Melissa Shearer a.k.a 'Mellyboo' is a keen traveller who shares her adventures online. Melissa's recent adventure was being a volunteer on our Lion Rehabilitation project at Antelope Park. Recount and re-live Melissa's experience as she shares with us her time on this unique project.
When I made the decision to go to Africa I knew that I wanted to encounter lions in some way shape or form. Little did I know, I was going to be involved with some incredible and much-needed lion conservation efforts. I wanted to have my own opportunity to get up close and personal with the king of the jungle. I did a bit of research and stumbled upon the Lion Encounter website. This was about the time that I realized that they had a volunteer program so I inquired to find out more. Lesley from African Impact got back to me right away. I read through the website and all the information packages, did my research, then signed up for my first stint as a voluntourist. It wasn't until I arrived at Antelope Park (a 3000 acre private game park) in Gweru, Zimbabwe that I learned all about the lion conservation efforts being put forth by ALERT- African Lion and Environmental Research Trust.
ALERT is a non-profit organization, which was founded in 2005 by Andrew Connolly and it's dedicated to the facilitation and promotion of sound conservation and management plans of the African lion. ALERT was started to support the four-stage program that was initiated in 1999 at Antelope Park which attempts to have captive bred lions be introduced into the wild.
Unbeknownst to many people, the lion population has dropped nearly 80-90% in the past 30 years. For an apex predator species and the animal synonymous with Africa- this is a devastating statistic. Being that the lion is pretty much the first animal that anyone thinks of when they think of Africa and it is the one animal that more than 90% of people traveling to Africa wish to see- the importance of the lion not only in the grand scheme of the environment, but to the tourism sector and economy of many African nations is beyond vital. The lion's extinction could cripple the African economy.
How did the lion population drop to drastically in the past 30 years? With increased trophy hunting tourism and poaching, as well as communities encroaching on the lion's natural habitat and revenge killings for lions destroying the communities' livestock the numbers have drastically dropped. And that;s only due to human involvement, Another major factor also includes feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV- otherwise known as the feline version of HIV) infecting a large number of lions in the wild.