We are a very hands-on non-profit set-up and the animals that we care for here are all living natural lives in the wild, not in captivity.
As a volunteer, you will assist us with the day to day work involved in monitoring 4 groups of hippos that live below us in the Turgwe River in Zimbabwe’s wild Lowveld.
You will be a part of our lives among the baboons, vervet monkeys and other animals, and if you’re lucky will get to see animals such as elephants, impala, kudu, warthogs, to name but a few that roam freely around our home.
This is a very personal volunteering experience, with a maximum of two volunteers at any one time, giving you a real chance to breath in what Africa and life in the wild is really all about.
Here’s what some of our volunteers have said about their time with us at Hippo Haven:
Words are really not enough for such a magical place as this. The peace and tranquillity, broken only by the sounds of the monkeys and baboons shouting and scampering across the roof, is calming and restoring. Hearing the lion’s roar during the nights and the waking to the birds singing as they greet each morning is truly one of the best things in the world.
And just when you think it can’t get any better, you take a walk with Karen, through an animal made track down to the river, which, while it must be magnificent in full flood, is low enough to wade across to get to our goal……the hippos…….to stand just meters away from these amazing creatures is awe inspiring. You read that a hippo can weigh up to 3 tonne, and you think “yip, that’s pretty big” then you see one, not a fully grown 3tonne one, just a young male or female and you realise just how big they really are! Their heads lift as they hear you approach and to see them relax as Karen greets them by name and talks to them has to be seen to be believed. They are happily sunning themselves on a sand bank, enjoying their sleep, digesting their night’s feeding. If you’re lucky one might get to its feet and take a walk, or groom another and treat you to a wide mouthed gape, driving home again their size and strength.
Karen and Jean are amazing hosts, full of knowledge and information, Karen is passionate about all the animals, but especially the hippos and we never tire of hearing her stories and information. The excitement of collecting the trail cam cards and seeing what animals have been to visit the area, seeing, among others, predators including lion and leopard and hyena that have been close to the house but you have never heard them, would never even have known they were there, knowing that you are one with the bush, that the animals are secure enough to be around the humans is nothing short of breath-taking. To go on a game drive and see such a variety of buck, elephants, giraffe, warthogs, buffalo, birdlife and we were spoilt with Painted Wild Dog pupps makes it a trip never to be forgotten.
Jacquie, Kerry and Claire Nel of UK – July 2015
Having visited prior, and having read Karen’s book, it was no surprise to me that their life is far from paradise. There was trouble with poachers (as well as hunters) from the moment I arrived. So we were on high alert much of the time. But the animals make everything worth it and I had some truly amazing experiences.
Perhaps the best day for all of us was our trip to Gonarezhou National Park (Gonarezhou means “the place of elephants”). I had already been excited to have seen elephants on this visit, including the one day Jean-Roger and I went to get drinking water and one walked right across the road in front of the car, then stopped and turned at us; we thought it might charge but it just took a few paces, looked at us and walked off. And then Karen and I had an incredible encounter late one afternoon with what started off as 2 and wound up being 3 male elephants at a small water hole where we stood on the other side and marveled at their peaceful and awesome presence for quite some time.
Upon entering Gonarezhou we came across many elephants culminating with a herd of females and young that came very near to our car. Unprecedented to be that near to wild elephants and they did not show any aggression toward us. We had a picnic lunch by the breathtaking Chilocho sandstone cliffs. Karen and I walked out to the middle of the Runde riverbed (it is the dry season so the “river” was a trickle) and suddenly in the distance we see elephants one by one crossing toward the water. It was almost like a mirage. As we were leaving the picnic area an elephant was busy blocking the road so we exited another way which is when we ran into the aforementioned herd. And as we were exiting the park at dusk, we came across a group of lions sprawled out in the road. They were not about to move for anyone so we sat and watched them for about 10 minutes, one lying right by the front wheel. We saw lots of other amazing animals as well (including grysbok, kudu, klipspringer, eland, duiker, nyala, impala, and of course a large hippo group).
Another day Karen and I came upon a herd of buffalo, at least 60, in a riverbed. And on my last day we sat by a wild dog den near sunset to witness the packs pups emerging.
These are all very unique experiences for any visitor to Africa and I treasure each and every one of them. It would not be possible were it not for Hippo Haven and the hospitality of Karen and Jean-Roger.
Teresa D’Amico, New York – July 2015
We (a family of 4) spent a week with Karen and Jean-Roger at Hippo Haven and had the best time of our lives. It was magic. This remote haven was really one of a kind, with all the animals, such as funny baboons, cute vervet monkeys and majestic hippos around the corner. To give treats to the wild baboons every morning and to walk down to the river and watch the hippos was amazing.
