We caught up with returning volunteer Sarah! Sarah’s story is just an example of why we love what we do here at Antelope Park.
With over 40 returnees in 2018, we can safely say our volunteers love this place just as much as we love having them here!
Check out what Sarah has to say about her first stay and why she decided to come back.
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This is Sarah’s Story
I came to volunteer at Antelope Park in July 2018, with no idea of what was about to come. I had booked my stay for two weeks on the Lion Project and ended up staying for five weeks.
I had booked such a short stay because I was really apprehensive about coming with so many thoughts going through my head like, what if I don’t like the place or the people?
What if I can’t handle the same things I used to when I volunteered 10 years ago? But I decided to go in with a positive attitude and take it day by day.
It was interesting to see that there were quite a few returning volunteers in my group. I just thought to myself, there must be something about this place if people keep coming back. My roommate was a returning volunteer.
We arrived together on the same flight and went and had a beer together at the bar our first night at AP. We have been best friends since that day.
We get so self-involved at times that we seem to forget that everyone is in the same boat as we are. Everyone has reservations.
Everyone gets a little uneasy with unfamiliar things. But once you take that leap of faith you can be rewarded with an experience that can go beyond your wildest expectations.
I think it has a lot to do with the energy you put into your day and whether you choose to have a positive or negative approach.
Activities on the lion project usually involve manual labour. Every day on lions is different. There are several activities that are assigned according to the needs of the lions at the time.
Your working around awesome people, who love these lions like their own; their passion is incredible.
Let me explain some of these activities:
So the day starts off with a lion walk, which involves taking the cubs out of their enclosure for a walk around the bush.
The purpose of these walks is to give the cubs opportunities to get accustomed to the bush and learn how to stalk and hunt their prey.
It’s a great way to start the day, interacting with lions and watching them play in the bush and stalk game.
Don’t be scared by the idea of walking alongside these mighty cats, the handlers are there for your safety and ready with the command, “Watch your back!” If necessary.
Lion Enclosure Cleaning
This activity involves cleaning the water troughs, shovelling lion faeces and animal carcasses leftover from the lion feeds. I wouldn’t call it a pleasant experience, however, I would call it a rewarding one.
It needs to be done and the volunteers have fun with it.
As I said, it all depends on the attitude. You can choose to see the bad in any situation or you can choose to have a positive approach and make it fun.
A good vibe, a speaker and a good attitude is sometimes all you need to make the job a piece of cake.
It’s amazing how much you bond as a group through these sort of activities!
Meat Preparation/ Lion Feeding
This is an activity that actually turns out to be a lot of fun if you throw yourself into it!
Most volunteers enjoy the hands-on experience and walk away having had a great time throwing themselves into it.
This activity involves cutting up animal parts, and at times inserting cartilage powder and medication, and then dividing the parts on the enclosures.
Wait for the best part…The feed. The speed at which the lions bound towards the meat is truly exceptional.
You can feel their breath against the fence and witness their natural instincts come to live!
Behaviour Enrichment is simply an activity that involves making toys for the lions using multiple resources at your disposal in the park.
Some of the elements used are hay, elephant dung, strings from tree branches, pieces of meat, essential oils, snake skin and cat nip.
You join in groups and make several toys that are later placed in the enclosures in a strategic fashion, for example hanging off a tree branch, so the lions can find them and play!
It’s amazing to see their natural behaviours estimated from such natural materials, which are unfamiliar to them.
They love these toys and they help a great deal in their development.
This was were our creative sides came out as we made different toys in different shapes and sizes.
Now for one of the questions probably on your mind..who will instruct and guide us through all these activities? The Lion Handlers of course!!
Lion handlers are always there to direct and assist during activities. They are experienced, hardworking and their positive attitude can make all these activities fun.
Being here for 5 weeks, I managed to form close bonds with them so being on a project every day was not a chore, but rather cultural experience with friends.
How they tackle problems in a very aloof manner and can do so much with so little gives you a new perspective on how to approach things.
There is no need to stress and worry when you can always “make a plan”.
The reason I signed up for this program was to interact with lions. It is a volunteer program but I was doing it for me, to enrich myself.
I wasn’t uninformed or aware of the decreasing lion population in Africa and all the issues with lions; such as human-lion conflict and poachers.
These are all things I learned upon my arrival in the induction session. It was unclear to me as to why the lions are in enclosures.
Why aren’t they released in the wild?
Then when I came to see how with the situation being how it is they would not survive in the wild, things started to become clearer.
I have recently come to realise the importance of volunteers to the lion project. They are absolutely essential. You are making a difference. The lion project would not be possible without volunteers.
Now that AP has stopped the breeding program and these are the last set of walking lion cubs, I am afraid that volunteers will not be encouraged to join the lion project.
I know returning volunteers will come back because they know the program is much bigger than the lion walks and have felt the extraordinary impact AP has on you.
I didn’t speak in depth about the importance of being around all new people in a new environment, and how it allowed me to flourish as a person and get in touch with who I really am.
No expectations or presumptions about who you are supposed to be or what you’re supposed to do or how you’re supposed to act.
I became the purest version of myself at AP, and that is why I came back.