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4 July 2024 - Conservation Programs, Destinations, Photo Safaris

Life as a Wildlife Photography Volunteer in Victoria Falls

Feedback From Natalia, One of Our Volunteers

“I recently had the pleasure of participating in a volunteer camp in Zimbabwe, specifically the Wildlife Photography program. From the very beginning, Marleen, the booking agent, was incredibly kind and patient, providing me with all the necessary information and answering all my questions right away.

Upon arriving in this beautiful but unfamiliar country, I was greeted by Nigel, a talented videographer as I found out later. He greeted me with the phrase “welcome to the family,” and he happened to be right. The camp itself was peaceful, nestled against the stunning backdrop of Zambezi National Park. The sense of tranquility was exactly what I was looking for.  

What made this volunteering camp truly special was its focus on wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. Learning that they rescue and release animals harmed by humans back into the wild added a meaningful dimension to my experience. Each day was filled with unique activities, ranging from feeding lions, hyenas, ostriches, and vultures to doing litter picking in Victoria Falls road. One of the highlights was going on walks with Milo, the local Mongoose, accompanied by the mischievous monkey Soko and baboon Kiki. Of course, my focus was photography and I had plenty of opportunities to learn theory and use my skills in practice guided by Tay, Photography coordinator and Nigel. But i really enjoyed other activities as was happy to help when I could. 

As I mentioned earlier, the camp offered valuable opportunities to explore wildlife photography and editing. With the guidance of Tay and Nigel, I exelled my skills and had amazing opportunities to capture breathtaking moments during game drives in Zambezi National Park, as well as visits to Victoria Waterfalls and various enclosures. Tanaka, the wildlife coordinator, and the knowledgeable staff such as Tay and Ian, were always there to provide support and share their expertise. I particularly cherished my morning conversations with Ian, the ecologist, as he passionately discussed the impact of elephants and patiently answered my countless questions.

It wasn’t just the amazing experiences and educational opportunities that made this volunteering camp exceptional; it was also the incredible people I had the pleasure of meeting. Vidji, Sha, Liky, and Levi were all kind, friendly, and shared a deep passion for wildlife conservation.

I am so thankful for this opportunity to meet these wonderful people. Zimbabwe and its people will forever hold a special place in my heart.”

Life as a Wildlife Photography Volunteer in Victoria Falls 

Join us as we find out about life as a wildlife photography volunteer in Victoria Falls. Our program there offers participants the chance to stay in a wildlife-filled area on the banks of the Zambezi, develop their photography skills with practical and theoretical training, and all the while, contribute to raising awareness for wildlife conservation projects that can make a real difference. We chatted to seasoned traveler and keen photographer, Natalia Popiyakova, about her experiences on our Wildlife Photography and Conservation Program. 

1. Welcome to the Family 

As a teacher with experience in international schools around the world, Natalia is no stranger to different environments, but this was her first time in Africa. She joined our program because of its wildlife photography focus. “I am an amateur photographer and wanted to learn the best ways to take photos of wildlife,” said Natalia. 

Touching down in Zimbabwe, with an open mind and heart, Natalia was greeted by one of our local team members. “Upon arrival in this beautiful but unfamiliar country, I was greeted by Nigel, the program’s videographer, with the phrase “welcome to the family,” and he happened to be right”.

Photo Credit: Hanna Wigart

2. A Wildlife-rich Home Base 

Our program operates in a game reserve in Fuller Forest, bordering Zambezi National Park. Lions, hyenas, elephants and eagles call this private sanctuary home. Leopards, zebras, giraffes, hippos and many different species of antelope hang out in neighboring Zambezi National Park. The whole area is the perfect place for both novice and advanced photographers to hone their camera craft, capturing a veritable menagerie from behind the lens. 

“The camp itself was peaceful, nestled against the stunning backdrop of Zambezi National Park,” said Natalia. “The sense of tranquility was exactly what I was looking for”.

The wildlife sanctuary’s volunteer village is a tented camp set within a private forest estate. The camp consists of a collection of traditional safari tents, each accommodating 4 to 6 people. It’s basic, comfortable, and a perfect fit to its natural environment. The camp has a communal lounge overlooking the watering hole, a great place to spot wildlife coming down to drink, while you’re having a relaxing drink of your own.

3. Developing Your Photography Skills 

The program revolves around photography, and during your participation, professional photographers will provide personalized tutoring to guide you throughout your stay. “I had plenty of opportunities to learn theory and use my skills in practice,” says Natalia. “Our photography coordinator Tay and videographer Nigel were both very talented and generous with their guidance.” 

