Askari provides volunteers with a lifetime opportunity that will never be forgotten; to actively contribute to and participate in the daily management, wildlife research and monitoring activities taking place on a game reserve in Africa. The programme fosters the conservation of wilderness and is based on Pidwa Wilderness Reserve in 17 500 hectares of untamed beauty. In a world where habitat loss is the biggest threat to species it is essential to secure, increase and improve these wild habitats.
Pidwa is well on its way to becoming a benchmark wilderness reserve as it has based all its ideals on mimicking the natural system as much as possible. As the old saying goes, “why reinvent the wheel?”
Unfortunately humans have taken their toll on many wild areas of Africa and natural processes have been affected. The goal of Pidwa is to restore the balance that existed prior to human interference; to regain and secure a functioning ecosystem in which wildlife can thrive.
Volunteers at Askari will experience life on an active game reserve, enjoy world class wildlife viewing, while making a real contribution to conservation and the establishment of a benchmark wilderness area.
Pidwa Wilderness Reserve, the home base of Askari, is in the Limpopo province in the North Eastern part of South Africa. It is about 70 kilometres from each of the towns of Phalaborwa, Tzaneen and Hoedspruit, and is about an hour’s drive from the famous Kruger National Park. This area is known as the Lowveld, and is rich in wild life habitat and reserves.
Pidwa is 17 500 hectares in size and is the northern section of the 29 500 hectare Greater Makalali Pidwa Nature Reserve. The reserve was set up by the various landowners within it, agreeing that internal fences be dropped to give the animals a much bigger area to roam freely.
All internal roads are dirt roads so it is easier to check tracks and animal movements. The terrain is gently undulating, with wonderful views of the magnificent Drakensberg mountain range.
The Selati river flows through Pidwa and carries its most water in the summer months, the rainy season in the Lowveld. The river supports beautiful indigenous trees, and is a favourite haunt of all game, and especially lions and elephants.
Pidwa runs breeding programmes of rare and endangered species, including sable, buffalo and nyala antelope. Brown Hyaena, rescued from farmers’ traps have been introduced. Cheetah, eland, African wild cats, and tsessebe are among the different species also brought in.
Katie and Edward organise and lead the Askari activities, and guide the volunteers around the reserve to experience the amazing array of wildlife.
As an 11 year old girl living in the UK, Katie decided that she wanted to work as a guide in the African bush ….. and 20 years later, here she is, living her dream. In 2005 Katie graduated with a BSc in Zoology and Marine Biology, then moved to South Africa to start her field guide training. At Bush Academy she qualified as a field guide with FGASA Level 1 (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa) and then went to Entabeni Private Reserve. Here she happily took guests around and taught them about the bush. During this time she gained her Level 2 award, and then her Trails Guide qualification.
Moving to the Lowveld, Katie started working as a science officer with volunteers on a predator research programme. In 2008 she was offered a chance to move to Askari, and, in her own words, “I didn’t hesitate for a second!”
Katie has a real soft spot for lions. She has recently completed her Masters in Biological Sciences with the University of Bristol, incorporating brown hyaena research done on Pidwa. When not in the bushveld, Katie loves travelling (more than 38 countries on 6 continents so far), sport and snowboarding (although the latter not in sunny South Africa!).
“Edward was born and bred in South Africa and grew up in the heart of Zululand. From his earliest memory, wildlife has been his passion and after completing his studies at one of South Africa’s top rugby schools, he obtained his FGASA Level 1. Ed qualified in both terrestrial and marine guiding and got his trails guide qualification after being the first in his class to pass the Advanced Rifle handling assessment. Ed went on to work at one of South Africa’s oldest private game reserves where he guided from the vehicle, on foot and by boat.
Ed decided to pursue his passion for wildlife full-time when a devastating shoulder injury ended his hopes of a professional rugby career. He began a degree in Nature Conservation which led him to Pidwa for completion of his university practical year. Starting as a member of the reserve management team, Ed was quickly snapped up to join the Askari staff. It was evident from his fun-loving personality that he would be perfect in the role of teaching and sharing his love for nature and Africa with others.
Ed sees every day as an opportunity to achieve greatness and believes anything is possible in the amazing African bush. Birds and honey badgers are his areas of expertise and he wishes to do a Master’s degree on honey badgers in the near future. He is a sports fanatic and keeps fit in his spare time; when he’s not out in the bush hunting for the perfect wildlife photo.”
Edward and Katie are supported by the Pidwa Reserve management team to ensure that Askari is involved in every aspect of the reserve. As part of Askari, you really do become an extension of the reserve staff team, so much more than a volunteer.
Edward and Katie look forward to welcoming you and sharing some great experiences with you.
Maria and Lindiwe will be your ‘mums on the road’ as they look after the volunteers and accommodations at Askari.
Norman is responsible for the grounds and garden at Askari as well as assisting Askari with the management and feeding of the antelope breeding camps.
Volunteers stay in a large and spacious, attractively furnished house in the heart of the reserve. The house is set in a very large garden with lovely big trees, protected from the wildlife all around by an electric fence. The accommodation at Askari offers:
* There is a double room for couples.
* All linen, except towels, is provided.
* There is ample cupboard space for all your bush gear.
* Mosquito nets are provided above each bed.
* The house has electricity, so hot showers and air conditioning are available as well as power points for the charging of those over worked camera batteries!
* There is an attractive open plan lounge with big comfy sofas and a dining table for evening meals
* The kitchen is large and has a breakfast table and benches.
* There is a library and study area where you can work at big tables
* In the office you can check the schedule for the day, find information on all the reserve’s wildlife, and make your contribution to the data collection.
* Maria, your “African mother”, keeps the house, rooms and bathrooms clean for us. She will also do your washing … and even ironing twice a week.
* Outside there is a pleasant barbeque area where we spend many happy evenings.
* There are plenty of outside areas where you can write your diary, take an afternoon siesta or watch the animals stroll by. Herds of impala, giraffe, rhino, elephant and lion regularly visit. The rare antelope breeding camps border the Askari garden, so there is always something to watch.
* The garden has ample space on the lawns for frisbee, cricket, football and rugby games.
* A small attractive waterhole, built by previous volunteers, attracts plenty of bird, insect and amphibian life.
* Askari even has its own vegetable garden. Volunteers assist with its up keep so we can have fresh organic veggies with our meals.
* The ‘Sable Station’ is a great spot in the garden, a 6 metre tall look-out tower built by volunteers. Enjoy the sunrise, sunset or some stargazing from the top. Tick off some birds on your list, watch the antelope feed in the breeding camps below or gaze across the plains to see what wildlife you can spot.
* Large swimming pool in the Askari garden. Take a dip after a hot days work, relax at the weekends, swim some lengths to keep fit.