Vegans Love Protein

Kirsty the current researcher has now finished her time at ALERT, and with that, my trainer has left too.  I’m now the one and only lion researcher here at Antelope Park, which is a bit of a scary prospect!

Spent the morning with the pride (the cub seems to keep wandering off, which was a bit of a worry initially but I guess it means she’s growing up and becoming more independent), then midday with the breeding programme lions trying to measure pugmarks from some of the lions there.  This is easier said than done!  Getting a perfect footprint is hard at the best of times and depends a lot on the substrate, the way the animal walks through it and whether they walk back over it to smudge the original tracks.  It took over two hours to get just two individuals to walk over sand in such a way that we could measure their tracks today – what a pain!!  A lot of time was spent waiting around for the handlers to get the lions into their management pens so that we could go into their main enclosures and sort out the sand.  However, some of the measurement is still down to guess work as the tracks are almost never perfect so it is hard to tell exactly when the pugmark starts and ends.  I can see now why India decided that it couldn’t use pugmarks to ID individual tigers in its reserves, as it is definitely not the most accurate of censusing!

I’ve had to drive the research vehicle twice now and both times were quite eventful.  Please bear in mind that I passed my test when I was 17 and only drove for about 6 months after that and then haven’t really driven more than a few days all inclusive since.  This vehicle is a big 4x4 Land Cruiser with a massive cage on the back, so it’s got a lot of blind spots and is much larger than anything I’ve ever driven before (my first and only car was a Ford Fiesta).  Kirsty got me to do a test drive last week and after only 10 seconds of being at the wheel I somehow managed to reverse it into a ditch on the side of the road whilst trying to reverse out of the driveway.  Even when putting it into 4WD (which I’ve never done before on any vehicle) we still couldn’t get out, so we had to get a big strong man (out of the many who were busy watching and smiling at us) to help us out. 

Today I also had to drive the vehicle to get the pugmark measurements and was roped into helping with enclosure cleaning afterwards.   A trailer was added to the back of the truck, making it much larger and longer than anything I’ve ever driven before.  Also please bear in mind that I have never driven with a trailer on back before and have literally zero experience with such a situation.  So we were driving around the lion enclosures and I forgot that when driving with a trailer you need to give yourself plenty of turning space when going around corners.  I managed to clip the edge of one of the lion enclosures with the trailer, much to the shock and horror of the lion handler inside the car with me.  Fortunately no harm was done to either the trailer or the enclosure, but I think the lion handler realised my ineptitude of driving after that moment as he gave me step-by-step simpleton instructions of how to drive it after that!  Later on we had to reverse the truck with the trailer (remember what I did last time when reversing it) onto a ramp.  By this point I realised I was well and truly out of my depth so again another big strong man came to the rescue and did the job (nearly) perfectly.  Thank god for handy men being around to help you out in sticky situations!

It’s weird being at Antelope Park because there are so many members of staff and loads of volunteers and guests, and all of them seem to know me and what I do but I probably only know about 10% of their names and 5% of what the staff do here.  Every day, guaranteed, I will have someone come up to me and say “Hi Niki, how are the lions?” and you can bet your bottom dollar that I either don’t know who this person is or what they do.  It’s kind of embarrassing but I feel like I’ve been here long enough now that I should at least know all the staff.  However, as AP is quite a big place, there are probably 100+ staff here so learning everyone’s names and what they do is quite a task in itself.  I wish everyone would wear name badges!  I’m not even going to try to start learning all the  volunteers’ names as there are usually over 30 here at a time and they generally leave after 2 weeks of being here.  For someone with a bad memory at the best of times, this proves quite awkward when trying to get someone’s attention!

I felt quite spoilt this morning for breakfast because the kitchen manager came over to me with a big bag of pecans, a bag of museli (complete with oats, bran, nuts, seeds and dried fruit) and a carton of soya milk.  SOYA MILK – in Zimbabwe?!  Who would have thought it?!  Maybe something was passed along the grape vine about how my diet (and health) is suffering here, so I was truly grateful for my gifts.  And I even had beans on toast for breakfast – a real protein source at the start of the day?!  Amazing!

Who would have thought that protein would be so hard to find for a vegan in Africa?!


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