The African Wildlife Orphanage project in the outskirts of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe has been running for over 40 years and is well known by the locals and people from neighboring cities for their hard work and dedication to rescuing and rehabilitating orphaned and injured wildlife.
Upon my arrival at the orphanage, I felt extremely homesick as I was so far away and would not be back for an entire month. With the encouragement and support of the wonderful staff and fellow volunteers, things quickly changed around for me and I entered what would soon become one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.
A typical day began with feeding the baby animals in the nursery and cleaning their cages. The animals included Meg the plover, Breezer, a bush pig, and Dodo the barn owl. I loved hearing the stories of these animals and what brought them into the orphanage. Throughout the month I got to help with many other tasks, such as assisting with a leopard research project in the Matopos, releasing animals, painting parts of the orphanage and feeding the lions.
Every day before lunch the volunteers got an hour of designated ‘animal time’ during which we got to walk around the orphanage to take pictures of and interact with the animals. One of my favourite animals to visit was Prince the serval. He loved to get scratched under the neck and purred like a kitten.
One of the main tasks for the volunteers, and the most exhausting, was taking care of Cupid, the 12 week old baby Vervet monkey. Holding a baby monkey in my arms was a surreal experience, one that I had dreamed of for a long time. Cupid had more energy than anything I had ever seen before. He was very much your typical monkey. For my first 2 weeks, Cupid had to be in our care 24/7, as in the wild they would always be attached to their mothers. He was a handful to take care of, but I wouldn’t have it any other. When he would fall asleep curled up on your side at night, you would forget all the trouble he got into that day. This sweet baby boy is definitely one of the biggest things I miss since coming home.
During my time volunteering in Zimbabwe, I got the opportunity to take a trip to Victoria Falls. The staff organized the transportation, accommodations and activities all for us. The picturesque falls are one of the natural wonders of the world, and is well deserving of this title. They are so beautiful that all my pictures look like they could have been photoshopped. On this trip I went bungee jumping, went on an elephant back safari and on a night game drive where we were lucky to spot two black rhinos, a very endangered species in Africa.
I would highly recommend this project for anyone who is passionate about animals and doesn’t mind getting their hands a little dirty when it comes to cleaning up after them. Shoveling poo, getting peed on and constantly cleaning up after them are all part of the territory when working with animals. However, even though the tasks are not always directly with the animals, everything you do is FOR the animals and is just as rewarding knowing that you are contributing to their well-being. I came back from this trip with hundreds of amazing stories and pictures to tell friends and family. If you want to make people at home jealous, this is the place to go. When the plane landed back in my home city, I was the very last person to get off the plane. I didn’t want this adventure to end and am dying to go back see all my new human and animal family again.
And now, to catch up on some sleep.