by Alison Lee Rubie for Bohotraveller
Our quest for off-beat and extraordinary travel stories took us to Kevin Richardson Wildlife sanctuary in South Africa. What particularly appealed to us was the humane side of this initiative that resonated with our team that has its own share of animal-lovers. When we contacted the reserve, we were graciously directed and introduced to Alison Lee Rubie, a wild life enthusiast who has volunteered at this reserve time and again. We caught her when she was making her way to the reserve again but was more than happy to give us some inside peek of the place and Kevin who is famously referred to as the “Lion-Whisperer”. Here she talks about her experience, challenges, people and the wonderful reserve! Read on and be inspired!
I was inspired to volunteer at Kevin’s wildlife sanctuary because of my love for lions and the chance to see the relationship that Kevin has with these majestic creatures up close and personal. Volunteering my time at an animal sanctuary in Africa really appealed to me. Also I was keen to gain skills in a more rural setting and on the ground in Africa it seemed like the perfect place where I would have the opportunity to make a difference. After researching many places I decided on Kevin’s as I knew I would be able to learn a lot from him.
First impression of the place and people
My first impression of the place was rather overwhelming but in a very very good way. Lozanne met us at the airport and she was absolutely lovely. The South African accent automatically became my favourite. As we started to drive out of the city and into the African bush my tummy was filled with butterflies of nervousness and excitement! We drove into Welgedacht Private Game Reserve and the first animals we saw were Kudu. I remember thinking that I had never seen anything quite so beautiful (that was until I saw the lions!) and quickly got the camera out and started snapping away.
We then came across Kevin in his truck before we even reached the camp. Kevin gave us a very warm welcome with a promise of catching up throughout the week. When we arrived at the camp we were greeted by a female giraffe and her young grazing on a tree nearby and by the ever bubbly George and other staff who assisted us with our luggage.
My first impressions were that of kindness, openness and willingness to help from the staff. It was filled with anticipation and excitement. Our accommodation was clean, neat, tidy and comfortable. It was a true volunteer haven.
Your stay, days & saying goodbye
This first time around my stay was unforgettable. Well, so was the other time but the first one will stay with me as a life changing experience. Throughout the week we were put to work, cutting up meat and feeding the lions, leopards and hyenas, enclosure maintenance, planting trees, enclosure cleaning, and spraying the lions with the deticking formula. It was filled with fun evenings around the Braai with staff and other volunteers where we had a chance to chat and get to know each other.
But by far my highlight was the walks with Kevin and his lions. On one enrichment walk we were privileged to follow behind in the game truck and watch Kevin interact with Thor the white lion. I questioned Kevin like questions were going out of fashion and I learnt so much. I not only learnt more about lion behaviour, threats in the wild and ways we can protect them but also about the canned hunting industry. And this is what forever changed me. Canned hunting is when a lion is purposely bred to be shot in a guaranteed or 'canned' hunt. Where unsuspecting visitors and volunteers pay to cuddle lion cubs not knowing those Cubs were pulled from their mother at 3 days old. It was this knowledge shared that encouraged me to try to make a difference. Kevin is the only person that interacts with his lions and his sanctuary works on strong ethics.
Saying goodbye was incredibly hard. I had made new friends that felt like family and had experienced an incredible time that I knew I would never forget. Kevin was even able to meet us on the side of the road on the way back to the airport to sign my book for me. Saying goodbye was hard, but I knew it wouldn't be my only visit.
Tips, clothing and travel gear
Travel light. You won't need much apart from good shoes, a pair of shorts and some old shirts. You will get dirty! You'll also need a good attitude, an open heart and a willingness to learn and help make a difference.
A bit on how did you get there?
I initially travelled to South Africa from Australia on Singapore Airlines with a brief stop-over in Singapore. Due to flight schedules I arrived 2 days earlier and spent some time in Johannesburg exploring Soweto and Apartheid museum prior to being picked up by Kevin’s team at the airport and driven out to the sanctuary. The pick up at the airport was smooth and it was exciting to meet some of the other volunteers I would be working with that week.
A bit on the author…………….
Alison Lee Rubie, hails from Australia and is a young 35 years old with zest for life and love for lions. Her particular fascination for these majestic creatures has taken her to the Lion whisperer’s reserve time and again. She is founder of lobby for Lions and Africa Co-ordinator for WASP International. Her other interests include travel, animal care & welfare. There is another facet of her and that is one of an actor which is also a reason for her passion for theatre and performances! She has a blog http://www.alisonleerubie.blogspot.com where you can get a peek into her random ramblings and great photo collection.