The Naughty Look

Paza's paw

Paza’s paw

After showing us around the grounds and to our river tent, Nathan leaves us to settle in.  I unpack the soccer ball and pump I’ve brought to leave with the staff for their lunchtime games, along with one of the many frisbees I also packed (the rest are for the orphanage children), and then pull out the five pounds of assorted padlocks I’ve brought along to donate for the lion enclosures.  Because of the political and economic environment in Zimbabwe, and because Antelope Park is self-funded, it is difficult or otherwise expensive to get some things.  So AP asks volunteers to pack extra items when and where possible, and we’re happy to show up with dry erasers, markers, sports equipment, and… well, five pounds of padlocks.  We’ve also brought along about US$150 in dollar bills, because small bills are also a much desired item in Zim, and much easier to acquire outside than country than inside it.  When I hand the padlocks over to Nathan his eyes widen in surprise.  “That’s a lot of locks!”  I wish I could explain how I ended up with so many, and with such a variety, but  I can’t.  All I know is that I’ve brought five pounds of padlocks with me, and Nathan is more than happy to put them to good use.

At 2pm we head back over to the volunteer lounge for our first lion induction class, headed by Dan, a former volunteer who spent so much time in the vol trenches that they finally offered him a job.  “I was here so much and for so long that I finally said to them, ‘You have to hire me, I have no more money!’”  So they did, and Dan now splits his time between England and Zimbabwe – one of several former vols we’ll meet who are now working for the program.

In a room just off the volunteer lounge Dan shows several media clips.  The first few are introductions to ALERT and Antelope Park and explain the purpose of the Lion Release Program.  The last video is an interview with ALERT’s COO, David Youldon, and its founder, Andrew Conolly.  Youldon is another former volunteer from England who found new purpose after spending time with the lions here, and over the years has proven himself to be both indispensable and indefatigable to the program.  Charismatic and articulate, he is the perfect foil for Conolly’s vision.  Conolly himself is a third generation Zimbabwean, who lost his left arm to one of his lions several years back.  Kim has previously written briefly on his background, so there’s no need to delve deeper into it here other than to say that listening to him speak and looking at his eyes it becomes plain he sees the end goal for his vision of reintroducing lions to the wild in Africa, and absolutely nothing is going to stand in his way.  His steely eyes, the conviction in his voice, his missing arm, and, oddly enough, the blue-banded tube socks that are pulled up to his knees, presents a formidable character, and I immediately find myself intrigued and wanting to know more about what drives Conolly, both the man and his vision.

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Paradise in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is a beautiful country, but what we observe as we ride through the capital of Harare and then throughout the four hour bus ride to Gweru, the country appears tired and neglected.  Stripped and burned out cars on the side of the road, litter everywhere, the landscape blackened from frequent fires, and little wildlife.  In addition to the crammed buses and trucks shuttling people to and from their destinations, there are people walking along the road everywhere, and in the middle of nowhere.  Women with babies on their backs and bags of maize meal on their heads, men and women carrying overstuffed luggage, people sitting alongside the road selling small amounts of fruit or vegetables.   You can’t help but wonder where these people come from and where they are trying to get to as you drive through the countryside.  Maybe they’re trying to get to the nearest town, maybe to family, to work, to school, to a medical clinic.  It just feels like wherever they’re trying to go, it’s going to be a very long and rough journey.

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Harare State of Mind

Ishe Komberera Africa.
“God Bless Africa” (Shona).

ZANU-PF Headquarters

ZANU-PF Headquarters

It’s 8am.  In the middle of the Rainbow Towers hotel parking lot in downtown Harare, under the shadow of the ZANU-PF party headquarters building, the City Link private coach we’re on has just pulled away from the curb to start the trip to Gweru when it comes to a sudden stop and a young female voice announces over the intercom that we will pray before the bus officially sets off on its four hour journey to the Zimbabwe midlands.  I look at Kim, and then across the aisle to Niki, an English research intern who arrived last night along with us, and they reply with a “what the fuck?” expression.  I shrug my shoulders.  It’s been an interesting 16 hours since arriving in the country, and as the bus PA gives thanks and asks for blessings on our journey, I look up at the ZANU-PF building wondering, perhaps, if Robert Mugabe is inside at this very moment looking back down on us, hearing our holy petitions.  Then I wonder who, exactly, the prayers are really meant for.

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Faraway, So Close!

