Day in the life of a CROW volunteer

WHAT does it take to be a volunteer who cares for the animals at Yellowwood Park’s famed Centre for Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW)?

I spent the morning with Claire Mawdsley to find out what a day in the life of a CROW volunteer entails.


Her day begins at 7.30am, greeting her charges – the primates. The energetic and enthusiastic Australian starts her rounds with the youngest of the groups, the baby vervets which are aged up to about nine weeks.

“Most of them have lost their mothers through tragic circumstances and it is heartbreaking when you hear them cry – it is such a sorrowful sound.

It’s lovely to see their little characters develop. One of the girls has a rather adventurous spirit and one of the boys just follows her around, while another is tiny but he is a little alpha male,” said Claire.

There is a second group of older, more mischievous vervets and a trio of samangos she also takes care of.

She cleans the cages and replaces the blankets carefully, only for them to quickly become disorganised, then gives the youngsters their cereal, all while absentmindedly speaking to them.

While the animals seem calm around her, they keep their distance and it is abundantly clear they are wary of my presence, which bodes well for their future.

“We have to care for some of them from a young age but we try to keep human interaction to a minimum. Even though you become a surrogate mother to the young ones and it’s nice when they come to you, when they stop coming to you it is great because they’ve retained their independence,” she said.

This is essential because once they are released into the wild, they need to be able to fend for themselves and they need to have a healthy fear of humans in order to survive.

Along with primate manager, Mabel Watts, Claire cares daily for the monkeys currently housed at CROW.

This is her third outing at CROW, having fallen in love with the work and the ethos of the centre.

“There’s so much I love about this job – I love working with the animals; I love having a real insight into such beautiful and varied wildlife and I love working with the staff – they are so passionate, so knowledgeable and they care so much for the animals.

Her first tour was two weeks long, the second, three and now she is here for three months.

She left her career in marketing to pursue her remarkable passion for volunteering at CROW and never stops smiling as she works with the young primates.

Claire believes deeply in CROW’s motto that the best cage is an empty cage.

“It’s wonderful to see them set free at the end of our care and to know you played a part in that. As great as it is to see them here, it is even better to watch them in the wild. And see how they interact with one another.

I’m normally in an office, so this is really different but it’s nice to learn new skills.”

Once the cages are cleaned and the specially prepared milk and cereal have been delivered, Claire gathers a tray of fruit and vegetables for each group. This food is mostly provided by donations from the public and companies.

“It’s like going shopping in our fridge everyday – you never know what we might have and I like to try new tastes with the monkeys when I can, to see how they react to different things. They all love bananas, and the samangos seem to like tomato.”

She carefully slices and dices the day’s selection for the younger vervets and places them in neat lines, while the samangos and older vervets are given theirs in a mixed salad style.

The monkeys eagerly await their food and Claire loves watching to see what they select from her offering. As she guessed, the samangos went straight for the tomato.

The remainder of her day is spent caring for the monkeys, cleaning their environment, ensuring they are healthy and bringing the rest of their meals.

Like the other volunteers, Claire lives on-site at the centre and her zeal for the work she does permeates as she urges others to volunteer.

“There’s a whole world of different people who volunteer here, so you get to meet people from so many different countries, which is interesting.

To the volunteer who may think of coming to CROW, definitely do it. It is a great place to work. It is hard work, not a holiday, but it is a fantastic experience.

It’s the best feeling in the world to see the animals advance from when they first come in to the point of release. When you see some of the animals come in and some are in a really bad way, and then through the care and the dedication of the staff looking after them, they progress and knowing that that animal will be released and be back in the wild, really is the best feeling in the world.

It is amazing to see their will to survive. They fight for it. So often you think an animal will not make it but they often surprise you.”

To find out about volunteering at CROW go to or call 031-469-0583 or 031-462-1127.

Erin Hanekom

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