A whirlwind of a week

I am convinced that there is a bizarre time warp here at Antelope Park.  While it feels as if I have been here forever, it also feels like I have only just arrived.  This last week is no exception to that rule.

I have been watching the days come and go with the breath taking sunrises and sets.  Each time my heart breaks a little that another day has come and gone putting me closer to my departure date.  I am not ready to leave here.

It has been quite the exciting week though!  Our reserve management handles fire breaks, which is where they set a contained fire to burn a portion of the bush.  Fires here in the dry season can be deadly, and spread without control.  Fires also can’t burn what has already been burnt, so they set up an area to burn along the borders of the park in case a fire does happen,  the reserve is safe from fire.  Well, the one they did the other day was only supposed to be a small one, for there had been very little wind.  Unfortunately, as always, mother nature is unpredictable.  The winds picked up and changed direction, spreading the fire across the creek where they couldn’t reach in time to control it.   Shit got crazy.

After feeding the cubs, Liz and I had been wandering around only to be told to jump in the truck as it was an emergency.  We rolled up to flames out of control in the bush, we were handed big branches and started assisting in the fire fighting.  Never take your firefighters in the first world for granted, what I would have given for a fire truck to help out!  We were legit beating the fire out with branches, scorching our arm hair, and lucky to get out with eyebrows.  I was in shorts and slippahs, not the greatest fire fighting clothing.  It was tiring and painful, but damn was it exciting!  Thankfully we got in all under control and with the help of a big group of us, we put it out.  Only afters hours of fighting it, and being attacked by thorn bushes and stray embers.

I was also slightly molested by a bush baby!  My supervisor has one at her house, and he finally came out the other night when Scott, Liz and I were over feeding the cubs.  We sat down and let him come over to say hi.  He was a little scared at first, but quickly warmed up and was very friendly.  He kept climbing on our heads, feeling our faces with his little hands.  His hands are a mixture of an old man, and a frog–quite the combination and odd feeling.  He was uber soft and so sweet.  At one point he had his fingers up my nose, then shoved in Liz’s mouth.  An inquisitive little fella.

More exciting news is that one of our lionesses finally had her babies!  Unfortunately I won’t be around to help raises these ones, but I was able to see them today and cubs that are only a couple days old are to die for.  I must say I feel extremely lucky that I have seen both cheetah and lion cubs at days old.  I hope more people get the chance, if we all fight and help in the survival of these species.  More people, for generations to come should have the opportunity to not only see, but work with these amazing creatures.  Not just big cats, but all species of Earth.  So many are near extinction, and it is terrible sad to think of kids growing up not knowing what these beautiful creatures look like in the wild.  I don’t mean to preach, but if you find interest in the things I write about, and I’m doing, help out.  Donate your time, spread awareness, or maybe help a local program that is working on conservation.  Even small things such as a beach clean up–every little bit helps.

The P’s (Pendo and Pezulu) are growing up so fast!  They are chowing down on minced meat and getting feisty over their bowls when the other tries to dig in.  It’s adorable to see them act like proper lions now, not just balls of fluff who melt your heart.  Of course they are still very capable of melting hearts, as they still do every time I see them.

Speaking of lions, I get to take a trip up to Victoria Falls on Friday to help transport two lions down to where we are!  They are at our sister program, and have come of age to start hunting at night, and our facility is the one capable of handling that.  So we get two 19 month old boys to help find tune their hunting abilities, letting them out in a few acres to run free and catch their own prey!  It should be very exciting, AND I get to see one of the world’s 7 natural wonders!  I am hoping I also have enough time there to do a bungee jump or gorge swing!  Either way, I can’t wait!  Seeing this country is going to be amazing!  I love it here in my little bubble of Antelope Park, but I am ready to get out and see more of this beautiful country!

Besides all of this, days are days.  Laughing and enjoying the people I am around, watching movies during the cold nights, and getting more progress on the behavior enrichment I am helping build for the big lions.  We now have 9 new posts up for them to use at a scratching post, to put tires on as a toy, or whatever else we can manage to make with them.  Tomorrow I am hoping to get at least two tire swings done in the enclosures.  It is tiring work at times, but seeing these things come together that we have worked so hard planning, it really brings a great feeling to my heart.

As for now, I’m enjoying my half day just writing my the river and waiting for 14:00 to roll around so I can go feed my babies.  Until next time!

