Volunteering Insight

Location

Hippo Haven is located within the Savé Valley Conservancy, the largest wildlife conservancy in southern Africa, encompassing approximately three thousand one hundred square kilometres. It is home to elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard and other species including many different species of antelopes and the endangered painted wild dogs.
Baboons and vervet monkeys share our lives at our riverside home, and it is not unusual for a leopard to walk past at night. Hearing the calls of lions, leopard and hyena at night makes for an exciting way to go to sleep.

We are deep in the bush, and there are no trips to “civilization” during this period except for medical emergencies. Volunteers tend to remain in the Hippo Haven area whilst staying here as there is more than enough to keep one occupied. Time-permitting, game drives may be arranged for a fee (contact us for details).

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The Experience

Hippo Haven volunteers have the unique opportunity of living in one of Africa’s most beautiful and wild natural environments. The only sounds one hears at night are the sounds of nature. It is not unusual for the thrilling calls of elephant, hyena, lion, leopard and hippos to punctuate our nights. Volunteers may even be lucky enough to have a hippo grazing in front of their cottage, as the property is not fenced and the animals come and go as they please.

Previous visitors have told us that the best thing about staying with us is that they feel like they are part of an intimate environment between humans and animals, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by wild animals. People say that the scenic views and the extraordinary relationships that have been developed by us with the monkeys, baboons and of course the hippos make it one of the most memorable events in their lives.

While staying with us, there is a good chance that you will see many species of wild animals and birds, and of course, the hippos. Often, a matriarch elephant by the name of Lucy and her herd spend months living around Hippo Haven and using the Hippos’ island and river areas as part of her family’s wanderings. Although this cannot be guaranteed, you have a good chance of meeting them.

Bonbon, Tacha and Cheeky

Bonbon, Tacha and Cheeky

Our Program

We welcome volunteers from April through to September. The months of October, November and December are exceedingly hot and temperatures can go up to 45 degrees Celsius. We would only suggest these months to people who have already experienced Africa in its hottest months and do not recommend them for volunteers as we have no fans or air conditioners. From late April through to August are our cooler, dryer months, so the weather is ideal during the daytime with the chance of rain being pretty remote. The temperatures during the day are normally between 21 and 30 degrees Celcius. At night during June and July it can be very cold and the temperature can drop to around 4 degrees Celsius.

Activities

For most volunteers the experience of spending time observing and recording the behaviour of hippos is one of the highlights of their time at Hippo Haven. Four hippo calves were born in early 2011. At all times you will be given guidance so you know what to look out for and will learn a lot about the fascinating behaviour of hippos. We do appreciate if volunteers wish to share any interesting photographs, videos or sketches made while observing the hippos, for these to be added to our own data base.

A reasonable level of fitness is required to be a volunteer at Hippo Haven. Some of the more general work that volunteers assist with involves physical work, such as digging sand in the riverbed or blocking small channels in order to help bring more water into the hippo pools. These kind of jobs though are not obligatory.

TurgweTrust team and volonteer building a dam in the turgwe river.

TurgweTrust team and volunteer building a dam in the turgwe river.

You may accompany us and the game scouts on anti-poaching patrols and help us to remove any existing wire snares from the bush. Depending on the time of the year you may be asked to assist with cutting fire breaks and fight bush fires. Other work is less physical and more office bound, such as computer work (entering hippo behavioural data, for example). Any volunteer with mechanical knowledge may be asked to assist with vehicle repairs.

Accomodation

Generally our volunteers stay with us for a maximum period of two weeks. Longer term volunteers are sometimes taken on. We can accommodate only two people at one time in our cottage at Hippo Haven. It has a main bedroom with two double beds and an en suite bathroom with hot and cold running water, shower and toilet. The lighting is by gas, as are the cooking facilities. Volunteers help with cooking in the main house and share meals with us. You must like pussycats as you will share the cottage with two old pussycats that cannot live in the house with our other cats.

The Cottage

The Cottage

The cozy place to rest

The cozy place to rest

Safety

The Savé Valley Conservancy is home to dangerous game including lions and elephants, therefore it is important to be aware of this and respectful that this is their environment. Karen Paolillo gained her professional guides license many years ago and has an extensive knowledge of the bush. Volunteers will not go unaccompanied in the bush for their own safety and should follow instructions at all times.

We live in a malaria area and suggest all volunteers consult their own doctor before traveling to Zimbabwe for the appropriate vaccinations and prophylactics. Volunteers are advised to get their own travel insurance. If you have any questions regarding the stay at Hippo Haven it is best to contact us personally using the contact form.

Fees

The donation you give for your stay at Hippo Haven enables us to continue our work, which is dependent entirely on donations. Please contact us for more details. Volunteers are responsible for getting to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, and from there we will arrange for your transport to Hippo Haven, an approximately six hour journey by car.

Sadly we cannot employ people permanently as all salaried jobs are given to the local people and citizens of Zimbabwe.

Contact Us

If you are interested in a totally unique experience, with the only voluntary set-up helping hippos in Africa, and you want to learn a lot more not only about hippos but also about baboons, vervet monkeys and many other species, then this is for you. Come and see us at Hippo Haven! Fill a contact form.