I've always been fond of cats and have a lot of respect and admiration for the big ones. I was looking for a holiday experience with a difference, that would provide lasting memories, fantastic photo opportunities and the chance to make a difference in a community. I love wild life documentaries and envy the experience that those taking part have. My husband is an amateur photographer and provided we visit places that give him those fantastic 'one off' photo opportunities, I can virtually persuade him that anything is a good idea!
We were both nervous about visiting Africa funnily enough, more than working with and walking lions. We weren't sure about the safety of such a far away country and the culture and expectations of the community. we needn't,t have worried. The country is breath takingly beautiful and the people, warm, welcoming and very accommodating.
The whole project is so well organised from the minute you talk to the travellers staff about booking such a holiday, to arrival at the airport and to everyday activities whilst working as a volunteer. No two days are the same and you go to bed tired, but extremely satisfied with the day's work and sleep so soundly to the gentle sounds of lions 'calling' across the African landscape. You can't wait to get up in the morning at the first signs of dawn to see hippos on the front lawns or wild elephants passing by and to learn what your new activities are for that day.
Accommodation is basic but adequate and it's lovely to share experiences, mealtimes and laughter with the other volunteers. We were with a group of 10, different ages, different nationalities but all sharing the same passion for working with and helping to rehabilitate lions. There are plenty of opportunities to explore the wonderful surrounding African countries and local community too, but we just loved being with the lions. There is nothing quite like the experience of walking with your pride, first thing in the morning, whilst walking alongside the river Zambezie, with experienced lion handlers, sharing their knowledge and experience and informing you about all the different flora and fauna on the doorstep. We were so fortunate to be involved with this project's first big release back to the wild. Six fully grown, powerful and beautiful female lions who were 'set free' into the ready prepared part of the neighbouring Dambwa forest. Many of the local community tribes shared in the release celebrations, a massive project triumph, as their acceptance of such releases into their local space, is crucial. This close working relationship is further helped by vising their villages and spending a day in 'their shoes', sharing our life and work experiences with them, which they find really interesting and helping out in the schools and teaching the children.
I would love to return again. We have many many beautiful photos, memories, new friends and great admiration for the project team working tirelessly out there to ensure the lion remains in its rightful kingdom.