Lesley's story: why I keep coming back to LEO..
Lesley Oliver from Australia is one of our incredible returning volunteers. Here she writes why she keeps coming back to LEO.
This is my fourth time as a volunteer at LEO and it just gets better with every visit.
Each time I learn so much more about conservation from the passionate Sabrina and the experience of Koos, and on this occasion the calm Veronica (who tracked a leopard in the dark by hearing its call).
As volunteers we do both morning and evening drives in order to monitor the wildlife, collect data for identification kits, set camera traps, clear roads (the elephants do not consider that the trees they push onto our path may cause a lot more work), poison alien plant species and clear the reserve from any trash, litter, rubbish or spazzatura. Why so many words to describe what cleaning up means? Because we have such a diverse group of people from so many different countries here at LEO (Canadian, British, French/Russian, Australian, Italian and German) and it is fun to learn just a few more words.
It’s been so inspiring working with like-minded people, communicating, laughing and enjoying the experience and learning about and from each other. This has been a special time as my partner Roger has joined me in the LEO experience for the first time and we reconnected with past volunteers Liz, George and Caroline (who is now working as a coordinator at LEO and doing a fantastic job with a large volunteer group).
Sadly we said goodbye to Diana, Stephan, Lou and Jessica last Tuesday, but welcomed Rachel, Amelia, Maria, Carmen, Andrea, Luca, Jake and Mark. Nearly all of us leave on Tuesday, including Viviane who has been at Leo studying elephants and collecting data. Many of the volunteers joined Viviane to go on the midday elephant drives which became very up close and personal at times.
We also had many lion sightings, with lions walking close by the truck (Liz is still talking about her eye to eye contact with the male lion she is now in love with). We have sighted the big 5 often! Seen many elephants (Roger almost "Sh..t" himself when one that we didn't see surprised us with a big trumpet call right next to the car, then walked across the road with her baby (I think it was a warning to give way!!). We have had our path blocked by a large hippo and often by giraffe, followed hyenas (both spotted and brown), laughed at warthogs (Hakuna matata), surprised bat eared foxes, watched hippos mating and followed the elegant cheetah. We were also very privileged to participate in an immobilisation on a female cheetah who needed a health check.
I asked the other volunteers (for whom most it was their first time at LEO) for one of their most memorable experiences while they were here:
Rachel - "The first encounter with the lions when they walked around the truck and Veronica warned 'do not move'. Knowing the experience of the guide it felt safe and exhilarating at the same time."
Emilia - "Participating in the cheetah immobilisation and caring for it in the van as we transported her to the temporary enclosure."
Roger - "Carrying the immobilised cheetah to the van."
Mark - "Observing a herd of elephants interacting."
Jake - "The sequence of finding warm elephant poo, with a fresh leopard track inside and a fresh elephant track next to it, and then sighting a brown hyena which is amazingly rare not long after."
Liz - "My close encounter with the lion."
George - "Carrying the immobilised cheetah to be checked. It was quite an emotional experience."
Viviane - "Being charged by a young male elephant. I named him Luca."
Andrea - "The first night encounter with the lions when they were so close."
Maria - "The first time I saw a lion and it passing so close to the car near me."
Carmen - "Hearing the zebras fart when they run."
Luca - "Viviane gave my name to an elephant and now you have to pay the rights every time you meet him."
For me, I can't decide between the leopard, lion and cheetah encounters. All up close and personal.
LEO monitors the Marataba section of the Marakele National Park and is one of the most beautiful reserves that I've visited in South Africa. It has abundant wildlife and is enhanced by the Waterberg Mountains in the south and the Matlabas River winding through it which attracts a multitude of bird life and thirsty animals.
- Lesley Oliver -