I would like to start sharing with you all the amazing experiences that I get to be involved in at work. The first amazing experience was when I assisted in collaring a wild lioness in Chizarira National Park, Zimbabwe, for research purposes. In Chizarira, the organisation that I work with have a research base and collect data on lions and elephants, to name a few projects that they run. Therefore, our team from Victoria Falls got called up to Chizarira to assist in the collaring of a lioness and to film, photograph and document the event.
Map photo from https://www.wildlifephotographyafrica.com/chizarira/
With us, we also had Aslihan Gedik, founder of Wild@Life (see her website here http://www.wildatlife.com) who now has become a good friend of mine. Wild@Life donated the collar which went on the lioness. She works on lots of amazing projects so make sure to check it out!
Anyways, now to get to the story! After multiple attempts at luring lions, the team finally decided that the best method would be to build a hide, set up bait and speakers that would play the sounds of a lion cub. So, we start building the hide, which to be completely honest wasn't the best and definitely had a lot of holes in it!! So was it safe... I'm not so sure. I set up my camera in the right position to make sure I don't miss the shot, I felt quite a bit of pressure, what if I don't get it on video?
After everything has been set up, Dr. Norman Monks, a parks ranger, Nathan Webb and myself get into the hide and have to be completely quiet until a lion shows up.
We sit there for a few hours and it has by that time gone completely dark apart from the fact that it was full moon.
When you are sitting like that in the dark, your hearing becomes incredibly heightened, that's for sure. All of a sudden we hear a rustling behind us and an animal moves around the hide. It honestly felt like it was just behind us, but we couldn't see anything. We start hearing loads of noise and Dr. Norman Monks asks Nathan to shine the red spotlight that we brought. My job was to film and photograph the whole event so I started filming at this point.
And there she was, a HUGE beautiful lioness, standing by the bait that we had set up. Dr. Monks had lightning fast reflexes and shoots off the dart gun and hits her right on the shoulder where he was aiming. It was the perfect shot, in quite difficult conditions. This is when it all got exciting, and also when I got kinda terrified because...
The lioness starts running towards the hide, the spotlight was off at this point. I have NEVER been so scared of breathing and making noise in my life I think, and my heart was pounding out of my chest. I didn't want to make a sound. We knew she was right behind us and Nathan decided to shine the spotlight to make sure she didn't come at us. SHE WAS 2 METERS AWAY FROM US! And she was looking right at us. The hide wasn't hiding us very well! Luckily, with the spotlight on, she decides to run off. We wait a few minutes and then it's time for us to get up and look for her so that we don't lose her.
We called in the rest of the team to assist us with locating the lioness and to do the collaring.
We follow close behind the ranger with the gun for our safety and find her laying in the grass, fast asleep. However, we start hearing new noises. Nathan shines the spotlight around and there stands another lioness, only about 5-7 meters away, staring at us. The ranger quickly tells us to get behind him and we start rushing back to our hide. At this point the team are on their way in with the vehicles and the lioness runs off. We were safe.
The whole team gets out and gets to work as fast as possible. I have to admit it was quite hard to focus and not be slightly scared when you are working on a wild lion, awake or not, it's probably a natural instinct for us humans to feel a bit anxious. But it was also the coolest feeling in the world as well. We all got our hands dirty to quickly get the job done, putting on the collar but also taking measurements of everything else like paws, teeth etc. for documentation.
She was in fantastic shape and she was also lactating which was fantastic news for us. That means she has cubs and therefore will be a great pride to get scientific data on.
The lioness was afterwards named Asli, after Aslihan Gedik founder of Wild@Life. All in all, this was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I'm sure the rest of the team agrees with me. It's exciting to hear updates on her pride and how she is doing since.
Quick picture before she wakes up! A memory for life.
Facts about Chizarira National Park
- Chizarira is approximately 2,000km² of pure wilderness.
- The terrain is rugged with mountains incised with beautiful gorges and ravines. It makes this National Park one of the most amazing and remote and least visited places in Zimbabwe.
- The park is the third largest National Park in Zimbabwe and is home to four out of the big five, Lion, Leopard, Elephant and Buffalo.
- It used to be a stronghold for the endangered black rhino but due to poaching there are none left.
- Chizarira has suffered massively from poaching leading the wildlife populations to be less dense compared to other National Parks in Zimbabwe.
- For more than 30 years no in-depth research was carried out in the park. This lack of research causes issues as no one knows the status, numbers or trends of the wildlife populations in the area. However, The African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) and the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) have decided to invest a lot of resources into research and anti-poaching so that it gets the protection that it desperately needs.