At no time are we ever in such complete possession of a journey, down to its last nook and cranny, as when we are busy with preparations for it.  After that, there remains only the journey itself, which is nothing but the process by which we lose our ownership of it.

-Yukio Mishima.

The time has come to end the begin.  Packed (hopefully), ready (mostly), excited (definitely!) – we’re off to the airport and on towards another country on another continent in a different hemisphere to begin an adventure that will take us halfway around the world and back, literally.

Two-plus years in the planning; it seemed so long ago yet it has crept up on us so quickly in the end.  Time is funny that way, isn’t it?

I’ve been very fortunate to have Kim’s wonderful, articulate, and detailed pieces on Africa, ALERT, lions, and Zimbabwe to give me room to be less so with my own writing.  I really had hoped to pen out a lengthy piece on poaching and trophy (canned) hunting, and still do; because many of the survival issues that lions and other iconic African species face can be directly attributed to the large-scale slaughter of these animals – be it through illegal, or thinly veiled legal, means. But right now, there’s a plane waiting I do not want to miss.

We don’t expect to be online much during our journey, and frankly don’t want to be.  However, we will be keeping a journal and snapping pictures to share when we return. Right now, the plan for the blog is to back-date our post-trip updates to match the date they actually took place while we were in Africa. So in October you’ll be seeing posts appearing that are dated from September.  It seems easier from a functional flow – to us, at least – especially when using the calendar module on the right.  Hopefully you’ll understand what we’re up to with it when the posts start trickling in after our return.

Tough leaving the K+C Pride behind as we go wandering off.  Lucy and Salvatore definitely do not like it when we’re away for any period of time, but I think they appreciate the adventure we’re about to embark on, and as long as we bring back some new and interesting smells to treat them with they’ll hopefully forgive our absence.

Happy honeymoon, my sweetheart!  It’s finally here!  Okay, I’m ready now.  Out the door.

No way out but forward go!

While We’re Away (Lion Country, Series 2)

In late 2009 a film crew from ITV visited Antelope Park in Zimbabwe, and Lion Encounter in Zambia, to begin filming Lion Country, orignally a six-part series on ALERT’s African Lion Rehabilitation & Release into the Wild Program, and featuring British conservationist and ALERT’s Chief Operating Officer, David Youldon.  Series 1 debuted in early 2010 to roaring reviews, and soon after ITV began filming Series 2, which aired in early 2011.

Below are the available episodes of Series 2 (unfortunately, Episode 6 is missing).

You can watch Series 1 here.

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While We’re Away (Lion Country, Series 1)

In late 2009 a film crew from ITV visited Antelope Park in Zimbabwe, and Lion Encounter in Zambia, to begin filming Lion Country, orignally a six-part series on ALERT’s African Lion Rehabilitation & Release into the Wild Program, and featuring British conservationist and ALERT’s Chief Operating Officer, David Youldon.  Series 1 debuted in early 2010 to roaring reviews, and soon after ITV began filming Series 2, which aired in early 2011.

Below are the available episodes of Series 1 (unfortunately, Episode 5 is missing).

You can watch Series 2 here.

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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (Mostly Planes)

Further subtitled: No Trains or Automobiles, Either; But Two Long Bus Rides.

Seattle to San Francisco; San Francisco to London; London to Johannesburg; Johannesburg to Harare; Harare to Gweru (by bus); intermission; Gweru to Harare (bus again); Harare to Johannesburg; Johannesburg to Elephant Plains (by bush plane); another short intermission; Elephant Plains to Johannesburg (bush plane); Johannesburg to London to Vancouver, B.C., and back home to Seattle.

All by jet, except for a four-hour bus ride each way between Harare and Gweru, and the bush plane rides between Johannesburg and Elephant Plains; the latter of which we might not even make in time because Federal Air decided to push up the departure time out of Johannesburg by 1-1/2 hours after we had booked and paid for our flights, and had locked in on an overall trip itinerary.  We now have less than two hours to clear customs in Johannesburg when we return from Zimbabwe, collect our luggage and make the flight.  Assuming, of course, our Zimbabwe to South Africa flight lands on time to begin with. Gulp.

That potentially irksome hope-we-don’t-miss-our-connection aside, there’s a whole lot of flying in there. Good thing the big legs of our trip (U.S. -> London -> Africa, and back) find us safely ensconced at the front of the plane in first class.

