Lions of Tsavo
Earthwatch volunteer, Amanda Louise, recounts her expedition to Africa where she and team members helped find ways for Tsavo’s legendary lions and local communities to co-exist.
I have always wanted to travel to Africa but was never really sure when, how or even if I would ever actually go. The idea of travelling to Africa was probably going to be ONE of those things I always dreamed about doing, but never actually got around to doing. That is, until my friend and I were browsing around on the computer and came across the Earthwatch site. We saw the variety of global expeditions on offer and then spotted the Lions of Tsavo Expedition. Together we thought, “How cool would it be to work on a Community Development Project based around the Lions in Kenya?!”
We planted the seed and it grew even bigger when we received our very detailed information pack from Earthwatch regarding every aspect of the project like, the history of the lions and why the project developed; a profile of the team leaders and their work profiles; pictures of the camp setting and environment in which we would be surrounded by though out the expedition; descriptions of the tasks that we would be participating in; what immunisations were needed to travel to that country; what luggage to pack, the nearest hospitals location; what individual equipment was needed by volunteers to perform the tasks on the expedition. The briefing pack was very detailed and informative, which made the whole organising side of the trip easy and exciting; I think I even packed two months prior!
Besides all the excitement that I was feeling of actually having a holiday and being in a different country, reality set in as we were heading out to camp, I was thinking, ‘I hope I have something to offer as I have no experience with Lions or Kenya, or a whole lot of knowledge regarding the environment, I thought I am probably going to the one who asks all the silly questions or gets in the way of things! However, from the moment I arrived at camp and meet the other group members and leaders, I knew I was in for an absolute, fun learning experience.
The camping set up was amazing as there were little paths that led to our tents and the tents overlook the animals' land, so you could see the buffalos bathing in their watering hole. There were also lots of Thorn bush and Acacia trees scattered around to create a nice African natured setting. We even had wooden beds inside our tents with comfy mattresses, which after a long nights drive searching for lions, is was a treat to come back to! The friendly house keeping staff would happily clean our washing, sweep the floor of our tents and even make our beds daily, double treat!
As I am a vegetarian I am weary of others people's cooking. With no exaggeration I have never eaten so well on my travels. The chefs were so talented and accommodating with the preparation of the meals that each day and night there was so many dishes to choose from - and that’s a bonus for a vegetarian by the way! The choices ranged from soups, salads to pastas and authentic dishes; and for the others there were also many meat dishes to choose from. The group leaders and the group would all share stories and meals in the dining area, which was situated high overlooking the African landscape.
We had adequate training in how to utilise the equipment and the volunteers all worked as a team to perform the variety of tasks needed to obtain relevant information that assists in the research. The feeling you get when you are on a drive in the safari vehicle and you come across a lion or two or three, it was so surreal and overwhelming, I was probably in a state of shock also. It was so rewarding knowing that we as volunteers all played a part in the ongoing community development project as to why there is Human/Lion conflict.
During the expedition schedule not only did we focus on drives looking for game, we had the opportunity to learn the Swahili language and the many Kenyan cultures. We also went on nature walks and discovered the vegetation and landscapes of Kenya that surrounded us. We went into Mombasa for the day to chill out at the beach and enjoy a few cocktails and of course...to SHOP! This was a nice way to break up the camp life.
Over the course of the expedition I valued the friendships that I made. The group consisted of many people from a variety of backgrounds, such as, conservationists, nurses, keen travellers, students, hard working business men, older couples and a keen volunteers like myself. The different dynamics of people really added to the learning experience as everyone has their own experiences and stories to tell.
The group leaders who facilitated the research project were so dedicated towards the research of the lions and the project. They were exceptional with their knowledge and willingness to share that with the group of volunteers. I really respected their outlook and appreciation towards their land and animals.
As the group and the expedition came to a close, to celebrate we all causally hiked on top of rock and took in the sunset while sinking few hard earned African beers, we savoured our memories and I must admit I was a little sad as I knew I would never experience what I had just experienced again.
Overall, the Lions of Tsavo experience has enabled me to look at the world with even more of an appreciation towards life, animals, the environment, nature and the different cultures that surround us globally.
I now feel empowered within myself and from my experience, that all I can say is, to anyone looking at this sort of travelling experience, reach out and expose yourself to new experiences and take on the challenge, embrace the opportunities that are available to each and every one of us. After all, that’s what life’s about yeah?!