Going to africa was a lifelong dream of mine. The experience was worth all the long flights and excruciatingly painful layovers in the world. Upon arrival at my destination, I was greeted by 2 lion cubs at the orphanage. There was a 5 month old male & a 20 month old female. It was such a magical encounter. To be able to interact with a wild animal like that freely (especially the huge lioness) left me in such awe, I’ll never forget how it felt. Being in Africa felt really surreal to me. It took a full week for it to sink in that I was really there. Sure, I wasn’t too thrilled with all the bugs and creepy crawlies that came in and out of my cabin so freely, but it was all worth it since I had such great time there.
I’ve had many memorable encounters with the lovely animals at the orphanage. Every morning, as I head down to the main house after breakfast to see what I’ll be working on that day, I would pass by the enclosure of Porky the warthog. She was pretty hideous looking, but so endearingly cute. Whenever somebody passes by her enclosure, she’d come to the fence and walk alongside us. I’d bring her a treat (usually an apple) every now and then and she’d be thrilled. Then there’s Jacky the side striped jackal. She was the sweetest jackal ever. So affectionate and always looking for some tender loving from us. She’d come up to the fence and lean her neck and chin against it whenever we pass by so we can pet her. We were able to go into her enclosure, read a book and sit for a while to keep her company.
I also got to go in the two 1 yr old baboons’ cage to clean it while they were in there. They were the cutest little monkeys. They’d try to give me a “groom” whenever I go in there and make this chattering movement with their mouths, as if they’re trying to chat with me, :). Before volunteering at the orphanage, I was under the impression that hyenas are mean, sneaky and nothing but bone crunching machines. I stand corrected after meeting Crunch the hyena. He was an orphan that was hand-raised by humans. Friendliest hyena you can ever imagine.
I’d have to say the most fulfilling part of volunteering at the orphanage was feeding and taking care of some of the baby orphans. It was so satisfying to see them looking very healthy and happy. I’ve done some backbreaking hard labor and some “dirty jobs” also. My least favorite work involves going to the slab and dump. I was able to deal with it, but I do not wish to remember the smell. Catching grasshoppers to feed the chameleon was an interesting experience. Can’t say it was an easy job and my encounter with the scorpion made it more “exciting” than I would’ve liked it, but at least I got to brag about my skillfulness at being able to catch a fair amount of those well camouflaged bugs.
My favorite time of the day was being able to spend my late afternoons at the main house with the owners’ dogs and the 2 lion cubs. The dogs were really friendly and a joy to be around. It was quite fun to watch their interactions with the 2 lions. Since the lion cubs grew up with the dogs and they all sleep in the same area, they act like siblings around each other. There were some rough-house playing, some bickering and also some brotherly and sisterly love.
The little Jack Russell terrier mix is “the boss”. Although she’s the smallest in size, she’s the eldest in age. All the bigger dogs and lions let her have her way whenever she “demands” it. It was quite hilarious. Although the lioness is by far the largest in size, she was quite gentle with the others.. and kind of a pushover, so that placed her at the bottom of the totem pole. Even so, it seems that she is totally content with her role. It was really heartwarming to see her loving care of the others.. like grooming and drying the lion cub and the dogs when they got caught out in the rain. We came across Ringo the german shepherd mix napping in the sun one day and Oranje (the lioness) just plopped down beside him, gave him a lion hug and napped with her arms around him, :).
Besides the fun and heartwarming experiences, there were also some really heartbreaking ones. The orphanage had welcomed two newborn leopard cubs two weeks before I got there. I was able to see them and take pictures of them, but we were not allowed to touch or interact with them since they were being raised by their own mother.
Sadly, one of the cubs was bitten by something venomous and fell really ill. Despite vigorous efforts to try to revive the cub, it did not make it. The only consolation we have is that the other cub is currently very healthy and thriving under its mother’s care. There was also a pregnant donkey. We sat in her enclosure one night, waiting to welcome a new life into the world while she was having contractions. Unfortunately, it was way too early for her to go into labor and she had a miscarriage. We’ve also lost a peacock chick and baby pigeon during my time there. I guess no matter how hard we try, we can’t save them all. We just have to feel good about the ones that we were able to save and especially the ones we were able to rehab and release back into the wild.
My first trip to africa wasn’t all work and education. There were some fun and wild adventures as well. I got to visit the Hwange Game Reserve and saw many beautiful animals, free in the wild. I was also able to visit Victoria Falls. It’s no wonder that the falls are one of the seven natural wonders of the world. All I can remember was saying, “Wow!” During my time at the Vic Falls, I got to brave the class 5 rapids on the Zambezi River. Despite our raft being capsized by the rapids, I survived.. and saw a crocodile on the side of the river after we all got back on the raft. *gulp* I was also crazy enough to do the gorge swing. It was such an adrenaline rush to drop 70 meters and swing across the gorge. Too bad I wasn’t able to swing all the way to the Zambia side, but I totally recommend doing the swing, :).
Like all good times, they all end too soon. I remember saying goodbye to all the animals my last morning at the orphanage. I couldn’t keep the tears from my eyes. I really appreciate the owners and staff members at the orphanage for giving me such a great & memorable experience. I hope my stay there had contributed to their endless effort in saving these beautiful animals and I hope more and more people can help their cause in the future.