“With the guidance of Tay and Nigel, I exelled in my skills and had amazing opportunities to capture breathtaking moments during game drives in Zambezi National Park, as well as visits to Victoria Waterfalls and various enclosures. I am familiar with my camera but learned so much more about when to change the settings – the speed, exposure (ISO) and aperture. I became faster at making the right choice.”

Some of the reasons why joining a photography volunteer project is such a good idea include its potential to open you up to other photographic avenues. “One of the many reasons I chose this program was the chance to learn more about astrophotography,” added Natalia. With the huge canvas of clear African skies, the opportunities to improve her night photography proved a highlight.

Photo Credit: Hanna Wigart

4. Photographing Wildlife Conservation in Action 

A bonus to this program is that, in addition to ample opportunities for wildlife photography, you’ll also have the chance to learn about and document wildlife conservation work, both by photographing at the wildlife sanctuary at our camp, and by looking at conservation work in the wider area. You’ll be set assignments and sent out into the field to gather valuable images, which are then often used by NGOs for marketing and educational purposes.

“What made this volunteering camp truly special for me, was its focus on wildlife rescue and rehabilitation”, said Natalia. “Learning that they rescue and release animals harmed by humans back into the wild, added a meaningful dimension to my experience.”

“I particularly cherished my morning conversations with Ian, the ecologist, as he passionately discussed the impact of elephants and patiently answered my countless questions.”

5. A Diverse Program 

The beauty of wildlife photography volunteering on this program is that no two days are alike. There is so much to do and see, with each and every experience memorable in its own way.

“Each day was filled with unique activities,” recalls Natalia. “We fed lions, hyenas, ostriches and even vultures. We helped clean up the local area, picking up litter on Victoria Falls Road. One of the highlights was going on walks with Milo, the local mongoose, accompanied by the mischievous monkey Soko and baboon Kiki.”

6. Being Part of the Team 

As is often the case with travel adventures, the company you’re in is essential to your experience. A highlight for Natalia during her stay in Victoria Falls was being part of the team; 

“It wasn’t just the amazing experiences and educational opportunities that made this volunteering camp exceptional, it was also the incredible people I had the pleasure of meeting along the way.”  

“I am an adventurous person who loves authentic experiences, especially meaningful interaction with the locals. Guys such as Vidji, Sha, Liky and Levi were all kind and friendly and not afraid to share their deep passion for wildlife conservation. I am so thankful for the opportunity to meet these wonderful people. Zimbabwe will forever hold a special place in my heart.”

7. Visiting the Victoria Falls 

Your life as a wildlife photography volunteer is all about documenting wildlife conservation initiatives, but there’s a bonus to being based near the Victoria Falls; this happens to be the adventure capital of Africa. And the falls themselves, with their thundering power, are, of course, an absolute highlight as well. 

Scottish missionary and explorer, David Livingstone, named his 1855 sighting of the world’s largest waterfall in honor of Queen Victoria, but the Sotho language name of Mosi-oa-Tunya, ‘The Smoke That Thunders’, still holds true to this very day. Sitting on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is roughly twice the height of America’s Niagara, and well over twice the width, making it the world’s largest sheet of falling water. And one of the seven natural wonders of the world. 

To witness the sheer power of the drop, over 1.7 km wide, cascading more than a 100m in a torrent of spray, is impressive. You won’t stay dry, but every one of your senses will come alive – plus a few that you didn’t know you had!

Livingstone also cited an older name Seongo or Chongwe, which means ‘the place of the rainbow’. The constant spray is perfect for refracting light, creating a natural kaleidoscope of color that your lens will love.

Our base camp at Fuller Forest is just a short drive from the falls. Here, you cannot help but capture incredible images of the smoking thunder from a range of vantage points – that’s a given. 

8. Adventure Capital of Africa

But this rainbow paradise offers so much more. They don’t call it Africa’s adventure capital for nothing! Ride horses along the banks of the Zambezi River. Spot grazing buffalo and warthog, or get up close and personal with shy impala and kudu. 

If the sky’s your limit, then enjoy an eagle-eye view of the majestic Zambezi by helicopter or explore the river on a cruise or canoeing trip, flanked by wallowing hippos and elephant herds, with the beady eyes of crocodiles watching your every move.

For the particularly intrepid, a full day white water rafting on the Zambezi River is a popular optional extra. So too, the exhilarating bungee jump from Vic Falls bridge, but definitely not for the faint-hearted. These optional extras are not part of our tour inclusions, but recommended add-ons for the adrenaline junkie looking for some weekend adventure on the wild side.

Wildlife. Camera. Action! What are you waiting for? Find out more: Wildlife photography volunteer in Victoria Falls

This blog was written by Cathy Kelly.

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