Saturday, June 16, 2012

Africa Needs Lions

You know that feeling you have when you walk away from something great, that pit in your stomach, wondering if you are making the wrong choice and wondering if you return would it ever even be the same again. I seem to be very familiar with that feeling...leaving Texas, then leaving London and most recently, leaving Antelope Park in Zimbabwe. It is unsettling how attached I became to a place in just three short weeks. I say short because it went too fast, but it's a place that you settle into the routine by the second day. And it is a comfortable routine, one that is very easy to live by. The 6 am mornings don't seem so early after a couple of days, daily walks with lions start to feel commonplace, even scooping poo starts to feel like a privilege. It's a privilege because it is a necessary part of a much greater plan and because of the people who are there working alongside you with the same common goal, to save Africa's lions. Everybody associates Africa with lions and lions with Africa. But what very few people know is that Africa is losing its lions at an alarming rate. Fifty years ago the numbers were at 450,000. Twenty five years ago, 250,000. Today, just 20,000 wild lions left in the whole of Africa. Try and imagine an Africa without the lion. It could happen within our lifetime and it would be our fault. Trophy hunting, poaching, human encroachment on their land. It's easy for some to disconnect themselves from this issue or even not believe that it is an issue, but I promise you, if you ever have the privilege to look into the eyes of a lion, it's something you'll not soon forget.
When I booked my trip to come volunteer at Antelope Park I had high expectations for my time there, but what I didn't expect was how strongly this cause and these lions would take hold of me. Waking up at sunrise to the mist rising off of the river.

Taking the cubs on their morning walk, watching them stalk and chase impalas with only their natural instinct to rely on. Having a pack of horses charging head on, interrupting your volleyball game. Having elephants trunks poking and prodding you in search of a treat.

 Riding a horse into the bush within feet of zebra, giraffe and wildebeest. Having a bonfire with your new friends listening to the lions roaring into the darkness. Sitting just inches behind a chain link fence while seven fully grown male lions charge full speed straight at you in a battle of dominance to claim the largest pile of meat as their own.

Hand feeding cubs their vitamin A supplements and getting lion kisses on the palm of your hand.

 Riding in the back of a truck through the bush with the sun shining. Walking the cubs for 6 hours through the bush so they can become familiar with their natural environment and practice their hunting.

Taking the temperature of a full grown lioness rectally while she has been darted to take a blood sample to test for FIV.

Riding in the back of a truck with a dead zebra to feed to the lions.

Having an elephant kneel down so you can climb up onto its back and go for a ride. But best of all, watching a pride of hand raised lions, living on their own in stage two, taking down zebra like its a joke all while raising the 5 cubs they have produced, which are the future of this program and the proof that it is working and that it will work.
Antelope Park is magic in every sense of the word and I have no doubt that ALERT is the organization that will save the African Lion. It is a hard task to try and write my feelings about my time at AP and the things ALERT is doing there in one blog post, but it is easy for me to say that being a small part of it has been one of the greatest privileges of my life.

For more information on what ALERT is doing and how you can help please visit

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Melissa Ruffino said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melissa Ruffino said...

Wow Watty!! What an amazing adventure! What a blessing you got to be apart of something so life changing, can't wait to hear more! I love you friend, and miss you!

Kelly said...

Such an impacting blog post---I am so glad that you are in Africa. Thanks for sharing:-)