Wild Kingdom

“Some travel to see the difference. Others travel to make a difference.”
~Int’l Volunteer Headquarters

I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t more interested in petting a dog than talking with a human being. Nothing against people … I just get more comfort and peace and, often, inspiration from creatures on four legs. So it should come as little surprise that animals have been the inspiration for a few of the biggest decisions of my life.

kathryn gilmore walking with lionsBack in 2006, as I sat in my office at a creative firm in Seattle staring at my computer, the lions roared. I was on my lunch break – hopping from site to site, trying to find some entertainment as I burrowed into my daily salad. I can’t recall exactly how it happened, but I stumbled upon an article about a woman volunteering with lions in Africa. Huh?! People – every day people like me – can do that? I became intrigued. Well actually … obsessed is more like it. Typing the words “Africa”, “lion” and “volunteer” into Google, I quickly learned about a few organizations that allow people to spend time in various African countries, working with big cats. The concept soon became all I could think about. But the rational side of my brain was making all kinds of noise… There were so many reasons NOT to do it. My job. The costs. Zimbabwe … not the safest place on earth. What would my parents think?! And working with lions? Really?? Could I do it?

kathryn gilmore tending lion cubsThankfully – my passion overruled my intellect and I took the plunge. I left my job on an extended sabbatical and headed to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe for what would become the best seven weeks of my life. Climbing into dilapidated, open-air trucks at the break of dawn to hurtle down barely-paved roads to the project site – huddling up next to my new Zimbabwean friends against the cold. Daily walks with hip-height lions through the golden, dusty bush. Chopping up giraffe necks so we could throw the meat to the voracious cats. Bottle feeding the babies – listening to their surprisingly ferocious mews as they attacked the baby bottles full of formula. Between the animals, the natural beauty, the amazing native people, the hard labor and the fulfillment volunteering brought – these seven weeks in Africa quickly became life changing.

I wept when I left … wanting to find some way to stay forever. I even applied and was accepted to return to Africa to help with the volunteer project. Sadly – my mother’s pancreatic cancer took a turn for the worse and I chose to become her caretaker rather than return to the bush. But Africa, and the lions, changed me forever. So much so that I am returning in a few months.

This next trip will be seven months – not just seven weeks. I will be with lions in Zambia for four weeks, then dolphins in Zanzibar for two weeks and, after traveling through Vietnam, I will arrive in Cambodia to work with elephants for another two weeks. And I’m still on the fence about it – but there’s a chance I’ll hang out with sea turtled in Sri Lanka early next year as I continue to traipse around Southeast Asia.

So this adventure will be more than a “trip” … it’s really more of a pilgrimage. I will be paying homage to these animals. I will be on a quest for purpose. And I wouldn’t have even considered such a journey had animals not been involved. The thought of traveling about for seven months “on my own” – without a greater purpose in mind – this just doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t feel right. I want to contribute, to make a difference, to get involved in these countries and cultures on a deeper level.

So as I sit here clicking away, with one of the Rhodesian Ridgebacks I’m currently caring for pawing at my arm to get me to stop typing and give him a little more attention, I am grateful to the wild kingdom. Their influence on my life is unquantifiable. But what I do know is that lions and elephants, dolphins and sea turtles have inspired me to take chances, to live a more authentic life, to dare greatly.

Follow Kathryn’s journey at http://www.onwardvoyage.com/

About Kathryn Gilmore

Kathryn is an animal lover, world traveler, cancer survivor, food enthusiast and story teller. Her first trip to Africa in 2005 to volunteer with lions opened her eyes to the healing that international travel and working with animals affords. Since this inaugural trip, life has been more focused close to home … becoming her mother’s caretaker during her last days as she battled pancreatic cancer, taking on her own fight with breast cancer, moving back near her beloved home town in California, starting a food business and continuing to write and care for animals. In September 2015, Kathryn embarked on a six-month journey to Africa and Asia to volunteer at several animal sanctuaries. Her stories from afar were featured in her blog and focused on majestic wildlife, mouthwatering food, meeting people from all walks of life and personal growth. She is currently working on a book about her life and her travels – and hopes to develop a children’s book focused on elephants. Her blog, Onward Voyage, may be found at: www.onwardvoyage.com.

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