I've mentioned a couple of times that we'd been to Naankuse in Namibia and that I'd get organised and do a post on it.  So, here it is ................ at last.

Namibia is a great place and each time we've visited there or South Africa we've had a great time.  We've treated ourselves to some high end lodges, mid level and also B&B.  This time our trip was centred around 10 days volunteering at Naankuse.  This volunteer lodge is situated less than an hours drive from Windhoek, the Namibian capital.

The South African Airlines flight from Johannesburg was late and then encountered weather radar problems, so they delayed departure for about 45 minutes until they fixed it.  Just as well too because there were some serious rain storms between J'oburg & Windhoek. Anyway, as usual we found the flight crew to be amongst the best we have flown with.  One guy got on the plane with a bloody great overcoat as he'd just come out of Europe somewhere and was very reluctant to give it up.  The steward thought this was pretty bloody funny and asked him if he realised that he was heading to the desert.  The guy responded in a good natured way and thought the question was hilarious.

We were picked up at the airport, one of the smaller you will ever go through but in keeping with everything else in Namibia is spotlessly clean.  The trip out to the lodge bypasses the city completely and heads out to the lodge about 45km NE of the airport.

The main focus of Naankuse is animal rehabilitation & re-homing of what have been classed as problem animals.  They operate a release and monitoring sites in the Namib-Nakluft and the Namib Rand national parks.

The coolest thing about volunteering here is the amount of hands on time that you get with the animals.  Every day you get to do different activities: feeding baboons, taking some of the smaller creatures out for a "walk", walking the semi tame cheetah and taking the baby leopards out for their daily saunter through the veldt.  
Nothing beats this, you get to handle, feed and groom the animals, large and small.  

The highlight for most is walking with the baboons, every couple of days you get to walk out with the troupe of senior baboons.  Most of these have been bred in captivity and or rescued from all round Namibia with the exception of Big Mamma, the matriarch of the troop.  She's born wild and has adopted the captive troop.  The males are all desexed or they would have the large canines that mature adult males develop.

I got really friendly with one of the second tier males, Jeffrey.  Jeffrey had been abused when he was younger and had some behavioural problems and was now a bit of an obsessive compulsive when continually scratching at his chest.  He'd come up to the fence and dance and pirouette and absolutely love it when I copied him on the other side of the fence.

The facilities for the volunteers are reasonable, they are kept clean by the Bushmen staff that are employed around the camp.  These guys are a joy to watch, they always have the biggest grins on their faces as they go about their work.  The head tracker is also a Bushman who really loves the animals and his job, it was fantastic out walking with animals in his company, when he didn't know wasn't worth knowing.

As I said, the coolest thing about spending time at Naankuse is the hands on time that you get with all sorts of animals, large and small, tame and semi wild. The staff that work there, bushmen and the others all do the very best they can the facilities that they have.  The place runs on faith, hope and charity with donations via the web, animal sponsorship and funds from the volunteers.  There are times when the people organising the daily activities seem to be dealing with conflicting requirements: keeping the volunteers occupied and dealing with the needs of the owners which seem to be at odds with and take precedence over the daily activities.

I don't believe that the volunteers are as valued as they should be by Naankuse.  The volunteers are of all ages, from all countries and from all walks of life.  There are students on gap year activities, older people there for the opportunity to do something meaningful and people dedicating some time to the animals and the Bushmen clinic.  While the standards of accommodation are OK the food was very second rate and inadequate, the shower / bathroom facilities only just adequate for the numbers and the canteen opens twice a week when it's the only facility on the place where you can buy extra things that you may need or want. 

In reality, I think that the owners of Naankuse rely just a little too much on the good nature and hard work of the volunteers.  It's the volunteers that make the valuable work at the lodge possible and they really are treated like poor relatives by the management.

It's a great place, make no mistake about that and was a great experience.

We got to get up close and VERY personal with some of the most beautiful animals that you'll see on the African veldt, animals that are generally seen at a distance or in the case of the ever more endangered wild dogs if you just happen to stumble upon them at the right spot at the right time.  We talked with people who had spent much more time in Afria than we had who had never ever seen these beautiful and much maligned animals anywhere except a zoo.

We got to go in a camp with them while we fed them, they were within 2 - 3 metres of us and I couldn't get enough shots of these wonderfully painted animals.  When you are that close to them you really do get the opportunity to imagine what it would have been like when these animals had the run of the veldt.

On balance, it was a really great time, hands on with animals at a level that you can only believe when you have caracals rubbing up against you or leaping 2 metres into the air from a standing start right in front of you as they leap for food.

It's a great opportunity and they do some great work but there's no doubt in my mind that Naankuse relies a little too much on the good work of the volunteers and take a little too much of advantage of this.