Maria Interview: Lion Conservation at Antelope Park

About Maria Francesca

Age: 23

Nationality: Italian

Currently Living: Rome

What project did you choose?

Antelope Park Lion Conservation

Short Bio

My name is Maria Francesca, but everyone calls me Chicca from when I was born, so it became the name I most often use when I introduce myself. I am 23 years old and I am from Italy. I was born and raised in Naples, but moved to Rome at the age of 16 to complete my studies and have lived there for five years. I also lived in Florence for a year to complete my Master, however, my heart belongs to my home city. I would say that a fun fact about me is that I’m obsessed with shoes; I own more than one hundred pairs

Why did you choose the lion conservation project?

I chose the Lion conservation project because I have always been fascinated by lions.

They are my favourite animals and I became aware of the fact that is becoming an endangered species, so when I came across this project I didn’t really consider any other option.

After having read about the research Antelope Park and Alert are conducting I thought it would be the perfect experience to combine the things I love most, animals and lions specifically and travelling, with something positive for the environment and our land.

What was your favourite part of the project?

My favourite part of the project was the daily encounter with lions. During this activity, two to three lions from stage one of the project are released in the park in order to enhance their hunting skills.

As a volunteer, you need to follow the lions in a car and you get to see them chase a pray. Also, if you are lucky enough you see the lions in action as well.

I think it is very interesting to see how they camouflage in nature and know the right time to start chasing.

Why Zimbabwe?

Since 2010, when I came here in Zimbabwe on vacation with my family, I have always wanted to come back. I was amazed by the kindness of the people here, the colours of the sky during sunrise and sunset, by the variety of animals I’d seen and by the energy this country gives you.

I’ve been in awe with Africa since then and never stopped thinking about the awesome time I had in Zimbabwe. It has really changed me seeing how these people, who at the time have nothing, are always happy and kind with the next; it is here that you see the real richness of people and that has made me think a lot.

I chose to come back to Zimbabwe not only to work on a project that I know I would love but also because I wanted to feel again the warmth that this country leaves inside you.

If you were to do your trip again, what would you do differently?

If I were to do my trip again I would probably stay for more than two weeks. Even though I think it is the right amount of time, at the same time I feel that staying longer, for example, one month would allow me to live this experience to the fullest.

It would also allow me to travel more and visit more places, maybe combine the volunteer experience with a few weeks of traveling as well. I feel very satisfied with what I’ve done and accomplished in two weeks here, however, I think it is really important to do experiences outside of your comfort zone.

If I were to stay longer it would be a challenge to myself as I’ve never been away from home for such a long time.

Has your perspective changed since volunteering with us?

Since volunteering here at Antelope Park I feel I became more aware of the problems we are facing with wildlife conservation as well as the environment in its whole.

After this experience I have also become more aware of the limited resources some countries have, thus I feel I have become more responsible and sensitive towards the environment.

For example, I have now become more aware when I leave the water running in the bathroom o take very long showers. I feel that whoever has done such an experience should encourage others to do it as well.

My perspective has also changed in that I have become more keen on stepping outside of my comfort zone and trying new experiences.

What has volunteering done for you?

Volunteering made me understand more about myself and who I am.

I met a lot of nice people, with different personalities and points of view, I did a lot of experiences that otherwise I wouldn’t have done and I came in contact with a reality that most people often don’t want to perceive.

I feel that this experience changed me because it helped me realize that doing good for people really makes you feel great. It fills you with joy and satisfaction and you get the feeling that you want to do more every day.

What extra activities/ excursions did you get involved in while you were here?

During these two weeks at Antelope Park, I got to do a lot of extra activities. I went on a horse safari, which is really cool because you get really close to the animals, and the sunrise safari where you can enjoy the beautiful colours of Africa.

I also went on a carriage ride with the other volunteers and did an aperitivo at sunset in the middle of the park. The overnight safari was also a beautiful excursion. We went for a horse swim and then slept under the stars around a bonfire.

Lastly, I got to visit the Free to be a Wild sanctuary in Bulawayo where you can feed and walk with baboons.

What was the highlight of your trip?

I would say that the highlight of my trip was when I got to build bricks to help with the construction of a school in a town nearby. 

Of course, the safaris, the trips and in general the experience I had at Antelope Park were unforgettable, but seeing the joy and smiles of the kids at the school was a whole different thing.

I would define this as the highlight of my trip because that day made me realize so much and reflect on many things as well.

What is the most special thing you have gained from your volunteer trip?

The most special thing I have gained from my volunteer experience is learning. I have gained new insights about myself, about other communities and other people from many different countries.

I have discovered new passions and learned new skills as well as rethink my own perspectives under a different light. I think that one of the most special things you learn as a volunteer is really appreciating everything that comes your way and taking the experience as it is, making the best of it, rather than looking at things which didn’t go as expected.

What is a typical day in the life of a lion volunteer?

A typical day in the life of a Lion volunteer consists of cleaning enclosures, giving water to the lions and meat prep. Day encounters with lions to see how they hunt and observing the Lion pride for research purposes are also activities involved in the project.

A Lion volunteer also does elephant walks, bush walks, where you learn how to recognize animal prints and various trees, game count, where you count all the animals you see in the park in order to keep track, and game feed, where you prepare food for wild animals. Specifically, a Lion volunteer starts activities around 7 am.

Usually, the mornings consist of elephant walks or bush walks. Until lunch, a volunteer would either clean enclosures or do day encounters, while after lunch the rest of the activities take place.

Every day is different from the day before and activities vary a lot. The day usually ends at 5 pm so that volunteers can have some time off before dinner.

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