the Lions’ and ‘South Africa Wildlife Sanctuary’.
They even liked giving me a kiss/licking at Save The Lions.
The reason I chose Save the lions programs is because I have a great love and passion for the larger cat species which this program offered. I got a lot of hands on experience with lions and cheetahs, including cubs which I got to interact with and help feed, including bottle feeding 4-week-old lion cubs. I learnt a lot about them as Save The Lions has a great research and education centre on their property. They can collect information from the cats to help with trying to find a way to increase the numbers in the wild as their numbers have dropped drastically over recent years due to their natural habit been taking away by the increase of human population. While I was at Save The Lions I got to assist the rangers with daily duties on the property including collecting and feeding food to the animals on their reserve and general maintenance on the property.
The reason I chose the South Africa wildlife sanctuary is because I love being able to help sick or injured animals become better and hopefully see them released back into the wild. Unfortunately, while I was there, I couldn’t experience this, but they did have three 17-year-old Elephants that were rescued when they were babies as their parents were sadly poached. They have been hand raised by the great elephant handlers at South Africa Wildlife Sanctuary making them very friendly and they love interacting with people by giving hugs with their trunks and being brushed. The other things I got to do included: making the elephants food, assisting the rangers with feeding the animals on the farm, doing general maintenance around the reserve, and going on safaris that they offer.
Bottle feeding the 4-week-old lion cub at Save The Lions.
When the day had finally come to head to South Africa, I was so excited as it had been almost two years of planning but also I was a bit nervous as I had never travelled to another country by myself before so it was a little terrifying. When I arrived in Johannesburg after 20 hours of travelling, I was greeted at the airport by the great team at Awesome Travel and they took me back to their accommodation where I stayed with them for three nights before going to my first program. Awesome Travel did a great job of making sure I was safe, and they made it easy for me to settle into a new country. I had an awesome guide Reuben who took me out, showing me some great sites as well as going to an African cultural village which showed how all the different cultures live.
Getting kisses from the lion cub at Save The Lions.
The main experience I gained from doing the volunteer programs was learning how to approach and handle wild animals and I expanded on a lot of knowledge of the animals that I encountered in my time there.
This experience will help me when I start my career in working with animals, and the knowledge I gained will be invaluable in the future.
I also met some great people while I was there and will stay in contact with them.
The moment I’m most proud of is finally getting the courage to commit to going to South Africa by myself to experience working with wild animals like I have wanted to do for a long time which, in turn, has helped drive me to start a career in something I really am passionate about.
Getting hugs from the three gentle giants at South Africa Wildlife Sanctuary.
The biggest challenge I faced was having to leave my fiancée for 8 weeks because we have never been apart for that long. But I managed to get through it because I talked to her regularly while I was away. Even though it was a challenge it was worth it as the experience has been a dream of mine, it has helped solidify my career goals, and has fuelled my passion to help animals.
I think others should do this because even though it may seem terrifying to go to another country not knowing anyone it has been an amazing experience. If you are even just a little bit interested in taking this great life changing opportunity, I would encourage you to not even hesitate in doing it.
I am so glad I committed to doing it and would not regret it in anyway.
To find out more about John Mullions’ trip check out: