Advertising volunteering with monkeys is easy. Just look at the cute photos of bottle feeding and hugs, and the product is pretty much sold. However, there is more to this sort of experience than simply giving and receiving affection - and this is important to know before you set off on your travels.
Volunteering with monkeys is a worthwhile and endearing experience. To be able have real interaction with a wild animal, and to be able to nurture it to health and win its trust is something that words cannot describe. And to be doing this is incredibly necessary.
Monkeys in South Africa are considered to be vermin. It is not unusual for monkeys to be orphaned because their mother has been shot or run down by a car. Monkeys are just like humans in that they need the structure of a family from which to learn, and with which to share experiences. This is why monkey rehabilitation centres are so important. Volunteering with monkeys means that you are helping them to build their strength and gain their trust, all whilst integrating them into a larger family unit. You are effectively, in more sense than one, saving their lives.
Yet in this moving experience, there are other factors to consider too. Alongside the great sense of camaraderie, the knowledge that you are really changing the future for these cheeky monkeys, the fact that you are in a beautiful country and making some great new friends, there is also the little-mentioned side to animal conservation. The fact that whilst you do spend a significant part of your day playing with and feeding the monkeys, there is also the time when their enclosures need cleaning out, or when their food needs to be prepared. The image of South Africa as a vast plain of drought and heat also needs to be dispelled - there is plenty of lush vegetation and rainy seasons too.
The truth of the situation should not deter you though. To actually be getting down and dirty in a project where you are genuinely making a difference rather than merely paying to babysit little monkeys is something that is of utmost importance to many volunteers. To be fully aware of all that awaits you on your volunteering placement guides you towards a positive and rewarding experience, leaving you with a love for the country and a beautiful memory of what you have achieved.
This post was written by Anne Smellie of Oyster Worldwide, a career break and responsible travel specialist with a variety of short and longer term volunteering and paid work opportunities. Read about their monkey project here.