Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lions baboons and warthogs, oh my!

It is now the end of a very busy week and it is now time to try and recap. Our day at the volunteer centre starts at 0630 and normally ends around 1800 with dinner provided back at the rest camp half an hour later. The first day began with the usual client walk and I was one of the clients (having no experience with the lions yet, new volunteers are allowed minimal contact). We were walked off into the bush and some of the handlers and other volunteers showed up with a couple of the lions. The group then walks behind them for about half an hour followed by an opportunity to get some photos taken kneeling behind one and stroking it. Then followed breakfast and I was off for my first lion handling lesson with Jalani and Jabari, a pair of 16 month old cubs. We were shown ways to establish dominance, how to distract the cubs when they get that look in their eyes, how to punish them (read hard slap to the chops - just like mummy lion would do it!), taught when to show affection and last of all how to keep a balance between these. The idea is that the cubs learn that you are a dominant member of the pride thus minimising risk. These two cubs are pretty much softies but there is always the chance they will want to 'play' with people which with their strength and claws could be a disaster.

Later that day I met Mvuthu and Monde the stunning 9 month old cubs. They have a lot more attitude and clients are not allowed near Mvuthu the male as he cannot be trusted. Monde has the habit of straying off the path whenever she can so as to stalk us. This is sometimes allowed as it is good training for her future life on a larger reserve but we make sure she is always in sight so that her mood and intentions can be monitored. Other than the client walks there are various other activities we will be on such as meat preparation, snare sweeps, enclosure cleaning and lessons on local language (Ndebele) as well as visits to the nearby village of Monde, the local Chinotemba orphanage and also an elephant sanctuary.

At lunchtime there is the option to return to the rest camp for a few hours rest or cub sit (giving some lion handlers a break). Cub sitting allows the lions to bond with us much more as there are no clients to distract them. At these times they may play fight each other or after being fed, when they are lazy, they will enjoy getting
their bellies rubbed and lie in the sun - cats will be cats I guess!

On Wednesday I visited the local primary school where I helped with a few lessons, incredibly hard work when many of the children did not speak English much, if at all. At one point the teacher needed to pop out to deal with something so there I was with my first ever class of 21 three to five year olds. I had a go at teaching them numbers and it was an interesting experience; some of the kids had their numbers written down within seconds and so were let out to play while I concentrated on those who had trouble writing the numbers down. I had to wrack my brains to find a way to explain myself and resorted to a join the dots method which seemed to work quite well with the younger children. It was very funny to have the class crowded around me all trying to show me their papers at once while shouting, "Sir! Sir! Sir!". The whole experience was very humbling and I hope that I can learn basic Chichewa quickly in Malawi as it seems I will need that and a little more preparation if I am to do anything useful in my four weeks there.

I have managed to learn some very basic Ndebele while here so at least I can now greet locals in their tongue. My clicking is finally coming along much better so I can now pronounce words such as Ixoxo (means frog and each x is a click made by the tongue on the roof of the mouth). I need a lot more practise but the guides and lion handlers enjoy helping me while we work and always answer questions with incredible patience.

Vic Falls is a very strange town based almost entirely on tourism. This in itself would not be too weird as I have recently been in such places, however the tourists that come here are normally very well off which is in contrast to the abject poverty in which most locals live. This leads to people in the street coming up to you and almost immediately pointing out that they like your shoes, t-shirt, hat etc and could they please have them! I then have to explain that I am a backpacker who arrived on a bus, not some loaded tourist who just flew in and is about to spend thousands of dollars doing helicopter rides or bungee jumps or one of the many other ridiculous money sinks that people have come up with to part people with their dollars. I am down to three T-shirts now after losing one and giving two of my Liverpool shirts to guys who work at the lodge (deserving Liverpool fans of course), and if I give away my shoes I don't see myself getting to Thailand somehow!

Chinotemba town is where many of the locals live and wandering around there is very safe and easy as well as people not hassling me for anything. I do any shopping I need there to avoid the inflated tourist prices and today was invited to watch Angry Lions FC U17s play the local Zim police team by one of the guides who helps run the team for kids who would otherwise be wasting their time on the streets. It was a great experience as I was allowed in for the pre-game preparations which were all very serious as the police team consists of adults who play the the local division two. After a brief tactical discussion we headed off for the warmup sadly without the team having had their lunch as it had not arrived for some reason. The team played out of their skins and scored a stunning goal leaving the fuzz a bit shell shocked. Just before half time I decided to nip off to the market and found a truck stacked with bags of oranges which I brought back for half time so the boys could get some energy in the scorching heat. Soon they were back on the pitch but I sadly had to leave for a scheduled trip to the Falls - tomorrow I hope to find out the final score from Jabulani who runs the team in his spare time - Go Angry Lions!!

To be continued . . .


  1. AMG :P, practically rendered speechless by the pictures of those big cats. Must be an incredible experience for you dude. Loving the info, keep it coming amigo...and keep your shoes too, not a bad idea. :)

  2. Chinotimba, that explains the weird Vic Falls experience. High prices and an artificial town. You found the real place, congrads.