Big Cat Conservation Trip - Kenya
So two years ago I visited the Masai Mara in Kenya for three weeks, to work voluntarily in Wildlife Conservation, particularly with the big cats who inhabit the beautiful country. It was an experience unlike any other, and therefore I would like to share as much as I can about this exciting trip, in hopes that it will inspire other people to travel and take part in wildlife conservation, even if you are like me and have little to no experience travelling abroad.
Booking the trip was a completely spontaneous decision. At 24 years old I had only been abroad twice with family, and never flown alone. However, I had saved up some money from my part time job, and decided to use it to do something beneficial. One day I opened up google, and searched for wildlife conservation trips abroad. I found one with African Impact which really appealed to me, and immediately set about applying. It was very straight forward; they sent simple instructions on what I needed in terms of visas, flights etc, and I had to get hepatitis jabs and malaria tablets. Over the next few months I got everything sorted out, and soon it was time to visit Kenya.
I was terrified of flying alone, having only a vague idea of how airports worked, but it was surprisingly just as easy as catching a train. There were people to help me out at every turn, gates were marked clearly, and even though I had to change flights, it was ridiculously easy and relaxed. When I arrived in Kenya, a guide met me at the airport and drove me to the conservation area, where I met up with the other travelers. The camp was in the middle of no where, but surprisingly nice. We each had our own furbished rooms, the main area had a table where we ate and worked at. Meals were nutritious and we could help ourselves to snacks at any time. There were books upon books about African wildlife, we had use of the internet, DVD's, and a lovely campfire area.
Activities were always exciting, as we got to see a lot of wild animals while we worked or drove around in the jeep. We woke up at 8am every day, and set off to do wildlife counts. We each had an animal and a map, and had to do an average count of how many of that species were in an area. If we saw big cats, we took photographs and noted their markings, then when we returned to the camp we would record which big cat we had seen, along with the area and any family members or cubs nearby.
We did a lot of land work, mostly digging up poisonous plants, and planting trees and seeds which would be safe for the animals. We repaired damage caused by vehicles by filling them, and creating small fences inside the trenches so the rain water would do the same. Once in a while our team was called out on occasional missions to spot animals who had been injured or were acting strangely. One time we received a call to look for an elephant who had been bitten by a snake and wondered into our area. We had to find him and alert the vets so they could assist. After driving for a couple of hours we located a young bull who was charging up and down. We stayed to observe, waiting for him to keep still so that we could find out if he was the right one - then suddenly, we received a call from another group who had found the elephant in question. Turns out the bull we had found was just a stroppy teenager throwing a tantrum!
Twice a week we visited the Masai school and village. The village life was incredibly different to anything you could imagine, but the people there were so happy and relaxed. Everything from arranged marriages, to using farm animals as currency, and very natural mud-and-stick construction methods were present. However, the strange thing for me was that these people did not see themselves as poor, in fact, they saw US as poor. No one in my conservation group had children, and none of us owned farm animals, and this made us poor in the eyes of the Masai villagers. The adults were extremely friendly and accepting, but some of the children were not fully aware that other cultures do not have the same rules as their own, and after finding out we did not have children or own land, they would actually snob us!
This all changed however when we pulled out any form of stationary from our bags - coloured pencils, pens, rubbers, you name it. I ended up giving a way a lot of my own things, but seeing their beaming faces when they were handed something as simple as a red pencil crayon made it all worth it. Not to mention, the children in the school were incredibly smart and eager to learn. One of my lessons was to teach them about the planets, and I was incredibly surprised by how much this class of 6 to 8 year olds knew - some people my age don't even know the order of the planets, let alone anything about them!
I'll wrap this up now, as I don't think it's possible to do this incredible life changing experience justice through words alone. It was a wonderful adventure and so much more relaxed and easy than I ever thought it would be. It feels so good to know that I have helped in some way, and now I know how airports work if ever I feel like using them in future! Seriously, give it a try, you will definitely not regret it.