Stay wild.

x

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Transporting the lion

Me with with lion I helped transport and keep tabs on his vitalsDCIM100GOPRO

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The day I played with a lion’s butthole….

Was today, Saturday.

I am terrible at being able to sit down and type these blogs out, I am continuously distracted, plus the lack of internet connection doesn’t help much either.

But back to the lion’s ass…

Saturday I helped in the transportation of one of our male lions.  We were able to watch him get sedated, help carry him out of his enclosure and into the back of a pick up, where I sat next to him keeping tabs on his temperature, which is taken anally.  Hence the title of this blog.  Not the most pleasant of tasks, though to be honest, it was awesome to help check a lions vitals and sit with him while we took him to another enclosure across the park.  Being able to put my hand against his paw and check his teeth and claws was incredible.  When you are face to face with a full grown male lion, no fences or barriers to protect you, it is one of the most exhilarating feelings there is.  Now that I have done that, I also get to assist next week in going to Victoria Falls to collect two lions from our sister program, and transport them here as well!  This is exactly why I am here, to get the hands on experience of being in charge and handling wild animals.

Speaking of being in charge, I am currently in charge of the park today!  Everyone is out in town or gone to the city, leaving just Liz and I behind to keep the place running.  Of course there are still all the other people here who have been staff awhile and know a whole lot more of what is going on, but while Liz is out driving the volunteers around for their activities and chores, I am sitting here making sure things are staying smooth…so far so good.  No one has needed me for much, and I am hoping it stays that way.  Chaos can be fun, but I am not looking for that when we have 50+ volunteers plus guest to take care of!  I signed up to be in charge of animals, not people.  Though the opportunity to prove that I can handle this type of situation is good for my experience and for those above me to see that I am worthy of this responsibility.

Being able to be a part of this community and watch this program grow is wonderful.  I truly do not understand how people can have these 9-5 jobs of staring at a computer screen, or sitting in an office.  Working with wildlife is such a “blessing” if you can call it that.  Looking into an elephants eyes as you giver her a handful of feed, watching lions run around and play with each other outside of their enclosures, it gives you such a rewarding feeling that you are doing something great in this world.  I can’t wait to do this everyday for the rest of my life.  I’m looking forward to taking what I have learned here and put it towards the research I am helping do with sharks.  I don’t want to leave here, but I am happy to know I get to go back to doing that again.  I want to devote all my free time to working out in the water, helping in whatever way I can.

I have become determined to finish with my BS, then get into my Masters, and kick ass along the way.  Making the connections with people here is going to be so helpful for my future, and keep me focused on my goal.  I can’t believe the time I have wasted not finishing with school already, and being so far behind, but this journey is mine, and the path I am on is still leading towards my final destination, I have just taken enough detours and am set to finish the final leg of my journey.

It’s time for Wendy to leave Neverland and continue growing up.

Though I hope to always stay young at heart.

And continue to

Stay wild.

x

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I am a badass

Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

 It is hard not to feel awesome when you are out on a run in “no man’s land”, no sound but the crunch of each bound under your feet, and as you glance down to look at the road you notice you are running along side elephant tracks.  You look up to take in your surroundings and realize for that moment, you are running free in the middle of Africa, no gates to keep out the wildlife, no one around to watch you.  Just you and the wild, becoming one again.

Each day has been an adventure, some days testing my limits, others just pure amusement, none of which really feel like work.  It’s great to work along side people with common interests, a lot of who have a mind similar to my own.  I love my friends back home, but not many of them understand my love for animals, this planet, and why I care so deeply about conservation efforts.  Having others around who can relate to what I’m saying, and seeing the passion in their eyes, makes me feel like I actually belong.

Work  can be frustrating though.  Being a non-profit organization, there isn’t always the amount of hands, tools, or supplies we need to complete a job.  My co-intern, Liz, and I have come up with a behavior enrichment program for the lions, that is on a rotation so each enclosure is getting predatory, foraging, sensory, and habitat enrichment.  We try to make things as close to nature as we can, though we improvise with what we can get our hands on.  It isn’t easy to have such a big plan, when we don’t always have the things we need.  When it does come together though, and when you see the people who work here be excited about a plan, or try to help you in what way they can, it is worth it for the efforts we do give, for we are all trying to get to the same goal of giving our lions the best life possible.

