Volunteer Stacy Schatz, from the USA, joined our Lion Conservation Program in Victoria Falls this year after making a career change, quitting her job and selling her house! She’s on a round-the-world adventure with some of our projects on her list. She spent a holiday season to remember surrounded by lions, adrenaline and adventure – read all about it!

I’m still in a bit of disbelief that I’m actually in this place that I’ve dreamt about for so long.  Seeing just a small part of Africa has made me want to explore even more, and I’m so glad that I booked a full two months here, as it has allowed me to visit some of the other locations that Lion Encounter, ALERT, and African Impact serve, as well as fit in some adventures during my free time.

This was my first Christmas away from home, spending it with my international volunteer family, and it was a great time.  It was fun to be in a place south of the equator, where the seasons are flipped from what I’m used to, and rather than having a cold holiday, it was quite hot.  And it’s the first holiday that I’ve spent with lions, so that made it extra special.

Over the last week or so, I’ve spent time on the lion project, as well as both the community and research projects, and the variety continues to weave in different aspects of the land, wildlife, and people, making the overall experience that much richer.  Most of us probably haven’t seen poverty like that which can be witnessed here, and yet while some people may be very poor in terms of financial measure, they have very rich lives filled with love, joy, family, friends, and community.  There is an infectious happiness in the Zimbabwe people, and I’ve enjoyed my time with them so much.

The lions continue to be ever-so entertaining and interesting, whether we’re just watching them play and enjoy their environment, or specific occasions.  Like one day, Pendo found the rubber sole of a shoe out in the bush and carried it so proudly all the way back to her enclosure; or the times that we’ve taken a ball for them to play with (the only man-made “toy” allowed); or today when she found and killed a monitor lizard that had gotten into the water trough, and then her brother took it away from her.

In addition to daily walks with the lions, we also have other volunteer duties, such as enclosure cleaning, meat preparation, enrichment activities (for the lions), and behavior monitoring, all of which support the larger program.  I continue to be impressed with the passion that the people here have for these animals, and all wildlife in Africa — it’s like going home to be around others that care about the natural world as much as I do.  Life here is a rich fabric of being joyful and challenging, laid back and intense, easy-going and difficult, all woven together in a gorgeous way.

And starting the New Year in Africa is something that I won’t soon forget. We went to the Victoria Falls Carnival, which is a musical festival with fantastic bands, and had a great time. In between stage setups for each band, we’d sing a round of “black, white, brown, whatever” — an anthem of sorts to a common humanity across all people, and I loved it. It’s really something to be in this place and witness such unity; even if we have a long way to go to have complete unity worldwide, when I see things like this, it warms my heart and gives me hope that it’s possible.

I wrapped up my time in Victoria Falls with visits to the lions and a few adventures. On New Years Day, I and one of the other volunteers did a trifecta of adrenaline, which included a “Flying Fox” zip-line where you’re face down as you zip across the gorge, a seated zip-line with some great speed, and a gorge swing that starts with a 70m free fall from the gorge cliff edge before you swing over the water.

I had my ugly cry on my last visit to see the lions, guides, and handlers, when it hit me that I may not see them again for a very long time, depending on what future holds. Perhaps it seems silly that these bonds could be formed in such a short amount of time, and it surprised me in some ways, but then again, not really. After so many years of wanting to come here, and then making new friends both human and four-legged, it’s tough to say good-bye, even while being excited to head to Antelope Park for my next month of volunteering!

These are just a few excerpts from Stacy’s personal blog, where you can head to discover all about her adventures from Europe to Victoria Falls to Antelope Park!