At Antelope Park, Gweru, Zimbabwe, a dozen journalists take two cats for a walk, actually two lions. Laili and Lewa, barely one year old cubs but already weighing nearly 200 pounds each, play like kittens as they roll around on the ground, licking and nipping each other.
The African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT), a non-profit founded at Antelope Park, actively pursues a four-stage method to stem the rapid decline of these roaming majestic cats. In less than 30 years, the population of wild African lions has decreased an estimated 85% from 200,000 to 30,000.
The mission incurs tremendous costs and funding is dependent on donations, volunteers and the income generated by guests at Antelope Park Lodge.
Gazelle Stew on Sadza, beans in tomato sauce, collard greens & creamed spinach
On any photo safari through Zimbabwe springbok (African gazelle), kudu (large antelope), impala and warthogs are seen by the dozen. Crocodiles make venturing into the rivers for a swim unwise. It does not take that much imagination to realize that these animals, exotic to Western palates, must have been part of the Shona and Ndebele cultural diet.
Gazelle, warthog and crocodile are still available yet, ironically, they are usually found in either luxury restaurants or an average home in the Townships.
In urban areas the working man or women and students in brightly colored, starched uniforms are more likely to be found in one of four fast food establishments – Chicken Inn®, Pizza Inn®, Bakers Inn® and Creamy Inn® – all serving industrialized products recognizable to anyone in Liverpool or Detroit.
Whizzing by on the bus in the dusty southern rural countryside a women flashes a big smile as I snap a picture through the windshield.
If the future of a nation is in its youth, a visit to two rural schools confirms for me the resourceful exuberance of Zimbabwe’s young generation.
A young student at the Hartzell School in Mutare takes a break from his chore hoeing kale at the school’s vegetable plot to give me a wave.
The tables are turned as a student with a smartphone photographs the travel journalist while I snap away.
These were the facial expressions I encountered as I toured this beautiful land for two weeks in October, not the quizzical expressions of mild shock when I informed American acquaintances of my travel plans.