Let me tell you, we get creative with the lack of actual supplies.  Such as making toys out of grass and tree bark, covering it in elephant dung to get their senses going, getting a bunch of “tree rope” (literally just tying  pieces of bark together from a certain tree to get a make shift rope, Erick if you’re reading this, yes, I admit I could have used some rope), but we tie it to a piece of meat, lay it in the enclosure, pull the rope through the fence, and when we let the lions out, the person holding the rope runs as fast as they can so the lions can chase their “prey”.  Entertainment for both humans and lions, win-win.

All the hard work in the morning comes to an end when it’s after lunch and Liz and I get to go feed the cubs.  I have fallen deep, deeply in love with these babies, and I quite honestly don’t know how I am going to leave them.  Bottle feeding lion cubs is something people don’t do in their wildest dreams, yet I get to raise them and teach them how to be a proper lion.  I have become their jungle gym, teacher, chew toy, scratching post, and mother.  I always knew my babies would be furry, and this only confirms that.  Liz and I are both hoping to come back in a year or two so we can walk them and watch them hunt on their own.  Our little kids all grown up!

I’m not sure if being out here is going to help me settle down, or only make my travel bug grown.  Possibly a bit of both.  I want to finish up school and make this my daily life, and yet I am already planning a few more world trips with the friends I have made out here.  I guess I can make both work, right?!  There is just so much to see, so much to do, and I have only begun to scratch the surface of the world.  One thing I know for sure, all of my travels will involve nature, volunteering, and helping what local animals I can while I am there.  There is nothing more gratifying than leaving a place knowing you have made an impact of the lives of the voiceless.  While also hopefully changing a few minds and the future for some of those species.

The world is our playground, guys.  Don’t stay inside and let it pass you by, go out, make a difference, and play.

Stay wild.

x

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What am I doing?

“If you haven’t asked yourself ‘what have I gotten myself into?’ then you’re not doing it right.”-Rolad Gau

I found myself asking this question a few times already on this trip.  Let me tell you–I am doing it right.  These first couple days here have been nothing short of amazing.  I have fallen deeply in love, and see no signs of slowing down.

My days have been filled with horseback riding through the bush, to encounter giraffes and zebras not 15 feet from me, taking 11 month old lion cubs for a walk in the bush, bottle feeding 4 weeks old cubs, wandering around to check on full grown lions who run to greet you and have their head scratched.  If I believe heaven existed, I would be in my own.

Of course it’s not all roses and chocolates.

There is dirty work and hard work that goes into all of this.  A big part of my responsibility is coming up with plans to implement enrichment ideas for all the lions, finding materials for different programs, getting the management to make volunteers help with the work of putting it together, getting rotten, smelly, bloody body parts of different animals transferred out for feedings.  Let’s not forget that lions eat a lot, which means they shit…a lot.  Luckily I don’t really have to clean the enclosures, that’s the volunteers job.  Of course I am here to help though, and I have and will continue to help out when I have a moment.  This program wouldn’t run if it weren’t for all of us pitching in and giving it our best.

I haven’t even been here a week, yet already I am learning so much.  For instance, how to properly layer your clothing for cold weather.  It’s winter time out here, and only getting colder.  Our showers are not in our room, and there are no doors for the shower room.  It’s basically a cement gym shower with wooden doors for privacy.  Hot water runs out quick, and showering in the early morning or late at night is just out of the question.  Small things that you take for granted in the first world make you appreciate things like the 5 minutes of warm water you get to rinse off the sweat, blood, and poo of the day.

It’s all worth it though.  Every bone chilling gust of wind, every splatter of  rotten fetus’s, every ache in my back from shoveling is worth it when I see a full grown male lion running to greet me.  Or have our 4 week old little boy, Penzulu come crying after me as I go to leave.  To know it’s all for a great success story of giving the lion population a chance to hold on and survive.  It’s all that matters.

Today I got to go see the Ngamo pride.  They are ALERT’s success story, so far.  The 6 adult lions were released into an area of 403 acres, and left to not have any more human contact (aside from research trucks observing them) and to fend for themselves, hunting for their own food.  In the years they have been out there, they have mated and had babies.  Without any human help at all, these cubs have grown, and learned to hunt on their own.  They are now a happy pride of 11, sustaining themselves and acting as a wild pride would.  It’s this progress that is getting us closer to a release into the wild.

