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Rochelle Whitehead talks about Antelope Park, Zimbabwe – Page 3

Conservationist Rochelle Whitehead talks about ALERT…

READERSVOICE.COM: What is the African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) and how did you become aware of them?

RW: I first became aware of ALERT when I was applying to work at Antelope Park. I became further aware of their current work and future goals from many discussions with Executive Director David Youldon during my placement in Zimbabwe.

The African Lion & Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) is a non-profit organization working with governments, wildlife authorities and private organisations to identify suitable release sites for African lions, and will also provide infrastructure to those sites to facilitate the release and to protect local communities.

ALERT also carries out scientific research through the Conservation Centre for Wild Africa (CCWA), either in its own right or in conjunction with external conservation organizations and educational institutions.

In addition, the ALERT Communities Trust is a means to give back to communities bordering conservation areas, so that they receive tangible benefits for supporting those conservation programs. A primary element of this is their community education and awareness program, to further understanding of the importance and relevance of sound conservation practices.

Local communities are involved in eco-tourism ventures related to the conservation programs, and money generated by those programs goes back into development schemes agreed as priorities with the local community, such as building schools or providing medical supplies.

RV: What was the interview like, when you were applying to volunteer for the program and where was it held?

W: The interview for my volunteer placement took place over the phone with African Impact’s head office in Harare, Zimbabwe. Lesley, the volunteer coordinator, asked me a series of questions as an informal interview. The aim of this interview was to determine why I wanted to work at Antelope Park, what previous experience I have had with animal rehabilitation, and to evaluate the kind person I was.

RV: When did you arrive in Zimbabwe and what did you do on the first day there?

RW: I arrived in Zimbabwe on the 20th of November 2007. My first night there I stayed at a lodge in Bulawayo, two hours from Antelope Park. The next morning I travelled by bus to Gweru where I was met by the volunteer manager and driven to Antelope Park.
My first day there consisted of orientation programs on the lion walks, lion handling and the breeding program; and discussions about Antelope Park, why it was needed and why I was needed. That afternoon I went on my first lion walk, with three cubs aged fifteen months, through the park.

RV: How far did you have to travel to get to Antelope Park and what were your first impressions?

RW: The entire trip from departing Brisbane to arriving at Antelope Park took approximately 48 hours. It was exhausting.

My first impression of Antelope Park was ‘stunning’. As we drove through the gates I saw giraffe, zebra and impala. As I had never travelled to Africa before, seeing these animals in their natural habitat was very emotional for me.

RV: Where are the other people from in the program with you, and what are their backgrounds?
RW: At any one time there are usually between ten and twenty volunteers at Antelope Park. The majority are from the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia or the USA.

As ecotourism is a growing industry many volunteers have come to work with the lions in place of a regular holiday. Their day job largely has nothing to do with animals or conservation. There were a few volunteers, however, that were studying veterinary science, zoology or environmental science and were there to learn.

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