Our Wildlife Rehabilitation: Rescue and Release volunteer project is situated at Umoya Khulula Wildlife Centre in a small town called Tzaneen, in South Africa. Co-owner, Emma, tells us how the centre came about.

My name is Emma De Jager and I am one of the co-owners of Umoya Khulula Wildlife Centre. I was born and raised in the UK just outside London, but I knew from an early age that working with animals was what I wanted to do in the world. When I was little we were that house on the street that people would bring in injured birds or mammals to help. So really I have been working with animals for as long as I can remember.

When I finally turned 18 I decided that I wanted to go explore the world a little more and while doing so I also wanted to volunteer and help as many animals as possible. My journey first took me to South Africa. I travelled the country for a month and volunteered at a primate rehabilitation centre. It was very important to me that I wanted to volunteer at a centre where they released the animals back into the wild where they belong. I had booked to be a volunteer for 2 months but completely and utterly fell in love with the animals and the ethical practices that I ended up staying a year!

After my year I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life. Seeing all those animals in need of help and seeing what humans are doing to our precious wildlife and their habitat made me want to fight for them more than ever.

I went on to volunteer in a few other countries, always picking ethical centres that release the animals back into the wild. I loved every minute of my volunteering experience in each country even though sometimes it was hard work and sometimes it could be heartbreaking but there was something about South Africa that stole my heart.

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I returned to South Africa in 2009 where I found a job working in a wildlife rehabilitation centre. I worked there for over 9 years gaining as much knowledge and experience as possible. Working with animals can be very tough. It is long hours through the day and night, it’s a lot of cleaning and lots of patience. But I cannot even describe in words the feeling you get when you release an animal back into their natural habitat. Some of these animals were kept in captivity in the most horrific conditions before they got surrendered to the centre and to see life in their eyes again and to see them doing what they should be doing in the wild is truly amazing.

Over my 9 years working in animal welfare I saw that every year the number of animals needing our help would increase dramatically. Loss of habitat was the main reason along with poaching, the illegal pet trade and the illegal wildlife trade playing a massive role also. 

This is when I decided that we need an ethical centre to help these amazing animals. Unfortunately there are some bad rehabilitation centres and sanctuaries out there that profit from animals in need and exploit volunteers so we felt that it was important to start our own place. Umoya Khulula Wildlife centre was born just over 4 years ago. We started with nothing, just a piece of land and a dream to make one of the best rehab centres in the world. Over time we built up the centre and were ready to take in our first animals in need our help. I remember the first few animals at the centre were a little scrub hare called “Apple”, 2 tree squirrels called “Rum & Raisin” and 3 baby ostriches “Brodie, Boogle & Bumble”. All of which were successfully rehabilitated and returned to the wild.

After a year animals starting flooding in so, we opened our doors to volunteers. We went with working from tiny mongoose to hippos and pretty much everything in between. The amount of animals in need of our help is endless. Having volunteers at Umoya has been amazing. It means that we do not have to turn down any animal needing our help and we love to teach people about the rehabilitation process and the care that each animal needs.

Every day we are fighting for these animals to save their lives and their homes and the volunteers are fighting right next to us. We truly believe that every animal’s life is worth saving. We need all animals in this world to make it work and that no animal should be endangered due to mankind’s greed.

Our motto at the centre is “Rescue, Rehabilitation & Release” we want there to be a tomorrow for all species and to do this we must make sure they can thrive in the wild.

To date we have released over 200 different species of wildlife back into the wild, all of which are doing very well.

Feeding Hugo, the hippo.

Highlights of our Wildlife Rehabilitation: Rescue and Release volunteer project:

  • Take a hands-on role at an ethical wildlife rehabilitation center near the famous Kruger National Park
  • Gain valuable experience in animal care, rescue and release techniques, and wildlife conservation
  • Rehabilitate animals, enabling them to be successfully released back into the wild
  • Observe trained professionals and participate in the individual care and release plans for each animal
  • Learn about African wildlife, including how to track them, their natural behavior, and threats facing them
  • Live and work with other wildlife lovers from around the world
  • Explore the surrounding area on safaris through the Kruger National Park and trips to Blyde River Canyon

To find out more details about joining this special project, click here.