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MyDogKyle is going back to Africa!!

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As some of you know I went on a trip to Kenya and Tanzania last year and then wrote a very long trip report for this board, hoping to share some of what I learned and experienced, and also hoping to convey how much I love East Africa. I was thrilled to find so many like-minded folks here -- to read about all of your adventures in various countries, and to be able to share my story with people who understand what’s so incredible about Africa. I ended my report by saying that not a day goes by without me dreaming about going back someday, but also that I realize how lucky we were to visit even once and that we had enough amazing memories to last us the rest of our lives.

Well, I am thrilled to share this recent news with you guys, many years sooner than I ever expected to be able to – we have an incredible opportunity to return to Africa in October, and we’re going to go! I still can’t really believe it, but here’s how this happened…

After we returned home, my husband and I decided that we wanted to find a way to do some volunteer work with animals and/or a conservation organization, to try to give a little back in thanks for all the incredible experiences we’ve had with wildlife in Kenya, Tanzania, India, and North America. We discovered a volunteer opportunity at our local zoo, where we could train to be a part of the behavioral observation team that assists zookeepers and researchers in studying the animals’ behavior – as part of larger research projects beyond this particular zoo, as well as a means of helping these animals have the best lives possible in their zoo environments. (Now, I know how some of you feel about zoos, and I really hope this thread won’t turn into a debate about the relative merits and detriments of zoos. I definitely don’t think all zoos are created equal, and of course I would prefer to see animals in the wild… but I also think they can be a really important tool for education and awareness of conservation issues, and not everyone can afford a trip to Africa, especially in the city where I live. Growing up with this particular zoo was a big factor in my wanting to go to Africa in the first place. Okay, back to my story…)

At our first volunteer training session, our teacher told us about a “conservation in action” trip the zoo was organizing for staff and members to visit Uganda and Rwanda – they would be going on several chimp treks and a gorilla trek, visiting national parks in both countries, and (so exciting!) participating in service projects with the Budongo Forest Project and Kibale Fuel Wood Project. The trip was already planned, itinerary and flights arranged, and there were a few spots left. Did we want to go? Are you kidding?? We thought it would be years before we’d get back to Africa -- just because of the sheer expense of it, but also because the kind of trip we’d taken before required lots of advance planning and circumstances in our lives and jobs right now prevent us from doing another book-a-year-in-advance vacation. I had about ten minutes where I wondered whether we’d enjoy traveling with a group, since we usually travel on our own… but in this case, the group will be people who are so interested in and passionate about conservation issues and wildlife that they want to spend their vacation time and dollars volunteering. I think there’s a pretty good chance we’ll find people in this group whose attitude to Africa is very much like our own (as opposed to those “I only want to see LIONS!” folks or those “Everything in Africa is so yucky and dirty!” folks, for those of you who remember my trip report). We had a few days to think about this, and believe me when I say it is pretty much ALL we thought about for those few days. Could we afford it? It’s a stretch, but we have the savings and we really don’t spend money on anything else. Was this the right time? Of course! When would we have an opportunity like this again? Maybe it’s not the absolute ideal time of year to go and maybe we’d have to take a few days off work without pay to fit it in, but lots of factors in our lives seemed to come together to make this right thing to do. And so, we’ll be off to Uganda and Rwanda in October!

This time I don’t need itinerary advice, since I’m not in charge of planning that part. But I can’t wait to dig in and read all the primate-related trip reports on this board, which I was avoiding (for the most part – I couldn’t resist reading about Predator Biologist and the chimps!) because I knew we couldn’t afford to add gorillas or chimps onto our already-crammed-full itinerary last year. I know visiting this board will help me get through the next five months of counting down to another African adventure!

We’ll be visiting the chimps at Budongo Forest and Kibale, gorillas and golden monkeys in Parc National des Volcans, and also going to Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Parks, as well as Kampala, Masindi and Kigali. Any gorilla or chimp trekking tips that you want to throw at me, or general thoughts about Uganda or Rwanda are certainly welcome, and I do plan to eventually post our itinerary, if anyone’s interested. Meanwhile, I will keep lurking around on the Kenya and Tanzania threads, as always.
Okay, now I’m going to go pinch myself, just to be sure I’m not dreaming…

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