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How a Content Writing Intern experienced a photography and conservation program in Kruger, South Africa

Philadelphia, United States – 2000

Fat, heavy raindrops roll down the thick fogged window framing a young face shrouded by a carefree bob of caramel hair. Fierce hazel eyes bounce around the school bus for the tenth time. At 5 years old, the child is not yet practiced in the art of patience. Scampering off the bus in water-proof boots and an oversized pink rain jacket, her father yells to slow down. She manages to calm her stretching legs, hungry for exercise and adventure after such a long drive through the city. She takes her father’s hand, wraps an arm around her field trip buddy, and shouts with joy that they have finally made it. Rain or shine (and there would definitely be more rain) she was determined to have a lovely day at the zoo.

Later that afternoon, her sad eyes follow an African leopard, pacing back and forth like a ping pong ball volleying across a table. There is no rest or break in the routine. He strides across the 15-meter length of his cage over and over, a never-ending loop. The light in the girl’s eyes is darker when her father tears her away from the cage. “Your buddy is getting tired of the leopard, honey. Let’s keep moving, okay?” As he takes her hand and begins to leave, she turns her head to gaze at the cat a final time. His rapid movements continue listlessly, with pent up aggression and energy she can feel through the bars caging him.

Kruger, South Africa- 2017

17 years later, I am sitting in an overland truck parked 15 meters from a 14-month wild leopard. He drops the kill gathered in his mouth to show his teeth, warning us to back off. Our guide revs the truck’s engine as quietly as he can and skirts back another 5 meters. The cat’s round open eyes continue to watch us. We stare back, mouths open and hearts beating wildly.

I am on a game drive, the first of my life. Traveling through South Africa, from Cape Town to Hoedspruit, to stay at the Dumela Lodge in the Greater Kruger Area. I am here to work and interview other NGOs and experience the African bush. Beforehand, everyone told me I wouldn’t see a leopard. They are elusive, tricky, and rarely seen in the day. Yet here he was before me, wild and daunting, perched on a thick tree branch. The leopard grasped his kill and continued where he left off. It’s a porcupine- we can see loose quills falling to the ground. Strips of pink flesh tear off in bits while we observe and photograph him eating. His back is to us now, paws relaxed and hanging off the branch.

unnamed Leopard, Klaserie copy copy

Wildlife Photography & Conservation Volunteer Project

On behalf of Penda Trust, as part of my Content Writing Internship, I was sent to the Greater Kruger Area near Hoedspruit, South Africa. There, I would stay with the Wildlife Conservation & Photography Volunteer Project. I would meet and interview members of the Dumela Lodge project team at and the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit, experience conservation education in local schools. Besides, I would go camping in the Klaserie Private Game Reserve. Staying with the project was an incredible experience. Everyone has the same passions- wildlife conservation and photography. Days are spent practicing photography, editing photos, and going on game drives.

Read more about the Content Writing Internship in Cape Town with Penda!

On my second day at Dumela, I packed up my camera and a lot of citronella spray. I went camping with the rest of the photography volunteers in the Klaserie Private Game Reserve. With professional photographer Alan Hewitt, who leads several of Penda’s Photo Tours, I would have the opportunity to go on my first game drive in Africa and photograph local wildlife. I have been camping before, but I’ve never been in the wilderness as I was in Klaserie. The roads are beaten tracks of mud and rock winding between hundreds of trees. In the branches are birds of every color, with unique patterns of feathers and shapes of beak. When they opened their wings to fly away, startled by the noise of our truck’s movement, I oftentimes missed the perfect shot because my eyes were frozen, captured by the real-life beauty before me.

Our drive lasted over three hours, but none of us noticed the time passing. Most commonly, we came across zebra and giraffe, relaxing and wasting the day away in harmony. They were aware of the safari truck, but not frightened, and comfortable enough to let us sit and photograph. We spotted warthogs and buffalo, elephant and rhino. After the sunset, we drove back to camp through the darkness, all of us on high alert for any nocturnal animals beginning their nightly prowls. We slept in canvas tents and fell asleep to the calls of lions and hyenas.

One of the photos I took of the leopard that day is my iPhone’s home screen. His eyes are so fantastically striking, they stare straight into the camera. I look into them every day, and I think of that day at the zoo. At five, I knew I was staring at a broken and trapped soul where a man said there was a leopard. Today, I am writing about wildlife conservation in Africa.

game drive, elephant copy copy

Content Writing Internship with Penda Trust & Penda Photo Tours

I found out about Penda Photo Tours through my school, Northeastern University’s co-op program. After two rounds of interviews, my current supervisor decided I was a proper fit for their Content Writing Internship, which I was quick to accept. I loved the concept of a company accepting responsibility for its industry- photo tourism in Africa is not perfect. Wildlife and natural landscapes are oftentimes exploited in the name of getting the best shot. Penda Photo strives to work with photographers and guide companies that have strong ethical guidelines and gives back to the community through Penda Trust. Furthermore, the job had everything I was looking for. Half of my time would be spent producing original blog content, which has enhanced my writing skills significantly. The other half would be dedicated to social media management- an aspect of communication I’ve always had a natural proclivity towards.

With the decision made, I had one month to plan my trip before leaving America for South Africa. Each night before bed I envisioned myself completing the journey from Philadelphia to Boston, then Dubai to Cape Town; getting on and off the planes, walking through airports, checking and claiming baggage, every last detail. It really helps with flight anxiety, and lo and behold, I successfully made it to begin my life across the world. Fast-forward two months, and it’s like I’m a local. I have a routine, a South African phone number, favorite restaurants, and bars. My work is flourishing, I am able to please my supervisor with my writing. I’m even friends with the guy I buy coffee from each morning, which is a great way to start the day.

Personal Reflection

Just one week since the leopard sighting, a young woman with tired hazel eyes behind square blue frames sits in a bustling gray room. People, luggage, wooden tables & benches are scattered throughout. Poster-size photographs of cheetahs decorate the walls. She picks at the split ends in her hair while relentlessly attempting to connect to WiFi. A robotic voice across a loudspeaker calls for a flight number to pass through security. Calmly, the girl follows the delicate flow of people through Hoedspruit Airport’s one metal detector to the singular gate. She never manages to connect to the internet. She is asleep before the plane takes off.

Now I’m on my way back to my life in Cape Town; I can’t deny that I’ve missed it – the beaches, Table Mountain, the view I have of Lion’s head from my office in Bo-Kaap. I feel blissfully calm upon my arrival; a striking juxtaposition to my usual anxiety from flying. The woman I am now is more confident, capable, and adventurous than the woman who arrived in Cape Town three months ago. I can’t wait to see who I become by the end of my Content Writing internship with Penda Trust & Photo Tours.

Until Next Time,
Regina Muller

Keen to join Penda’s Wildlife Photography & Conservation Volunteer Project in Kruger? Find out more! 

Creative Writing Internship_Regina me & ele