U3A members treated to journey with lions of Zimbabwe

PUBLISHED: 11:00 05 June 2015

Joyce West holding the stick carved especially for her, talking to two U3A members.

Joyce West holding the stick carved especially for her, talking to two U3A members.

Archant

Guest speaker Joyce West told the group that at one time there were hundreds of thousand of lions in Africa but today the figure is only 93,000.

At the May meeting of the Honiton University of the Third Age (U3A), members and visitors were taken on a journey to Zimbabwe to walk with lions, writes Val Frood.

In 2011 the guest speaker, Joyce West flew from Heathrow to Johannesburg and then travelled by truck to The Antelope Park near Gweru, a centre for the rehabilitation of lions where she would spend the next two weeks as a volunteer.

Joyce explained that at one time there were hundreds of thousand of lions in Africa but today the figure is only 93,000.

All the lions at the centre had been brought in as orphaned cubs and here, from the ages of three to 17 months they would learn, with the help of the staff and volunteers to adapt to their environment, learning to hunt, stalk and chase etc, until they were ready to join a pride in the outer reaches of the park where they would hopefully breed.

Mornings began at 6am when everyone was woken by lions roaring in a nearby enclosure, and then at 8am the sound of bongo drums heralded breakfast after which volunteers would meet to find out their jobs for the day.

These included feeding lions, data collection, cub sitting (a favourite), mucking out the enclosures, mending fences and night encounters.

Many of these tasks were far from pleasant and involved handling both lion and elephant dung, raw and stinking meat and blood - all of which attracted hundreds of flies. But of course the best job of all was walking the lions.

Only three lions were walked at a time and this required one keeper and five volunteers. Everyone was constantly reminded that these were wild animals and to always remain vigilant.

Each person carried a hefty stick but these were never used on the lions - if anyone felt threatened they were told to stand tall and raise the stick above their head to make themselves look larger and more intimidating!

Joyce brought her own stick to the meeting to show her audience – this had been carved especially for her by a local.

Zimbabwe is a very poor country, and as part of the volunteers’ project, they were invited to visit a local centre for orphaned children who were the victims of HIV and to bring with them gifts. Popular items were pencils and writing equipment, but Joyce, being a keen tennis player brought tennis balls.

These were a rare item and produced a lot of fun for both children and adults alike.

At the end of her talk Joyce played a short video of her stay in Zimbabwe which brought to life all that she had spoken about.

The two weeks were certainly no holiday, but despite the basic living conditions, the flies, the sometime unpleasant work, it was obvious from Joyce’s animated and enthusiastic talk that her time in Zimbabwe had been a brilliant and fulfilling experience.

The Honiton U3A Chairman, Susanne Jones then thanked Joyce for what had been a very interesting and enlightening talk.


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