Should I go to South Africa to take care of the baby baboons?
April 13, 2009 4:48 PM   Subscribe

I am thinking of volunteering at a baboon rescue in South Africa () and am wondering if anyone has any experience/wisdom/whatever to share.

Do any MeFites have experience at this particular organization or any like it? If so, what was it like? Would you go back? Is there a better program? Was it a complete nightmare? What should a mildly-adventurous 39-year-old American woman expect? What sorts of things should I take with me?

Also, I've never been to South Africa (or anywhere else in Africa for that matter) and don't know much about it. The website doesn't really say much about the facilities other than noting that it's really humid in the summer and in general they relocate poisonous snakes (!) and ignore the spiders, rats and scorpions (!!!). If I go there, what's the best time of year (1) weatherwise, and (2) when snakes, spiders and scorpions are at a minimum? What other things should I be concerned about? What sort of vaccinations (or whatever) should I make sure I have (I know you're not my doctor)?

Mr. Maisie, my sister and my boss all responded to this notion with stunned silence and then the question about whether this was really such a great idea. Mr. Maisie, who has no interest in going, cautions that South Africa is riddled with crime, but then followed-up that he'd miss me. Is that really so (the crime part, I mean)? I'm worried about taking a leave of absence from my job (I'm a database administrator at a large outsourcing-happy company), but I'm generally well-regarded at work and I don't think I'd have many negative repercussions. But they do love their off shore IT people. Am I on glue and this is obviously the worst idea in the world?

MeFites, let loose with your experiences, thoughts, ideas, concerns, whatever. Thanks in advance!
posted by Maisie to Pets & Animals (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Sorry...let me try again with this link.
posted by Maisie at 4:49 PM on April 13, 2009

Best answer: I've never done or thought about it for myself, but for you it appears to be the perfect choice. You're a DBA so you probably have some savings, a network of people, and (relatively) timeless skills. I also think it's the kind of decision that only you can make for yourself. Shock and surprise probably will be fairly normal reactions, but's an awesome thing for you to do!

I agree that there are probably better and worse places to volunteer with, so good luck in finding someone good!
posted by rhizome at 5:51 PM on April 13, 2009

Best answer: I was in the field with a girl (early 20s) who had worked previously on a game reserve in South Africa, and she absolutely loved it. Another friend, a primatologist originally from S.A., told me that outside of the cities, crime isn't bad. You can check out Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree for such travel advice. South Africa seems like a great place to do fieldwork, so I have no doubt it'd be a great place to volunteer too.

As for vaccinations, the CDC site is the go-to place for such advice. The only one that field primatologists I know routinely ignore is the rabies recommendation (IANAD). It's expensive, and field primatologists are usually poor. That being said, dying of rabies doesn't sound pleasant, so it might be worth it to you especially if you have the money.

You may want to take anti-malarials, though you might be far south enough to not have to worry, or you may be there during a season when it's not a problem. Some people take mefloquine (AKA Lariam), but I worry about possible psych side effects, especially in stressful conditions like travelling where no one knows what your baseline behavior is like.

One super important thing you'll need is a negative TB test before you come into contact with any monkeys. An unsuspecting TB carrier can take out an entire troop of baboons. Robert Sapolsky's A Primate's Memoir, a great primer on baboon behavior, talks about the disasterous effects of a TB epidemic on Kenyan baboons.

Okay, well that's a start. Feel free to mefi mail me with anything else. I'm a primatologist, so monkey-related questions are always welcome. :)
posted by bergeycm at 9:37 PM on April 13, 2009

Best answer: I moved to SA (they call it ZA) for the better part of a year back in 2007 (see my question, here).

Its a beautiful place and I enjoyed it very much and would be happy living there again some day.

If I go there, what's the best time of year (1) weatherwise, and (2) when snakes, spiders and scorpions are at a minimum?

Weather's nice most the year round in Joburg, it gets a little cooler in the winter months (exact opposite months of the north-of-the-equator countries). But Joburg is high on a massive plain, which helps. Cape Town is right on the water, so different weather. You haven't mentioned where in particular you're going - ZA is a big country! As for the snakes / spiders / scorpions, they're pretty much around year-round, but might be a little less active in the cooler months. You're just going to run into them - like the crime there its not a matter of "if" so much as "when."

What other things should I be concerned about? What sort of vaccinations (or whatever) should I make sure I have (I know you're not my doctor)?

CDC, linked above, just search for South Africa. You don't need malaria meds in most parts except if you're going to Kruger Park, which you really should whilst there.

Is that really so (the crime part, I mean)?

Yes. But you get used to it. You will live behind walls and electric fences and bars on every window and door. You will avoid ever going anywhere with less than a quarter tank of gas and you will be more cognizant about where you are going, who with, for how long, etc.. You'll try to avoid being out much after dark. You will not take a random taxi from the airport, you will only take pre-arranged transport. Etc. Etc. Etc.. You have to go and actually be there to learn a lot of these things.

South Africa, however, is great. Its Africa-lite, an easy way to get an initial exposure to the continent while still having a good deal of western infrastructure, lifestyle, etc.. You have to remember that you're in Africa and live accordingly, but its well worth the experience. I think you'll fall in love with it like I did.

Memail me any particular questions.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:32 AM on April 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, thanks everyone!
posted by Maisie at 6:32 AM on April 14, 2009

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