It’s long, hard, frustrating work at times, but these people have put so much into this and what they are getting out is so much more than all the sacrifices everyone has made to make this happen.

Lions need a fighting chance.  And that’s what we are giving them.

Hope.

Until next time.

Stay wild.

x

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Kariba and I

DCIM100GOPROTaking this doll for a walk, she is one of our 11 month old “cubs” that we have here. I get to walk two cubs every sunrise and two every sunset.

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Turning the page to a new chapter

I have no idea what day it is, only vaguely know the time from the clock set over my boarding gate to my next flight, and can’t quite tell whether I want to eat breakfast, or dinner, or pass out.

I have been traveling now for 21 hours, and I am just barely halfway done.  I have found myself a cozy little chair in a cafe at the Frankfurt airport in Germany, during my ridiculously long layover.  I don’t mind just sitting around, reading, and reflecting on my life over the past couple months, but I am so ready to get these last two flights knocked out and arrive at my final destination.

As I am sitting here, going through all the emotions that I have had building up to this trip, the stress, anger, sadness, excitement, anxiety, the nerves, and happiness, I have had a creeping feeling that this adventure is not just another trip, it’s the beginning of a new chapter for me.  I think leaving Hawai’i, my old house, the desire to drink, a few old friends, and the man I love behind me, I closed my book of life hard at the end of that chapter, for it was too long, too dangerous, and too foolish to continue writing.  Now I am ready to feel the crispness of a fresh, untouched page on a new chapter in my life.  This trip is going to change me, I can feel it deep in my bones.

Enough about my personal self reflection though, I doubt that is why any of you are here to read this, if there is anyone out there reading this at all–hi.  Thanks for taking the time to follow my journey, you’re rad.

For those of you who may not know exactly what it is I am doing, I have been accepted into an animal management internship working with the program ALERT (African Lion & Environmental Research Trust), at Antelope park in Gweru, Zimbabwe.  I will be out there for two months, working with the younger cats, feeding them, doing enrichment programs with them, any veterinary care, and research for all the lions on the park.  I will also be in charge of the daily care of our reserves elephants and horses.  Of course, I will be doing the dirty work of cleaning up, re-building fences, de-ticking the lions, and all the other gross stuff no one really talks about that goes hand-in-hand with animal care.

I couldn’t believe when I had been accepted for this.  This internship is mostly for grad students, but since it is what I love, am studying, and also that I have experience with big cats in Africa, they gave me the thumbs up.

I’m nervous.

Taking this step into what I hope to be my career after school, is a little nerve wrecking.  I really hope I haven’t gotten myself in over my head.  I won’t let my nerves deter me though.  I am going to go out there and be the best intern they have seen, throw myself into whatever they ask of me, with an open mind and a kick ass attitude.  Or so that is what I am imagining.

So follow along, I hope to be updating this weekly, though electricity is never a guarantee, I may have to post less frequent.  I’ll keep you all posted with the adventures I come across, post pictures and short videos of what I am doing, and hopefully try to inspire some of you to follow your dreams.  I remember it was always a bit of a joke when I told people what I wanted to do in life, they’d laugh as if it wasn’t a real dream, or at least not an achievable one, but I promise you this, if you keep your spirits and dreams high, if you work for it, throw yourself out there and take the risks, you can make it happen.  I don’t know a lot of people who are doing exactly what they wanted to do since they were a child, it’s something I have a lot of pride in.

Not only do I want to inspire you to follow your own dreams, I want to create new conservationist.  I want to open the world’s eyes to the beautiful structure that is Earth.  Mother nature is the most amazing thing, and I want more people to start taking the initiative to save her and her critters, big and small.  The world needs a voice for the voiceless, just as bullies need someone to stand up to them, the conservationists of the world are saying enough is enough with the torment of this planet.  Don’t stand by and watch it happen, join in the efforts to save it all.  If there is anything I want to leave behind in this world, it’s changing at least one mind, one person’s way of living, because you never know the snowball effect that can have.

Now that my preaching is done, I am going to curl back up into a ball on these benches and attempt to get some shut eye before my next 11 hour flight.  Stay tuned for the next update (after I have finally arrived)!

Stay wild.

x

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