It has been a life-long dream to visit Africa and see this amazing continent, ideally as a volunteer, rather than just a vacation, and so when I heard about this type of opportunity (thank you to Sylvia and Katherine), it was just too perfect to pass up. I started my planning earlier this year, all before my trip to Europe. My three weeks back in the States passed very quickly, and my journey to Africa was three flights across three days, leaving on Saturday, December 5th to get here on Monday, December 7th. The first week has been packed full of amazing experiences!
The volunteer house and staff are great, and it was easy to get settled in quickly and feel right at home, complete with the resident cat, Stanley, who is easily one of the coolest cats I’ve known. Well, domestic cats, that is, since the lions are pretty much now at the top of any and all cat lists that I’ve had to date. Each morning, the volunteers are taken out to the park where the lions live, which is about a 15 minute drive away, and we start the day with a lion walk with one of the two pairs of lions that live in the park. They’re starting to greet us when we go out to their enclosure, as they get familiar with us (sight, voice, scent), and there is really nothing like a lion who wants to nuzzle you along the fence line of their enclosure. They are then taken out by their handlers, as we let them sniff a bit and get ready for their walk, either with just the volunteers, or with clients who have come to have this amazing experience. A very important point, especially for those animal lovers like me, is that every group is given an overview of the program, complete safety instructions, and there are multiple handlers, guides, and a wildlife scout with us on all walks, which is for the safety of both the people and the lions. Another important point is that this activity is just one way in which funds are brought into the program, which go toward the conservation efforts of these magnificient animals.
In addition to my main project of working on the lion project, each volunteer also visits the other active projects, such as the community project, which is comprised of several community outreach efforts, including the local old people’s home and the local orphanage. Visting both of these places really filled my heart with joy, as the people are just the most lovely and happy people that I’ve met. I was prepared to be in awe of the wildlife here, and I’ve been equally charmed by the people that I’ve met. Our project work is Monday through Saturday, and then Sunday is free to fit in whatever activities that we may wish to do, such as adventure sports, or day trips to nearby places. On Sunday several of us travelled across the border to Chobe National Park in Botswana to go on a river and land safari, and it was such an amazing time. We saw hippos, crocodile, elephants, buffalo, impala, warthogs, and countless birds. Just so amazing.
There are too many other fantastic moments thus far to mention them all, and I could go on and on, but I’ll leave the rest to photos, since they really help tell the story. Enjoy!