Thursday, January 28, 2016

Leaving My Heart in Harnas

I had to say good-bye to Harnas Wildlife Foundation yesterday. I simply do not have the words to explain how special this place was for me. All I can do is list some of the highlights from the last four weeks:

  • Taking walks and playing with 9 baby and 3 teenage baboons
  • Going on exercise walks and cuddling with 5 young cheetahs
  • Radio tracking a missing cheetah
  • Feeding 23 wild adult cheetahs and holding a bowl of meat so a tame cheetah could eat it
  • Hand-rearing a baby impala
  • Hearing lions roaring
  • Feeding 72 baby tortoises
All of these experiences are so vivid in my mind, but I only have time to write about one so I'm going to tell you what it was like to exercise the 5 young cheetahs. The 5 young cheetahs had so much energy in the morning. Their enclosure wasn't big enough for them to run, play, and chase each other, so we would take them out for a walk/run. One person was assigned to each cheetah and a staff member came along too. We took them outside the farm yard into a fenced area so if they tried to run away, they wouldn't be able to go too far and we would be able to find them.

None of the cheetahs tried to run away while I was there. We had each one on a leash, so if they wanted to run, we had to keep up with them! At lot of days, it was really hot, so running wasn't very appealing. Every time my cheetah looked like it might be thinking about taking off, I always thought "Uh-oh!" I could just see myself falling down and getting dragged along by the cheetah. But that never happened. Most days, the cheetahs weren't interested in running and some days they were kind of lazy and wanted to lie down in the shaded area. That was OK with me!! There's nothing like sitting on the ground, surrounded by beautiful young cheetahs!!!

There are so many more experiences, but I can't remember the details right now. All I know is that Harnas will be forever in my heart.

It wasn't just the animals that made Harnas memorable for me. The people were amazing too. The staff members made me feel welcome and taught me so much about caring for animals. As volunteers, we worked hard, but we felt appreciated.

And then there were the other volunteers. I got to know many of them, and they really made me feel like I was part of the group. My fellow volunteers made me smile, laugh, and cry. I got really close to a few of them and trusted them enough to talk about being deaf. They did everything they could do to communicate with me. They wrote things down, used their flashlights on their faces in the dark, and explained what the group discussion were about. Some of them even wanted to learn a little sign language. I'm not sure these people know how much they did for me. I truly appreciated them and really wanted to stay longer so I could spend more time with them.

Harnas truly was amazing. The setting. The animals. The people. Once I was there, I wanted more time, but I planned this trip to be one month with each of three rehabilitation centers. The last month passed much too quickly, but now my time at Harnas is up. 

Today, I will be traveling to South Africa. I'll fly to Johannesburg, stay overnight and then go on to Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. This time I'll be working with endangered black rhinos including orphans that have lost their mothers to poachers. I plan to enjoy every second of it!

It's hard to imagine going back to the States at the beginning of March. (No offense to my family and friends back home!) This trip has deepened my feelings about Africa. I've been in two really different places. I've worked with so many different animals. I've met extraordinary people and made some friends that I expect to have for a long time.

Each place is unique in its own way, but something about Harnas made me very, very happy. I feel like I am leaving a piece of my heart behind. And some day I will return for a much longer stay.

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