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Off They Go!

Yesterday afternoon at 17:26 CAT (GMT +2), surrounded by staff, volunteers, a tribal chief, a cabinet minister, local community members and leaders, a press contingent, and ALERT‘s founder, Andrew Connolly, along with its COO, David Youldon, the Dambwa Pride were released into the Stage 2 forest from which they take their name, officially entering the next phase of their journey amidst much fanfare and celebration.

David Youldon on the day’s events:

I would like to reiterate the warm welcome to you all as you join us here for this landmark day in the history of Lion Encounter and the African Lion and Environmental Research Trust.  We recognise here today the culmination of years of dedication, passion and co-operation, without which, this release would never have been possible.

This programme started from humble beginnings, as one man’s vision.  Over time that vision has evolved and is now a constantly developing reality here in Zambia.

This release exemplifies our continuing commitment to combatting one of the most underexposed and ill-expressed problems in environmental conservation; that of the rapid decline of this continents’ most iconic symbol; the African lion.  The lion is synonymous with Africa; the king of beasts, recognised as one of its most potent emblems, whose history is so richly intertwined with the history of those who have lived before us. It represents centuries of tradition, millennia of culture, and aeons of life on earth.

This regal and powerful animal reflects the values held most dearly by this community, this nation and this continent; strength, pride and courage; and yet its demise continues, unabated.

There is no more perfect metaphor to emphasise what the environment is enduring around this incredible continent, than the plight of the African lion as it struggles to survive against increasingly unfavourable odds.  The time to act is now. We all must come together and with one voice vow to protect this precious gift to mankind, and we shall learn to understand its intricacies and frailties so that we may co-exist alongside it. 

These beautiful animals are integral to the well-being of Africa’s unique and special ecosystems, but we must embrace and act on that knowledge, as such action will underpin a more sustainable way of life for us all.

Africa’s lands, so rich and diverse, are not owned by us, but rather they are leant to us.  Whilst each of us may enjoy this natural heritage only for a short time, it is our solemn responsibility to those who come after us to cherish it; and ensure that it remains able to nourish us and them.  Our efforts today may represent a small step, but it is a step in the right direction, and it is a step of immense significance that cannot be measured in Kwacha, Dollars or Euros, but as a demonstration of how communities and wildlife can live and thrive together.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the staff of Lion Encounter, all of whom continue to work tirelessly and with devotion as we strive towards our final goal.  And I would like to thank you all for being with us here today as we celebrate this achievement; I also hope you will all join us, with collective pride, to look to the future of lion and environmental conservation, hand in hand with the aspirations of this community, of the people of Zambia and of Africa.

As Temi, Kela, Kwandi, Loma, Rusha, and Leya begin their new adventure in the Dambwa forest, now entirely dependent on themselves and each other for their pride’s survival, please raise a toast with us to mark this celebration and to offer them continued success.  Congratulations to the pride, and congratulations to everyone involved over the past several years who have made this moment possible.  Such a magnificent achievement.  Huzzah!

You can follow the Dambwa Pride here.


Zimbabwe: Triumphs and Tragedies

Zvakwana!
“Enough!” (Shona).

A country of complex history and politics, whose story is jaw-dropping with its incredulousness, hand-wringing with its pain, and heartbreaking with its hope and spirit, Zimbabwe is a place whose intricacies I would never to claim to know or understand completely, but what I’ve read fascinates me. Below is a brief summarization of its recent history.*

1899: Named after Cecil Rhodes, Southern Rhodesia is established.   Rhodes, born in England in 1853, was a businessman, a mining magnate, founder of the British South Africa Company, and a zealous believer in British colonial imperialism.  The prestigious Rhodes Scholarship is funded by his estate.

1923: Southern Rhodesia becomes an official British colony.

1930: The Land Apportionment Act is passed.  Approximately 11,300,000 hectares are divided amongst 1,000,000 black Africans.  19,500,000 hectares are divided amongst 50,000 white settlers.

1965: Led by right-wing leader Ian Smith, Southern Rhodesia issues a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Britain in reaction to Britain’s push for more equality for Africans, in preparation for black majority rule like neighboring countries Zambia and Malawi.  Smith famously says, “I don’t believe in black majority rule ever in Rhodesia, not in a thousand years.”  The UDI results in international condemnation and United Nations imposed economic sanctions, but this appears to only strengthen Smith’s resolve.

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