The Lion Rehabilitation Project at Antelope Park – getting up at 6.30am to walk the lion cubs in the bush – what a way to start your day!
Since the start of our relationship, one of our dreams has been to visit Africa. Finally, the opportunity arose to allow us to get away, our love for animals and our passion to try and make a difference brought us to Antelope Park to volunteer for 4 weeks on the lion rehabilitation project where we could work closely with lions in a remote part of Zimbabwe, said Will Byas and Anna Tolman.
Following our 4-week placement we concluded this was the best decision and that it was an experience of a lifetime. Not only was it great to work with some fantastic volunteers but we certainly wouldn’t have had the experience we did without the incredible staff . Their enthusiasm and bright characters always brought a smile to our faces, and made the goodbyes all the more difficult.
The typical day started at the unearthly hour of 6:30, however with the task at hand being to introduce the lion cubs to the African bush, the time of day soon became a happy part of our daily routine. These walks aimed to help the cubs start to use their skills of stalking and to make them familiar with the noises and scents of the bush. What a way to start the day – far more entertaining than walking the dog back home!!! Through these walks we quickly discovered the different characteristics shown by the 4 cubs. The 3 boys Africa, Arusha and Amani and the female, Alika. This being said, neither of us can name a particular favourite as they are all so different.
After breakfast at 9:30 the activities could range from cleaning big lion enclosures to building platforms for the big lions in order to provide shade and also protection from the flies. Platforms became a large project during our stay as the personnel within the group meant we could do the majority of them in a short space of time. Building became much more fun whilst working alongside fully grown males roaring to each other. We can honestly say that hearing the noise is far more breath-taking than hearing it on the TV. However, like any animal activities there has always got to be some activities which maybe aren’t as fun. All volunteers have their favourites, one of our least favourite was the enclosure maintenance slashing, this involved manually cutting the long grass around the enclosures which left hands sore and bodies sweaty. Saying this everyone has to help and doing it with the handlers always makes it more fun and entertaining.
Lunchtime came after a hard but enjoyable morning at 13:00. After eating lunch, 13:30 comes and that’s a great opportunity to get involved in the workers football match. Where else in the world can you play football with elephants as spectators, eating river weed and also swimming across to the island where guests accommodation looks out over the river? Unbelievable game of football with some very good players.
After lunch we begin our daily activities but for a shorter slot between 2:05 and 4 where this can be similar to the morning but never the same. Maybe watering the lion enclosures or building toys for lions to enrich their behaviour and also help to bring out the hunting instincts within them. Although making toys out of elephant poo and grass was entertaining and at times time-consuming, it was very satisfactory seeing the lions destroy our toys within a matter of seconds. Just goes to show, lions will always have that killer instinct within them. Something you can only witness while being here!!! We never realized how inquisitive lions were prior to coming here. This was also a great opportunity to see the power and athleticism these animals have whilst jumping to destroy a ball of elephant poo hanging from a tree. Truly breath-taking!!!
After a day of work and the weather has cooled off, between 4 and half past was the time to take the cubs out again for another walk to make them more aware of the bush and give them some freedom to enjoy playing outside their enclosure and also practice hunting. If you’re not walking lions, you have the option of elephant herding and rounding them up in the wild as the day winds down. An unbelievable way of getting to see these enormous yet gentle rescue elephants the park has to offer in their natural environment with the African sunset as the backdrop.
Our evening activities usually consisted of relaxing in the volunteer lounge or by the fire pit. After a long day or working the tiredness usually kicked in around 8, which is just about seen as an acceptable time to go to bed. Either that or various games would be introduced. UNO was a favorite of ours as it didn’t require too much thinking. We particularly enjoyed Saturday evenings as ‘beer pong’ almost became a tradition. It was a great way to get all the volunteers socializing together to make the team cohesive but also a great way to have fun and enjoy the weekend after a week of working hard.
Overall, the 4 weeks spent here cannot really be put into words that can thoroughly do it justice. It was an unforgettable 4 weeks of our lives and we would come back and do it again in a heartbeat.
Do you want to volunteer on the Lion Rehabilitation Project – find out more!