During our stay we had the best of luck and got to see several painted wild dogs and their beautiful puppies coming up from their den. We sat silently watching the grownups, circulating around the car, for nearly two hours. Then suddenly they felt safe and called for the pups to come out. There were about 7 – 10 of them, absolutely adorable. The wild dogs were actually the no 1 on our wish list of animals to see, and we were thrilled to be there and experience their behavior and beauty.
We got to see so many beautiful animals, such as a spotted hyena, elephants, giraffes, buffalos to name a few. But the hippos were the ones that made a great impression on us, since we went to see them almost every day, only a few meters away, on the sandbank. To see them gape, and also to hear their trombone-like sound was amazing. The little ones, George and Darrow, were so cute, and Kutchek was easy to recognize with his astonishing head and size – a true alfa male. They all seemed so at peace and calm, allowing us to be there watching them. Of course we had to adopt four of our favorites when we came back to Sweden.
But what also made this week so special was Karen and Jean, and their beautiful home. You rarely meet people like them in life. Their hospitality, sense of humour and dedication to their work with animals is outstanding. We learnt about the hard life in Africa, by listening to their incredible stories, but foremost, we saw the wonders, the every day beauty in this scenic place. It was truly sad to leave Hippo Haven. This was our first time in Africa, and Zimbabwe is definitely a country to return to. Thank you, Karen and Jean, for having us and making our stay unforgettable.
Johanna, Tony, Elvis and Viktoria Forstén, Sweden – July 2015
Had a wonderful 10 days with Karen and Jean Roger in June. What a lovely place they have. So enjoyed the baboons and monkeys each morning, whilst we had coffee overlooking the river. They are very funny and fascinating to watch. Walking in the late afternoon in the forest was thrilling. The colours from the setting sun made everything glow. You never quite knew what you would see around the next corner!.
We were fortunate to see a very tiny baby elephant with its family. Did see the family again early one morning, only the backsides, as they were walking away from us. No messing with that family with such a tiny baby there!
Karen and Jean Roger work hard to protect the hippos and other wildlife. We were made to feel very welcome and so enjoyed seeing this tiny part of Africa from a different vantage point.
Sue Hoare UK June 2015
If you are someone who craves the experience of what it is like to actually live among wild animals in the bush, this is it. If you feel calm around the animals, they will fascinate and delight you no end. And if you are a dedicated advocate for animals as I am, this is direct action at its finest!
“Hippo Haven has a healing effect on both the body and the mind. I slept deeply the first night in my cabin overlooking the Turgwe River, awaking to absolute serenity. One wall is open to the elements, covered with mesh to keep out the animals, so you are basically living outdoors”.
Teresa D’Amico New York, New York. USA – 2013
“I loved my time at Hippo Haven, and fell in love with the hippos and Zimbabwe. The experiences I had there have inspired me further and I am now sure that I want to spend my life doing something similar. Since I got back to the UK I have known that I will return to Zimbabwe, if only for the sound of hippos laughing in the night.”
Hazel Mitchison, volunteer, UK, August and September 2009
“It has been the most amazing experience and so totally different to anything I have ever done before. Until now holidays have been either skiing in the Alps or sunbathing on a Greek island. At hippo haven we stayed in a delightful cottage, with no electricity, just one gas light and several candles. The bathroom has just 3 walls, so you can sit on the loo and look down into the valley, but there’s no one about so no worries about privacy, unless you don’t like monkeys or baboons watching you. You might be wondering if there were so many highs, what were the lows? Well there weren’t any. It was all such a huge contrast with our life here in England, we learnt so much, about animals – Karen is an amazing safari guide and can recognize all birds, which animals have been along paths and when.”
Jenny Cookson-Teal, hippo supporter U.K, August 2011
“That afternoon we went on patrol with the game scouts. We spread out in a line to cover more ground, looking for snares. Walking through grass is quite different than at home. It is long and coarse and there are a lot of spiky plants and small bushes that cover you in scratches. By the time I got home you could play noughts and crosses on my leg. Again we didn’t find any snares, which was good. We saw kudu and waterbuck by the river. Everywhere there are lots of monkeys and baboons. Back by the hippos we watched them from above. Sometimes all you could see were their nostrils. We saw a crocodile trying to mate. When they do this they climb up on the other croc in the water. The female wasn’t interested so it was a very short moment! We passed the place where we had laid the sand bags that morning. The water had risen considerably after digging upstream.”
Kirsty Mitchison, hippo supporter/volunteer UK, August 2009
“Visiting Karen and Jean at the Turgwe Hippo Trust is an unforgettable adventure. The location is just stunning; the proximity to the animals exhilarating. Equally the hardships that they are facing daily are for real”.
Cary Martin, hippo supporter UK, October 2007