Volunteering isn't about Instagram posts03:24:00
Thursday 7th July
This post isn't going to be exactly like my other posts, but similar.
While I've been here I've had so many messages from people telling me how much they want to do what I'm doing. This is great. I'm glad people want to do this, because volunteering is an amazing thing to do. It gets a bad press sometimes, and I've never understood why. So many organisations wouldn't survive without volunteers, and so to be able to keep them going is amazing. However, when people say this to me I can't help but think they see a photo of me cuddling a cheetah, or driving through the bush with incredible wildlife sightings, and they think how amazing it looks and they wish it could be them. I understand that, but volunteering isn't just what it seems in the pictures.
Today is the perfect day for me to talk about this, because today was a day of highs and lows. I literally did the best and worst jobs there are here (in my opinion) in one day. Before I go on, I just want to say, I love working with animals. Although some of the worse jobs I'm going to talk about are horrible, and gross, I am honestly so happy to do them. Everything we do here is for the animals, and that's all that matters to me. I knew what I was getting in for, and I'm loving every second. It's the same when I was on the reserve I volunteered on in 2014 and 2015 - the owners of both there and here are incredible, inspiring people who are literally dedicating their lives to make the animals lives better, and to be able to help them and see what they do really is an honour.
Anyway, I keep getting off topic. People who want to go volunteering, please pay attention. It's not a holiday where you pick and choose what you do. It's not spending all day playing with lions, or watching rhinos. It's not 5 star accommodation with room service and entertainment. It's hard work. It's manual work. It's sharing rooms with people you've never met, who come from all over the world and all different backgrounds. Its an experience; and such a valuable one.
So back to today. I started the day on feeding, but the meat was frozen. It's winter here and it gets very very cold at night. We had to wait to feed until later, and so continued work. On a typical day, "work" can mean anything from moving rocks, lifting rocks, making cement, laying cement, building enclosures, cleaning enclosures, planting plants, cleaning the shop, organising the shop, drilling holes, digging holes (we dig a lot of holes) and so much more. It changes all the time. Today I was organising the shop because (hopefully) it's opening Saturday and so had to be perfect (I'm so excited). After about an hour I was called back by Robin, my team leader this week, to do feeding as the meat was ready. Feeding is my favourite. The meat today was great as well and so it was so fast. But even feeding isn't for everyone; one lion needs his food cut up so finely so he can digest it, the caracals need ALL the fat taken off their meat (they are worse than my sister). It has to be done right, because this impacts the animals health.
While we were feeding, the others (haha!) were throwing away rotten calves. I mentioned this before in a previous post. This is probably the worst job on the farm. The meat fridges have the still born calves hanging up, and some on the floor. It smells so bad, like death. I can't describe it, but you can never un-smell it no matter how much you try.
Once we had finished cutting the meat, we fed all the animals. This is the best part because you get to visit them all and see them come out for their food. You get to go in and deliver it to some animals, and throw it over the fence for others.
When we returned from feeding, I took pity on the others and decided to help. They had removed the rotten calves from the fridge and put them on the back of the truck to be taken to the graveyard. I went to the graveyard to help dump them. The graveyard is just where they take old meat. It's pretty grim. These calves stank, were covered in blood, and somehow can still poo. Their skin is coming off, their fur comes off, their tongues are out and there's blood everywhere. It's really disgusting.
After that, we all washed our hands for about 10 minutes, and then returned to work. I was just organising the shop inventory onto a computer and so luckily was in the warm and wasn't getting (much) dirtier.
After lunch I was lucky. I went to see Alex and Tau, the two young lions we can interact with. I absolutely love them and so was only going to watch them, and film them, in my free time. I clearly timed it perfectly because Nicol, and the group who were going in arrived and offered for me to come in as well (even though I had already this week) so I could take photos. I obviously said yes!
It was just as amazing as is always it. They were their usual playful, cheeky selves. This is one of my favourite things to do here, which is hardly surprising. This shows the highs and lows of volunteering perfectly, as I had just been with rotten calves and now was back with my babies, cuddling and playing.
After that we all went in with the caracals. This was amazing too. They're so sweet, and beautiful. It's amazing to see them up close to appreciate how gorgeous their faces are, and the size and detail on their ears.
After many cuddles, the tough work began again. Some of the other lions, who are only fed once a week, were fed today. We had also had a meat delivery. This meant we had to take out the calves we wanted to feed, and re-stock the fridge. This was almost as bad as handling rotten meat, if not worse.
Removing the calves to be used for feeding was fine and uploading them. Next came hanging up the new ones. This was awful. 2 of us were standing in the fridge. When I say fridge, they are big fridges but they are full. This meant we were standing on calves; on their heads, feet, bodies and who knows what else. Not the most stable place to be and certainly not the nicest. It also smells 100x worse in the fridge than it does outside the fridge. So, 2 of us, Robin and I, were in and one, Kailin, was slightly outside. We had to cut a hole in their leg, put the hook through, lift them up and hang them on the railings. Seems easy enough, right?
Wrong. They are heavy. They are wet. They smell. There's blood and poo everywhere. It's a nightmare. Robin tended to literally hug them, while Kailin lifted from below and I lifted their feet and clipped them up. We had to do this 7 times. Again, might not seem like a lot to you but trust me, it's a lot.
This is where I think volunteering takes a certain type of person. We somehow made this enjoyable. At one point I laughed so hard I nearly cried. We had to stop because we were all laughing so much that we couldn't lift anything. Now we were probably slightly delirious but still. It was because one of the dead calves had kicked me in the face. We just didn't know what else to do but laugh, and oh did we laugh. I am so grateful they were there to make light of a dire situation. This is what volunteering is all about.
Once it was done, we could feed. Robin, Kailin and I were exempt from having to take the calves into the lions to feed because we had been in the fridge. This was perfect so I could watch the whole feeding and take pictures. It was awesome. The way the lions move the calves around, and rip into them is incredible to see. You see their power for all its worth and it's awesome.
After all of that, I could finally shower and get warm and dry and clean! We had dinner and all chatted for a bit. It's very sad as some people who I have grown to love over the last two weeks are leaving and I really will miss them.
So there you go. Volunteering is not exactly how it seems at face value. I'm not going to post Instagram pictures of dead cows, because it's gross but I am going to post the beautiful animals. I'm not even going to post them here because I know it's not something everyone wants to see. (If you do, let me know). Just remember, that's not all I'm doing. Never ever go volunteering just to get the perfect Instagram, or just to say you've stroked a lion. If you're not in it for the right reasons, you won't enjoy it and you won't get anything out of it, and you won't help. If you do go, get stuck in. Try everything. Don't watch from the sidelines and avoid the things you don't want to do - you are there to help!
The last thing I want to say is, if you do want to go volunteering and you understand what it's about; JUST DO IT.