Harnas Volunteer Review

by Elaine Fox-Packer

Elaine with a Harnas Cheetah

Elaine with a Harnas Cheetah

People are walking in a tight group and stop to look behind as a male lion is seen walking through the bushes in a straight line directly towards us. As the lion comes closer he pushes aside the group and I feel the strength of him as he brushed against my legs.

A tourist may freeze in fear of seeing this but I am a working guest at Harnas Wildlife Foundation and I know that this lion is ‘Trust’, who has been raised by Harnas.This was one of my memorable experiences at Harnas, a place of unspoilt beauty in the desertland of Namibia, 250 miles east of Windhoek, where I worked as a volunteer.

It was a dream for me to handle, feed and care for so many African animals such as cheetah, lion, wild dog, baboon, meerkat, vervet monkey, caracal and mongoose.

What Being A Harnas Volunteer Is Like

I thoroughly enjoyed caring for African animals and having close contact with them and having the chance to observe their behaviour and be able to make a difference.

After an initial briefing and training session I was able to feed the animals, some of which were wilder ones that lived in nearby bushland surrounded by electric fences.

Every morning I helped to prepare the food for all the animals, chopping meat, fruit or vegetables and dividing it into bowls.

The special moments were feeding the tamer cheetahs and allowing them to lick my hands and arms with their rough tongues. It was a privilege to be able to brush them, stroke their coarse hair and to look into their amber eyes.

The food for the wilder cheetahs, lions, leopards, baboons and caracals would be loaded onto a trailer in large buckets and pulled by a jeep for the daily tour.

These animals knew the routine of feeding time and it was not uncommon to see fully grown lions pacing close to the electric fence, roaring with anticipation of the morning feed. Once the meat was thrown to the lions, they would smell it, pick it up in their mouth and take it to a quieter place under a tree where they would eat it in peace.

Occasionally, a lion would be less appreciative of the piece of meat that was thrown to him, would roar and charge back at the fence to let us know that he was not happy with the size of the meat. It was these occasions that helped me to overcome any fear that I had of these magnificent creatures and I began to enjoy close contact with the Kings of the Savanna.

Cleaning animal enclosures, preparing food, grooming animals and feeding duties were daily tasks but all felt rewarding. I quickly learnt that when entering the baboon enclosure that the baboons would assess me.

It was regular behaviour for the alpha baboon to test me by pulling my hair and tugging my clothes but at all times I had to remain quiet, allowing his curious nature to inspect me. It was not uncommon for me to end up having a baboon on my head, two on my back and one on each arm and leg, their dextrous hands reaching into all my pockets in the hope of a few crumbs or piece of fruit.

As the ruby red sun set at the end of each day, the deep lion roar would be heard for miles around until the sun disappeared and the stars came out in all their glory. The same roar would wake me before the first pink hint of the sun at dawn. As soon as the first light penetrated through the window of my wooden chalet the crickets began to chirp.

At Harnas there are none of the sounds of the modern world, only those of nature and the creatures that live there. It is these sounds I miss now that I am home.

The hands-on experiences at Harnas are unique and working with other volunteers is inspirational. Observing the animals at close range increased my understanding of the complex group behaviour. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to interact and bond with so many animals. Harnas is an extraordinary place, a wildlife paradise in the Namibian desert.

I would recommend the working guest program to anyone for the experience of the exclusive close encounters with African animals that are at risk of becoming extinct. However, be prepared to be moved by your time there.

In the two weeks that I was a working guest I am proud to say that I have overcome many fears. I learnt about animals that I had little knowledge of, I survived blistering heat of up to 50 degrees centigrade, insects, snakes, lack of sleep and blazing wind.

I had bumps, bruises, bites and scratches but most of all I helped to create a better life for the animals of Africa. The sublime experiences that I had at Harnas will ensure my return and left my heart yearning for more.


Accommodation is in a basic modern wooden cabin with 4 sharing. There is a bed and wardrobe and shelves for personal effects for each person. The cabin has 2 windows, is lockable and is cleaned daily by staff. There are several cabins grouped together in the volunteers area situated near to the outside eating area.


Food is basic for the volunteers although is varies from day to day and they cater for vegetarians as well, although volunteers need to advise them in advance. Lunch and dinner is normally served in the volunteers area which has wooden benches arranged under a high corrugated roof next to a small bricked kitchen which has a freezer, fridge and sink. The food at the lodge at Harnas is tastier and volunteers are able to eat here on specially arranged evenings.

Typical Day

During my 3 weeks stay I had daily contact with lions, cheetahs, leopard, meerkats, ostriches, baboons, bat eared foxes, giraffe, vervet monkeys and many more. I had full training on how to handle and care for the animals and was soon feeding, cleaning and grooming the animals.

Harnas leopard cubThere are lots of opportunities to experience an evening sleeping out under the stars with the cheetahs, spending an evening sleeping in a room with baby baboons (in nappies!), walking with young lions in the bush and helping to herd the sheep and goats at Harnas.

There are regular daily duties as the animals need to be feed at regular times, however, there are lots of different organised events on each day. Also, each day there can be new animals arriving and when I was there a young giraffe arrived that had separated from its mother. We had to build a special enclosure for it and feed it milk from a bottle around the clock.

On a typical day you may be asked to give an animal special attention or an animal may have escaped from their enclosure so you have to help in bringing them back.

Volunteers have the use of a computer in the dedicated volunteers room. Volunteers have some free time usually after lunch in the hottest time of the day and on Sundays too. There are other times in the evening for free time as well.

Organised team events are arranged so that there are trips to the local village and school and have some fun as well for example, having a camp fire in the bush and learning bush skills, how to read the stars in the sky, group games at the lodge, sleeping out under the stars with cheetahs, sleeping with baby baboons – surrogate parenting in bed.

There were approximately 20+ volunteers in a typical week.

Volunteer Work Duties

Volunteer duties at Noah's Ark include some of the following:

• Feeding cheetahs and baboons (twice a day)
• Feeding and meal preparation for other wildlife (4-5 times per day)
• Caring for, hand rearing and cleaning baby animals
• Night duty of infant animals (surrogate parenting in bed)
• Cleaning the enclosures
• Assisting with repair and building of structures on the farm
• Building wildlife camps
• Erecting fences around Noah's Ark
• Assisting in the clinic with injured animals (qualified veterinary experience required)
• Training to assist as Field Guide for daily tours of Noah's Ark
• Assisting at the local bushman clinic

Tips and Advice For Volunteers

Take walking boots and other comfortable shoes and old clothes that can get dirty and dusty.

Wet wipes and hair conditioner were the items I found most useful in my luggage.

Also use lots of sun block and a hat as the sun can get intense during the day and as a volunteer you will be exposed to the sun.

Elaine's Harnas Volunteer Review Details:

Rating: 9/10

Volunteer company: Enkosini Eco Experience
Volunteer project: Harnas Wildlife Foundation in Namibia

Volunteering date: November for 3 weeks

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