A day by day account of one volunteers experience on a lion conservation project.
I touched my first lion today! (Ok that sounds creepy). BUT I DON’T CARE! It was everything I ever dreamed and more. The four cubs (Leker, Liuwa, Lala and Lila- AKA The L’s) on the project site here are SO beautiful. And guess what!?? I get to spend the next 14 days with them!!!
When Herbert (the lion handler), first opened up the enclosure and said “Go on in…” I nearly cried. Oh my god this is it! The first thing I noticed right away was how BIG their eyes are… and paws! They are only 11 months and already the size of a Bull Mastiff! We take the lions out for walks in pairs… where they have a chance to see wild game and be stimulated by the environment (because they literally sleep 20+ hours a day). One of the many reasons why my favourite animal in the world is also one of the laziest animals in the world.
One of my favourite days in Victoria Falls so far! This morning we started off with a language lesson. I brushed up on my Ndebele which is spoken here in Zimbabwe along with many other languages such as Shona and of course English. I took down a lot of notes… Thanks Abeauty, you were a great professor.
We also did behaviour enrichment with the lions again today. This toy was even bigger and better! We built a little cat house for the cubs with lots of elephant poo inside. One poop toy was dangling in the middle which Liuwa quickly ripped off and took away. It’s only been a week and I feel like they are growing so quickly each day. I know we’re not supposed to play favourites but… Lekker is a king (And I know for a fact all parents have a favourite).
Bird survey this morning! I was designated bird girl which meant I had to write down all of our bird sightings, i.e. species and the coordinates at which we spotted the bird. Because my knowledge of birds literally just extends to most of the east coast of Canada… African birds were really difficult for me. And they sound WAY cooler. For example… red-billed hornbills, lilac-breasted roller, copper bird, scarlet chested sunbird, the list goes on. And these birds are colourful! My favourite were the bee-eaters because of their vibrant green plumage.
We parked in the Zambezi National Park for a quick breakfast and then headed back out in the bush for our elephant ID. We take pictures and ID the elephants based on different characteristics such as notches in the ears or tusks. We drove around for an hour and saw so many animals like baboons, warthogs, hippos, giraffes, impala, kudu… so everything BUT elephants.
Behaviour enrichment for the afternoon (one of my favourite activities ). I was so excited to see the cubs because it had been 2 whole days and that is just 2 days 2 long for me. The behaviour enrichment however didn’t go QUITE as planned… They weren’t too keen on my baby cub mobile idea. You know like… a strings of toys (or in this case poop and bones) for the babies to interact with. Liuwa looked at it for two seconds and thought… nahhhhhh. Oh well, give them a break. It was the hottest day and they just got back from a walk. I’m sure once we left they were going nuts for it but of course we’ll never have proof if the cub mobile actually worked!
We started this morning off with a snare sweep! Yes, poaching is still a huge problem. And guess what? We found a snare…. not only that… we found a snare where our cubs usually walk. Typically the last few snare sweeps have come up clean but this shows that poachers are still trying to come into the National Park hoping to get lucky. Not on our watch!
Rambo showed us how they create the snare and hang it on a low tree branch. This allows whatever animal walking through to get their head trapped around the snare which acts like a noose… It tightens more and more every time the animal struggles. The fact that this still goes on makes me sick to my stomach… but I’m so grateful that companies like African Impact & Lion Encounter make an effort to do weekly snare sweeps to protect the National Park from poachers as much as possible.
I want to take this time to thank African Impact & ALERT for creating such an amazing program and making my dreams come true. This blog only covers such a small amount of the experiences I have gained during my stay. To all the coordinators and volunteers, I love you all.
Well, Africa… it’s been real. I am going to miss you so much. I’ll miss your wildlife, your amazing people, your Mazoe, your power outages, your heat that I finally managed to acclimatized to. I’ll miss how clean I felt for those 2 minutes when I came out of the shower just before getting covered in dirt/sweat again.
Ugh, now I’m sitting at the airport in Joburg… and I can’t even enjoy my complimentary wifi or unlimited lounge booze because I just want to be back in Vic Falls. All I have now are memories and about 1000 photos… which I am looking at now. What a trip.