Gweru’s Antelope Park a towering colossus in lion conservation

From 2008 to last year, Gweru’s Antelope Park and its Lion Alert plus African Impact programmes have received up to 30 staggering international awards and nominations in animal conservation, travel, social involvement programmes, you name it!

In 2013 Andrew Conolly, Founder of ALERT, was nominated for the biennial Indianapolis Prize, the world’s leading award for animal conservation. Earlier on that year, Antelope Park had been declared the winner for the Association of Zimbabwe Travel Agents Environmental Award for “an active and successful conservation initiative at Antelope Park in general, and for the effort to promote awareness of, and conservation of, lions, through their on-going action programme in partnership with ALERT”

Need I further mention that African Impact was shortlisted for World Youth Student & Educational (WYSE) Travel Confederation Award for Social Responsibility (St Lucia), won silver in the British Youth Travel Awards: Green Tourism, that it was the winner of the Imvelo Award for Best Social Involvement Programme, or that the television series “Lion Country” about the work of ALERT was nominated for UK’s National TV Awards in the category Best Factual Programme?

“The African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) lion rehabilitation programme which is a multi-phase lion conservation initiative, is the tip of the spear of what we do here,” Jonathan Connolly told Gweru City councillors and top management on an educational tour at the camp site recently.

Senator David Coltart, then Education minister, officially opened the trust, and pupils from Mkoba 4 and Takunda primary schools have benefited immensely free of charge from the institution. Staben Porovha, a teacher and conservationist at ALERT, informs that given resources, they intend to cover the whole of Gweru, and not only a few Mkoba junior schools as is the case.

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Imagine a world in which the African lion exists only in stories, pictures, statues and company logos.

A report published at the end of 2012 estimated the number of lions in Africa to be as low as 32,000. That may not sound too alarming until put into context.  Only 40 years ago, Africa was home to 200,000 lions.  If this rate of decline is allowed to continue we could be facing an Africa without any wild lions within 40 years.

And that Antelope Park keeps slightly more than a hundred lions at their wildlife park, about 15km from Gweru central business district, is no small achievement.

To date ALERT has facilitated research by students, at all academic levels, in the fields of Psychology, Biology, Animal Ecology, Animal Behaviour, Environment & International Development, Tropical Resource Ecology, not to mention Forest Resources and Wildlife Management, Development Studies, Zoology, and Zoology, Evolution & Ecology.

Universities involved include: Australian National University, California Polytechnic State University, US, Charles Sturt University, Australia, Copperbelt University, Zambia, Denver , USA, East Anglia, UK, Exeter, UK, Glamorgan, also in the UK.

Other institutions such as the Karolinska Institute and Royal Institute for Technology in Stockholm and Linkoping University in Sweden, Manchester Metropolitan, UK, Montana, USA, our own Midlands State University (MSU) National University of Science and Technology(NUST) and the University of Zimbabwe, Newcastle, UK, Oslo, Norway, Oxford University, UK, and Roehampton, UK have also partnered with the company in carrying out research work.

So did Princeton, and Utah State, both from the USA, plus  Netherlands-based Utrecht, and Wageningen.

“Some people would give an arm and a leg to save the lion,” Antelope Park founder Andrew Conolly, who lost an arm in a lion attack, once told NBC News correspondent James Cannon Boyce, then an American exchange student studying at UZ. “I am half-way there.”

Antelope Park  (1)Away from study and research, Antelope Park offers world exclusives such as the lion walk, equestrian lessons (horse-riding), swimming, boat-rides, camping facilities, and game viewing. Their Ngamo Safaris just next door is also home to all antelope, zebra, and much more.

And you still doubt Gweru to be the ‘City of Progress’?

If Boyce signed off his report saying:”I strongly encourage you to visit Antelope Park in Zimbabwe,” I don’t see why I, born and bred in the Midlands capital close to four decades ago, should not repeat after him with pride and joy!

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