By Enorha Guimard
I still remember Africa like it was yesterday. I was a student at university, already sure that what I wanted to do in my life was to do wildlife conservation. My head was full of adventures, a huge desire to explore, to feel impressed and alive. It’s been the first time I was travelling to go in a country out of Europe and alone. I remember the feeling in my chest, a very familiar pain that I get when I’m nervous. It is always there, even today, when I’m going into the unknown or when I’m not sure of what to do or uncertain if I’m up to the task. But courage is never there without fear. But do what you fear and then your fears disappear. And the only thing I was thinking about is the wildlife I will hopefully encounter and the stories I could tell from this and the memories that will follow me for the rest of my life.
Africa is something special that I’m sure everyone can feel once you walk your first steps on the land. I remember my friend Emma from Sweden who told me once “you know this feeling, when you feel you are back home because Africa is where our ancestors came from”. She was right, there is something special. No matter where you go, Africa will steal your heart and you feel part of it.
I applied to be an intern at the NGO that was called ALERT, African Lions and Environmental Research Trust, based in Livingstone in Zambia. I still remember when I arrived there. Sara the volunteer coordinator picked me up at the airport. I always admired her for how she was doing her work, her passion for the animals that could reflect through her smiles and all the effort and determination she put into the project. I remember the heat and a very bright sun while we were travelling on the land rover to the volunteer’s house. My head was still spinning around as I was looking at the little place of Livingstone, a bit crowded this day, some people around looking at you with curiosity. Looking at the building, the trees and at the same time I was trying to focus on what Sara was telling me. That was the first time I started to speak English in another country and I had to put an extra focus on words and getting use to the accents. I was kind of lost but not in a bad way. I was surrounded by all these exotic colours of Africa that I still miss today.
Meeting a lot of people from different part of the world was so inspiring to me. Some of us had almost a purpose or an idea of what we want to do in our career and life. Others just needed to disconnect from our crazy and speed society to just enjoy wildlife and looking for a place where it feels like time stops for a while. I could not wait to see the animals but I did not have to wait too much longer. Right the day after at the office at the national park of Mosi-oa-tunya, a lot of baboons were checking on us, looking for any food that we left unguarded so they could steal it. The old land rover to go deep to the national park was ready and we jumped on with such excitement. Every day while we were driving into the savanna, I kept reminding me as a child when I used to look at cartoon or children documentary about wildlife in Africa. And now how so lucky I was to realise one of my childhood dreams. I always thought it is a bless to still listen to our voice child inside that remind us what we used to love and that we actually still love today. Growing and being an adult made us forget sometime what we used to believe and love. I was lucky enough that I did not forget my dreams and still listen to them today.
In the project, I was working on the reintroduction of African lions into the wild. Because of the increase of the populations and thus villages and cities in Africa, the habitats of animals such as lions started to decrease and broke down into very small areas cutting from other areas where other populations of lions remained. Which could then provoke consanguinity and lead to disease, reproduction issues and the decrease of the species. On this project, captive lions have been chosen to be in a place called the released site, a semi-wild area, big enough for the lions to explore and hunt but still a closed area. The captive adults had cups and as this little one has never been in contact with humans during all their life, they will be the one chosen to be released into the wild. Setting free captive lion would be very dangerous as they are not scared of humans.
Seeing your first lions for the first time is quite something. We don’t call them the majesties of Africa for nothing. They have such a grace! A true example of power and leadership. A presence that marks you with the way they walk, the way they roar and the way they look at you in the eyes. You just feel paralysed by such a powerful look from one of the biggest predators in Africa. Most important you start feeling so small and humble next to them. We say humans are the most powerful species with all the technologies that we created but, really, in the wild, we are nothing compared to them. Meeting the eyes of a wild animal is like a profund moment where two worlds briefly intersect. For me it evokes a sense of wonder, a recognition of the beauty and complexity of this animals. I was always wondering what’s in their mind. Most animals I shared glance with lasted maybe for one second and then they focused back on what they were doing. I think it is the most wonderful gift they could give us: this brief moment of curiosity and then complete indifference. A lesson of being humble by reminding us that we are just one species among millions, we are insignificant to them, a tiny fraction of this planet’s history and despite our advanced technologies, we are a small part of something much larger, complex and intricate.
“we are just one species among millions, we are insignificant to them, a tiny fraction of this planet’s history and despite our advanced technologies, we are a small part of something much larger, complex and intricate”
I think humans are kind of the species that lost itself since we disconnected from nature and wildlife. We created such a complex world and society that make us feel most of the time lost, not being able to fit in, not complete. Us, humans, are always looking for something that gives values to our life. Looking for our time of glory, happiness or being recognised and acknowledged by the world and being remembered forever through our legacy. Don’t get me wrong, it is not bad to look for this. But sometimes it seems that we also look for something that seems unreachable because it is never enough instead of just being in the present moment. We are the eternal unsatisfied children. I just think with wildlife it is different from what I leant from them by just watching them. They are just there, in the present moment, not giving a single part of concern or importance on us. Such a wisdom and humility that we should learn from them. Together we have the right to be in this world and respect each other and adapt ourselves without destroying everything because that doesn’t fit the “society”. If that could be as simple as that in our world and time. Maybe that is why I love being a hermit sometimes. I need my time alone, away from people and close to nature to charge my batteries because I want to be surrounded by things that don’t judge me constantly and just let me be what I am.
That might have been through that moment when I looked at the eyes of a lion that I started to feel the importance of being humble. I knew I was right where I should be and I knew what I wanted to do and what would make me happy and in peace for all my life. Of course, it did not occur to me yet at this time. But when you grow old, telling stories and remembering these beautiful memories, you realised it was there all along. And how so grateful I am.