Volunteer Profile: George Lewis

Name: George Lewis
Age: 19
Country: England
Dates of stay: 02/06/15 – 11/8/15 (10 weeks)
Your background: Going to Leeds University in September to study zoology

Why did you decide to volunteer?

I‘ve always loved animals and had the time on my year off which didn’t think I would get again any time soon. I don’t necessarily have a plan to work with animals in the future but hoped that this experience would give me an insight into some careers which work with animals. Also just to make me a little wiser about animals in general

Why did you choose Lilongwe Wildlife Centre over other projects?

Family connection to the Born Free Foundation so my search was fast-tracked to the LWC.

What kind of work did you get involved in? What did you enjoy the most/the least?

Favourite part was getting involved in as many things in a day as possible, mixing it up. Being one of the longer stay volunteers I was able to look after the hyena cub for the majority of my stay at the beginning. Since the arrival of more long stay volunteers I have been getting to grips with more of the other animal feeds in the orphan care section including the infant monkeys, baby owls and serval cat. I’ve also been able to go along with the animal caretakers to feed animals that volunteers don’t normally get the chance to feed like Bella and Simba the resident lions and Chorley the resident serval who cannot be released due to his cataracts. I also took great satisfaction in building shade platforms for the monkey enclosures seen as it’s getting to the hot, dry season.

Can you describe a typical day?

Between 6am and 6:30pm I spend a majority of my time with the hyena cub, playing, feeding, and wrestling (and sometimes napping) with him. In between feeds I helped build the platforms and lend a hand wherever instructed. I have also been drafted in as a research assistant to help Olivia monitor a wild troop of Vervet monkeys. I have loved getting to know individuals in the troop and it is a perfect way of learning animal behaviour, which is the element of zoology that really interests me. On days that I’m not caring for the cub I’m able to feed the other animals at the centre.

Do you have any favourites (animal-wise!)?

I don’t like to have favourites but it’s hard not to when you’re looking after a three month old hyena cub! Hyena’s are very social animals and because Usiku was abandoned by his mum we have stepped in to provide him with the social and physical stimulation that he requires as best we can. He is like any three month old child and is partial to a tantrum or two and has been known to whine and sulk until you give in and scratch his belly. He is the first hyena to have been raised at the centre and I love being able to watch him grow up.

What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of the charity work we do?

At any one point there are million things going on at the Centre, and in a very humble way I think that, despite the Centre’s lack of resources, does some great work in all the aspects of the charity work it is involved in. The primary aim of the centre is to successfully rehabilitate and release the animals that get brought in so whilst there are exceptions with orphans who need comfort and closer care, there is a hands off policy in order to achieve this. This type of care is much more effective than other forms of rehabilitation. You quickly realise that the animals’ welfare is much more important than being able to pet or get that cute photo with a wild animal. I haven’t done any of the community outreach projects, but I’ve heard good things from the volunteers who have.

If you have volunteered at other projects, how do we compare in terms of volunteer experience/welfare etc?

I haven’t been with anyone else except the LWC

What are the staff like?

They are all great. They make you feel right at home from day one, do not embarrass you when you ask uneducated questions about animals and life, and do whatever possible to help you get the most out of your time here. And the team of local animal caretakers do an amazing job of both looking after the animals and the volunteers!

What will you take away from your experience at LWC?

I hope it will have improved my overall wildlife knowledge which is never a bad thing. Also, it has given me an insight into some careers with animals which I wouldn’t have otherwise known about and is great preparation for my upcoming studies.

What could be improved?

Another toilet wouldn’t go a miss if I’m being honest. And not because Amon doesn’t do a great job with the washing, but I just felt guilty whenever I put anything in the wash so a washing machine would be nice. I don’t have a problem with the veggie diet but meat once in a while would go down very well.

What will you miss the most when you go back home?

Although the animals are fascinating it’s the people that I’ve worked with that have made the experience what it is. And Malawi itself is a completely different world to what I’m used to back home and full of friendly people so I’ll miss the laid back lifestyle and doing thing on ‘Malawi time’.

And what will you miss the least!?

Washing all the towels that come through the orphan care section is not my favourite job but someone has to do it!

Who would you recommend this project to in future?

Not many of my friends have gone down the animal route but I would tell anyone who would listen. Volunteers with all sorts of backgrounds and ages have come through here during my time which shows that it appeals to a variety of people, whether it’s people wanting to gain experience for a career or just want a change from the usual.

Out of 10, how would you rate:

Your overall personal experience 8.7

Vol facilities e.g. accommodation, food etc: 7

Staff and management (professionalism, approachability etc) 9

The effectiveness of the project in helping Malawi’s wildlife (welfare, conservation etc) 9