Wednesday May 9- Ticks and Pythons

We were finally settling into the routine of waking up at 5:30am every morning to prepare ourselves for our morning lion walk.

For anyone who knows me, you will know that any and every day will have me making sure I am somewhat presentable for the day which requires an early wakeup, even if the day is with fellow volunteers and guests from all over the world and a couple of lions.  Hot date in Africa?  No.  Lion date?  Twice a day, everyday. A girl has got to look good for the lions (I do love me some lions).

Anyways, Paza and Penya led the way in another walk through the bush, taking us on yet another path that looked like the paths from the day before, but yet there was always something different, from a different bend in the road or different prey to be stalked.

We then went to visit the elephants to participate in elephant training.  Elephant training did not involve volunteers taking on the role of trainers but instead, we watched the elephant handlers make the elephants do different things like stand on 2 or 3 legs, turn in circles, kick soccer balls or allow the trainers to crawl on top and stand on the elephant's back.

We, as volunteers then opened our hands for a pile of treats and were allowed to sit on the crouching elephant's knee, while their curious trunk investigated and pried your hand open to get to the treats.  When this time came, I chose Amai, the eldest of the females and the elephant with the most character (in my opinion).  When we had been on our walk the day before, Amai had kept picking up rocks on the ground and was prodding the volunteer on the elephant ahead of her with her trunk to give them the rock in exchange for a treat.  Also, during the training, Amai would talk, sort of.  She would be commanded to talk and this deep rumbling and gurgling would begin to come from her general direction.  So, for whatever reason, this appealed to me and I wanted to go and sit with her.  What I didn't know about Amai is that she is pushy, and when she wanted something, she was going to get it, regardless if there were fingers or arms in her way.  So here I am sitting on her knee and Amai has her trunk angled so that I an just our treats into her trunk.  She got impatient with me while I was taking pictures and opted for a more direct approach of wrapping her trunk around my arm and squeezing until I released the treats.

Note to self- elephant trunks are strong, so just away the treats before they break something, or you.

After sitting on Amai's knee, I crawled onto her back and she stood up with me nestled into the dip just behind her shoulder blades.  Again, armed with more treats, Amai tossed her trunk up and over her head and rested it in front of me so that I could give her some more goodies before she let me down.

After elephant training, we were given the glamourous job of 'snare sweeping'.  This is a critical job at Antelope Park because even though it is private land, it is stocked with game for the lions to practice hunting and stalking, so this is a hot spot for poachers to place snares to capture game.  Snare sweeping involves trekking through the bush along the perimeter of the park to look for snares.  Sounds not so bad right?  Wrong.  One word- ticks.  During the day at this time of year, it is quite warm but when you are walking through the bush, you need to be aware of ticks.  Ticks are usually found in the tall grass, and tall grass hides snares.  As a result, long sleeve, pants and high socks were the necessary wardrobe for this task.  Needless to say, I saw more ticks than I thought I would see in my lifetime and I found and picked more ticks off me than should have ever be necessary.  All in a days work though.  You cannot experience life in Africa as a volunteer unless you get dirty and pick a couple ticks off of you.  The upside of this task: since we were not accompanied by lions, we were able to walk close to game including zebras, giraffes, kudu, wildebeest, and impalas without worrying about a lion cubs getting over anxious and scaring them away.  We also learned a valuable lesson: tick-checks several times a day are a good idea.

The resident python
After walking the perimeter of the park, we made our way back to the main camp along the dirt road.  When we were less than a kilometer away from camp, we noticed a comotion on the road and a lot of people. Our group walked over to the ruckus only to find a 12 foot python laying on the road.  Some of the staff from camp had come and were collecting it.  When they told us this, I had antipcated them to load up the snake and drive it out of the park.  But that was not the case.  They picked the snake up, walked about 10 feet off of the road and set it down in the grass.  

Coming into this trip, people asked if I was scared to be working with lions, to travel by myself, or to be in Africa and there was no doubt in my mind that this is where I wanted to be and the only thing that worried me were the bugs (the little creatures in Canada always elicits a scream).  But a python,  that was a slithering mass of pure muscle, the size of a tree and potentially child eating which had decided to take up residence just outside of my home for a month, had just put a little pep in my step.  

*To say it was potentially a child eating python would be an exaggeration, but you get the point.

The 6-legged creature
Following our snare sweep, we went to make toys for the lions.  A necessary part of the program at Antelope Park is keeping the lions active and involved, particularly the cubs.  Since a lot of the lions spend a large portion of their time in enclosures, toys made from anything natural provide entertainment.  The idea behind these natural toys is that when a lion starts to play with the toy, the playful behavior will be continued with other lions in the enclosure.  But for a lion to play with a toy, they need to be interested, and to get interest in toy, you need to you use things that lions are interested in, which is usually elephant poo.

Since there are elephants at the park, there is always an abundance of poo available.  Alex and I attempted (and failed miserably) at making a grass impala.  It turned out to be a 6 legged grass creature with a body stuffed with poo, that Laili and Lewa loved, and successfully destroyed in about 30 seconds.

After the L's demolished all the toys made for them and successfully made a mess of their enclosure, we took them out in the bush for their evening lion walk, where the continued with their playful behaviour and took a break from the business of stalking.


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