Reflection on the past 6 weeks from Intern Splinter Dreesman
Ever since I visited the Kruger National Park in South Africa some 17 years ago, every once in a while a pride of lions pops up in my dreams. When canoeing down a river in the countryside of France, the lions gracefully stroll along on the riverside, preventing me and my friends from getting out of the canoe. In Alaska, while driving around in the endless snow laden wilderness, lions seem to have discovered all the perfect camping spots just before we do. Even in the garden of my parental house I can see lions creeping in the bushes where I had been skillfully hiding for a game of hide and seek just minutes before. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any kind of obsession with lions whatsoever, they are not even my favorite animal, and these last weeks, rather unrealistic sized prides of rather unrealistic sized leopards seem to have taken the lead role in my dreams. However, the lion does undeniably represent something. Its appearance carries with it the essence and spirit of everything that is the African wild, and there is a reason why we call it the king of all animals. And because a message delivered by a king is a message not easily ignored, I find myself in the South African bush at the moment, in the middle of GVI’s wildlife conservation internship.
The first days after my arrival here at Karongwe Game Reserve have been very intense. The things I’ve seen here in a matter of weeks, have the ability to fuel dreams for years. Finding yourself in the middle of a herd of elephants, walking in on a cheetah feeding on a freshly made kill, bumping into a hippo while walking in a dried up riverbed, following a leopard patrolling its territory, and yes, also lions giving you a look that says it all while passing your vehicle at an arm’s length distance. Often breathtaking, and at other times inducing a freakish uncontrolled salvo of laughter, I immediately knew I had come to the right place. At the same time the differences between doing a research internship and being a tourist quickly presented themselves to me and evoked many thoughts and feelings that I could not easily process.
Being part of the research that is done at a relatively small, fenced off game reserve like Karongwe gives you a good insight into the complex and to a large degree controlled environment you find yourself in. We as humans have an ever growing impact on every biotic and abiotic element of this planet, and this brings a high degree of responsibility with it. Sometimes this can lead to situations in which measures that seem highly unnatural or feel instinctively wrong, are in fact in nature’s best interest, et vice versa. This is especially true for wildlife, since it seems contradictive to manage and control something that we admire because it is “wild”. As an intern here at GVI, I have seen, heard and experienced things that are typically hidden from tourists, since they might conflict with the pure wildlife experience for which they came to Africa. And considering that it was the search for exactly that wildlife experience that brought me here, I myself started losing track of where I was and why I was here. Many of the things I thought I knew didn’t make much sense anymore, opinions I had turned out to be uninformed and sometimes even concepts of good and bad suddenly changed sides. But the more I started to learn and the more I thought about it, the more I started to realize why I am actually here.
Now, I’ve only been here for six weeks, but I have learned more in such a short time than I ever did before, and I’ve never had so much fun while learning. I can safely say that this is an environment where one never stops learning, and since fun and learning are two important ingredients for a happy life, I think I’ll stick around for a while. And although I have no clue what the future will bring, I’ve never felt so comfortable and confident looking ahead, because somehow my past has started to make sense. There’s no such thing as coincidences, there’s just dreams. Follow them.
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