Lauren Waterfield joined us as a volunteer on our Antelope Park Lion Rehabilitation Project. This is what she had to say about her experience... Five years ago my curiosity and growing sense of adventure had finally got the best of me and I found myself in Africa for the very first time. She had my heart from the beginning. It was on this trip that I found myself walking with lions for the very first time, little did I know then how many more times I would take this walk. It was then that I first found out about ALERT and was made aware of the deteriorating situation facing the African lion.
It took me several years to make good on a promise that I made to myself on that trip. In May of last year, I returned to Zimbabwe and came to Antelope Park to volunteer for two weeks. It was something that I had thought about many times over the years and had built up substantially in my mind, so to say that I had high expectations is a gross understatement. My excitement had been growing for years, and I was finally there. Suddenly, I was filled with fear. Fear that I would be let down. Fear that my expectations would not be met. Anxiety took over my excitement on my first night in Zimbabwe while waiting at the guesthouse in Harare, the next day on the four hour bus journey to Gweru and then still on the short car ride to Antelope Park. As soon as we turned off the highway onto the dirt road that leads into Antelope Park, I think I exhaled for the first time in days.
There was never any reason to doubt. It is easy for me to say that my time at Antelope Park has been a true highlight of my life. As anticipated, the hands on contact with the lions was unparalleled. It is a true joy and privilege to walk alongside these magnificent animals on a daily basis. With time, it gives great satisfaction to learn to know them by name and begin to tell them all apart by their distinguishing features and personalities. The lions did not let me down. But what I found to be Antelope Park's unexpected draw for me are its people. In a short time you feel as if you are amongst family, and in a way, you are. You are a part of the AP family. The staff are among some of the friendliest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and working alongside. At AP you are always greeted with a smile and sometimes a hug if Gertrude is on duty at the front gate! I was instantly struck by the commitment and passion that everyone at AP possesses. After a few short days, it is easy to see where it comes from. There wasn't a day that went by at AP that I wasn't thankful and happy to be there. There is also a strong sense of family among AP volunteers. I hadn't really given a second thought to the other volunteers who would be there alongside me. But still, seven months after my first visit, I find myself still bonded to these people. Perhaps it is a bond that can only be forged from sharing a truly amazing experience together, one that is strengthened because you don't have to try to explain your experience to them. They just know.
My two weeks went all too fast, so I extended for another week until I had to leave to fulfill other commitments I had made in Africa. After this, I was supposed to continue on to Asia to travel for six months. Days after I left AP, I made arrangements to push this back and returned just six weeks later for another three weeks. It was during this time that I had the amazing privilege of meeting and caring for three tiny cubs, still unable to even see clearly, only three weeks old. I didn't think it was possible to exceed my first visit, but with these three new lives my expectations were again blown out of the water. I had hesitantly returned for my second visit, worried again. Worried that things wouldn't be the same, that the people wouldn't remember me. They did remember me and things weren't always the same, but I still felt that same happiness and gratitude in my heart every day that I was there.
I have spent the last five months traveling throughout Asia, Australia and New Zealand visiting some of the most beautiful places on Earth. Every day has brought excitement and new adventures, but Antelope Park has never been far from the forefront of my mind. In just three weeks, I will be returning to AP for four months as an intern. The anticipation is building and the same nerves are returning. Will it be the same, will they remember me? Probably not, and hopefully a few. But I know it won't be long before I have fallen back into place and I am welcomed back in the gates by Gertrude's hugs and Sheila's million watt smile at dinner with her all too familiar greeting 'Maswera Sei Shamwari' (How was your day, friend) and I know I'll be home again.
If you would like to follow in Lauren's footsteps and help us with rehabilitation of the African Lion, then click below for more information.