DAKTARI Bush School & Wildlife Orphanage is set in a beautiful nature reserve with granite hills and the most stunning views. Leopard, hyena, buffalo, impala, kudu, wildebeest, zebra and giraffe roam freely within our grounds. The camp itself is located in the heart of the reserve and it is here that you will work with the children and enclosed animals. However, you will be going into the reserve to explore the signs of nature around us.
Ian and Michèle Merrifield officially opened DAKTARI Bush School & Wildlife Orphanage in 2006 but it was a long road to make that happen. Ian and Michèle met while Ian was working as a game ranger at Tshukudu Game Lodge and Michèle was volunteering there. While hand-raising injured zebras, wildebeest, and warthogs, Ian and Michèle fell in love.
Michèle had long dreamed about living in Africa and taking care of the wildlife. When she met Ian, she was able to realise that dream. They left Tshukudu after getting married and opened a restaurant in Hoedspruit to start raising capital for their own wildlife orphanage. While there, Ian and Michèle helped raise a local boy named Thabo. He had almost no knowledge or understanding of his native wildlife and environment, so Ian and Michèle began using the animals in their care to teach him. Thabo’s understanding of conservation was typical of children in Limpopo and the idea of adding a bush school was born.
So where did the name DAKTARI come from? Michèle says, “When we were younger, there was a TV program called Daktari. It was about a family in Africa, who looked after and raised many different types of orphaned wild animals. As kids we loved it and we remember getting deeply emotionally attached to the different animals.” Sounds familiar, right? Michèle and Ian adopted the name and so DAKTARI Bush School & Wildlife Orphanage was born.
The mission of DAKTARI is to educate and inspire local children to value their environment and stimulate community development.
Through the combination of the bush school and the wildlife orphanage, DAKTARI has developed an immersive educational experience for local children to learn about the wildlife around them, the environment, anti-poaching and a wide variety of other issues. Right in the middle of the bush! Our work extends into their communities through ECO CLUBs at the secondary schools, outreach campaigning in several schools and other community development projects.
Join us to volunteer with children and animals:
DAKTARI’s volunteering program is designed to give our volunteers the opportunity to teach local children, care for injured or abandoned wildlife and get fully immersed in the South African bush and culture.
As teachers and caretakers at DAKTARI our volunteers are vital to the success of our programs and make a great impact on the communities.
You will spend your day teaching children and helping our staff care for the animals around the camp. This can be anything from feeding an animal with a bottle to cleaning their enclosures or picking up a hammer and renovating their homes.
We are located in the middle of the bush and so the camp is rustic, although we do our very best to make sure everyone is kept clean, comfortable, and well fed! You will enjoy hot showers, running water, and solar-powered lights in your traditional chalets. You may be sharing your chalet with up to 4 other volunteers but everyone has their own bed and space to store clothes and personal items. There are no plugs in the chalets but we have an allocated charging station in the bar where you can charge all of your electronic devices. The only items we do not allow are hair dryers and straighteners as they use too much of our solar power.
At DAKTARI, everyone is served three meals a day by our experienced kitchen staff. We can cater to vegetarians and vegans, but gluten free people should bring their own food for the first week and can then stock up during the weekend. Sadly, gluten free food is too expensive for us to be able to provide it without an extra cost. Laundry is done for everyone each day, with the exception of Sunday, and the rooms are cleaned every day. Our volunteers are often pleasantly surprised at the nice conditions when they arrive.
1 week $675
2 weeks $1115
3 weeks $1660
4 weeks $1920
How Does It Work?
Poaching: Although the work DAKTARI has done over the last 13 years has contributed to a sharp decline in the amount of animals poached by our neighbouring communities, it is still a problem which is very present and must be dealt with by the community. The poaching makes it so the villages have no local wildlife anymore and the children have no exposure to these animals. The community is used to seeing animals as tools for work or food. Wild animals are generally considered dangerous and treated as such. Care for animals, be they domestic or wild, is something which is hardly ever seen as a priority.
Poor Education: With classes ranging from 67 to 132 students, it is very difficult for the children in the communities around us to attain a good level of education. Poor facilities and overcrowding create a toxic combination which debilitates the future of the children, the leaders of tomorrow. It further hinders their ability to get jobs in a province with an employment rate of only 49%.
Pollution: No basic sanitation systems, poor access to water and most importantly a lack of awareness and education about the recycling and waste management leads many villages in the area to be full of waste. This is not only a problem because of the ‘aesthetics’ of the villages, but it also creates problems of health!
DAKTARI has three main areas of focus: the teaching program with children at the camp, our wildlife orphanage and our work in the community surrounding DAKTARI.
The Teaching Program:
DAKTARI invites 8-10 children each Monday to stay for five days. We teach the children about the environment and conservation, including anti-poaching, pollution and identifying animal tracks. We also supplement their regular schooling with math games and social talks about respect, substance abuse and safe sex. The children get one-on-one attention from the volunteers and engage in fun activities throughout the week.
The Wildlife Orphange:
The animals at DAKTARI come from various people and game reserves in our area. They have often been found abandoned by their mother or simply injured. These animals in many cases, unfortunately, after being hand raised can not be rehabilitated into the wild because they are too dependent on humans or have lost their fear of people and therefore become dangerous. This is when they are brought to us. DAKTARI is not a rehabilitation center but rehabilitates as much as possible, when possible. The objective of DAKTARI is to give them a second chance at life while serving the purpose of educating underprivileged children to care, love and protect them.
The Outreach Program:
Our work doesn’t stop at DAKTARI’s gate. We go into the local villages weekly to provide environmental education opportunities to children at the high schools. We also sponsor and implement community improvement projects like building dustbins or planting trees. When the children are busy writing their exams, we host a Job Hunting Program where local unemployed youths gain the skills they need to find a job.
Through DAKTARI’s programs we have reached more than 4,000 children in 13 years, cared for hundreds of animals, and helped dozens of youth get employed. If you want to become involved with DAKTARI’s work, consider becoming a volunteer
Monday to Friday: You will be teaching a group of eight children, aged 12-16, about the environment, the importance of protecting wildlife and about social issues like safe sex. All classes are taught in English but you do not need to be a native English speaker to teach at DAKTARI. You also don’t need to have any teaching experience. We have everything you need to be a great teacher!
Your day starts at 7:00am and lessons begin at 9:00am. Classes finish at 4:30pm and then we have group talks with the kids about social issues. We also make time for fun! You will play games with the children, join them in the pool and dance around the bonfire to their favourite songs!
Several times a year we also run a Job Hunting Program where we invite local unemployed youths to our camp and teach them the skills they need to find a job.
Saturday: You can take a trip into Hoedspruit with Ian. This gives you the opportunity to do any shopping you might need and a chance to get out of the camp for a while. There are plenty of great restaurants in town to have lunch at too!
Sunday: Is your day off. You can plan a day excursion if you like or just relax at the camp. If you are interested in taking a longer break over the weekend (Friday to Sunday), you are welcome to arrange that with our staff.
Three meals per day – breakfast, lunch and dinner
Tea, coffee, juice and water
Accommodation in one of our chalets with towels, bed linen and a mosquito net
Pick up and drop off at Hoedspruit town or airport when arriving/departing on a Saturday only
One trip into town per week
International/national flights and travel arrangements
Travel insurance (required)
Personal toiletries e.g. shampoo, sunscreen, insect repellent
- Hiking Boots
- Day Pack
- Neutrally coloured clothes (Not White)
- Water bottle
- Insect Repellent
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