Pursuit of a common goal

Volunteers on Greystone

Volunteers on Greystone

I am a firm believer in the power of teams, and their ability to accomplish great things… Fortunately, I have had a great amount of experiences being part of teams…from cross country/track programs, working at Marriott, and most recently the volunteer program at the Cango Wildlife Ranch.

For the past two weeks twenty-three volunteers, including myself and Laurel, had the opportunity to work alongside committed curators, animal handlers, and assistants to aid and promote conservation efforts of some remarkable endangered animals.

When we arrived at the Zindago Lodge in Oudtshoorn, South Africa I certainly had my hesitations. The lodge where we were staying at was home to many preserved animals…from cheetah cubs to snakes and crocodiles. Their immense library had books ranging in topics from the history of cannibalism to stories and excerpts from Roald Dahl. After the first uneasy night at the lodge we slowly gained comfort in our surroundings from the team that we came to know and enjoy.

Peculiar environments gave way to gratification, learning, and progress as we immersed ourselves into this opportunity. As I mentioned earlier there was definitely some skepticism going into this program generated by the current onslaught of media attention in the US from stories on captive (canned) hunting in South Africa after the killing of Cecil, a famed lion from Zimbabwe, by an American “trophy hunter,” to MSNBC releasing a documentary ‘Blood Lions’ discussing the breeding, and raising of exotic animals for the sole purpose of these hunts (volunteers go to these reserves sometimes unaware of the end goal/the reserves purpose). Our goal was to be informed volunteers, to learn about the cheetah preservation program on the ranch, and to help impact the ranch in a positive way wherever possible.

Duties on the ranch changed daily, but over the span of a few weeks Laurel and I were able to learn most of the roles of the staff, and volunteers on the ranch. Preparing and feeding some of the animals allotted time to establish relationships with animals, and afforded time to really watch some of their behaviors. Enclosure maintenance and upkeep allowed us to interact with the animals’ environment (in a safe way!). Training observations were fantastic (especially with the big cats) as we were able to watch the curators as they worked to instill behaviors into the animals that would greatly benefit both animal and handler should there ever be a need for check ups, injuries, etc. Encounters with the big cats were limited to hand-reared (raised by the ranch staff not parent raised), and two animal handlers were always present. Days spent down the road at the Cheetah Preservation Centre (known at the ranch as Greystone) typically incorporated animal feeding, animal enrichment, learning about the breeding process, and enclosure improvement. When on Greystone it felt as if you were making a true impact where the power of teams truly aided in our productivity and our actions seemed to line up with the Reserve’s goals in a genuinely impactful way.

Skepticism can be influenced. This diverse team, that I had the privilege of working with, demonstrated class and knowledge in their pursuit of great conservation efforts, and is poised to do great things.

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