// you’re reading...


Rochelle Whitehead talks about Antelope Park, Zimbabwe – Page 4

The daily routine for volunteers working with lions at Antelope Park, Zimbabwe…

READERSVOICE.COM: What were some of the things they taught you during training?

ROCHELLE WHITEHEAD: During my stay at Antelope Park the lion handlers helped me to develop confidence and to learn how to assert dominance when handling wild animals. I also learned to appreciate some of the practical realities associated with helping wild animals. It’s one thing to dream of helping to save lions from extinction; it’s another thing entirely to have to get your hands dirty cleaning enclosures and preparing raw meat for their dinners.

RV: What would you do in a typical day at the program, whether working with lions or not?

RW: A day in the life of an Antelope Park volunteer starts at 6:00am. In groups of three to four, accompanied by two lion handlers, each group takes out one of the five sets of lion cubs for a two hour walk in the park. This is followed by a buffet breakfast.

From 9:00am – 12:00pm my activities vary depending on what is needed most: I will make fences, develop new toys to stimulate the lions, conduct snare sweeps or prepare meat for the cub feeds. We then break for lunch until 2:00pm.

For the next two hours we usually clean enclosures, either for the walking cubs or for the lions at the breeding program. In the afternoon we take the cubs out for another walk for two hours. The idea is to get them out in their natural environment as much as possible to aid in release efforts.

Finally before dinner the volunteers meet for an end of day brief. This is to discuss what we did that day, appoint tasks for tomorrow and bring up anything that may be an issue.

RV: How did the lion breeding and rehabilitation project compare with your experiences working in Borneo with orang-utans?

RW: My experience in Borneo was completely different to my time spent at Antelope Park. Borneo had little hands on experience with the animals with much more building, cleaning and maintenance work.

Matang Wildlife Centre, where I was placed, was owned by Sarawak Forestry Department, a government department that had been privatised. The company, Way Out Experiences (WOX), with whom I volunteered, didn’t own the centre but merely worked there trying to improve the conditions for the animals.

As WOX had little say in decisions made, my placement there was a large learning curve from the organisational point of view. I began to understand that working in third world countries was much more difficult than I previously thought. I learned that patience, persistence and a thorough understanding of other cultures are all vitally important. With these things we can begin to slowly improve conditions for the animals housed there.

In contrast, Antelope Park was more of a breeding program than a rehabilitation centre. Hands-on experience with the lions for the volunteers was first priority. At Antelope Park I developed my knowledge further about animal behaviour and conservation, as opposed to organisational management at Matang Wildlife Centre.

RV: Overall do you have an optimistic viewpoint about the future of the environment and wild animals, what with the rate of tree clearing and human population increase, or is environmentalism about stalling environmental destruction as long as possible?

RW: In past decades environmentalism was about conserving the environment and repairing damage previously done. Now it seems that environmentalists are indeed only stalling environmental destruction from future loss.

If I didn’t have at least some hope for the survival of our planet’s wild animals and our precious environment I would not be able to continue down the path I have chosen. Every day at university I learn more disturbing facts about the current status of our planet’s environment and about the consequences of the decisions made by our political leaders –decisions which far too often sacrifice our environment in favour of the economy. I agree that the future looks dire and that this dire future is much closer than we previously thought, but if we live in a world without hope, what is left?

RV:What are some of your plans?

RW: My immediate plans are to finish my dual degree in 2009. I will immediately look for a zoologist position involved with the rehabilitation and research of a particular species of animal. After gaining more first hand practical conservation experience, I hope to eventually work in a management position for an animal welfare organisation. Whatever I end up doing, I hope that I can make a difference.