Carewildlife: Turning a passion for one little lion cub into a lifetime’s work

Alexandra Lamontagne is one of the founders of Carewildlife who put volunteers in touch with the right project for them. Here is more about her vision and where her passion started.

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Where does your passion for animals and conservation come from?

I have always loved animals and had pet dogs and cats, I have been an animal freak since I was growing up. Having learned a lot about how badly people treat animals I became vegetarian about three years ago and started to learn about conservation work being done in Africa, I also connected with many animal activists and conservationists on social media sites. I decided that one day I wanted to go and help animals, however, I didn’t know it would happen so soon.

What made you decide to found Carewildlife?

In 2012 my dog died, he was everything to me, my job contract finished and I was turning 30. I realised that I hated what I was doing and where I was. The only thing that kept me smiling was when I saw a cat or a dog. My dream was to spend time with animals in Africa, so I decided to go.

I did some research and found a sanctuary that looked good, from what the agent told me. However, once I arrived things changed. I was caring for five lion cubs, which seemed great until I started asking questions about where they had come from and their mother. I was told to stop asking questions and later learned that the cubs were going to a zoo, which really upset me. I started to feel very suspicious and had some major concerns about the ethics of the place.

At home I discovered that the smallest cub, Serabie, who I had bonded with most, was going to be sent for canned hunting, I was devastated.

Canned hunting is when ‘trophy’ animals are removed from their mothers at a young age and hand-raised ensuring they lose their natural fear of humans. Often these animals are raised on projects by unknowing volunteers.  Once fully grown they are sold on to canned hunting facilities that allow paying trophy hunters easy access hunt these magnificent creatures. One of the main reasons people are so opposed to canned hunting is because the animals are hunted in enclosures, rather than in the wild, and sometimes even maimed to ensure the animal has little chance of escape and the trophy hunter is ensured their ‘thrill’.

I had to save Serabie and started raising the funds to buy her back. I was uncomfortable to be contributing to the canned hunting industry, but I had to get her out. I therefore decided to use this visit to make a documentary about the canned hunting facility that bought her, the terrible conditions animals are kept in and the realities of this industry. Through the help of some conservationists in South Africa we found Serabie a safe place to live, she was lucky. I am hoping that the documentary will educate the people about canned hunting and how some volunteer projects are linked to this terrible industry.

This is why I started up Carewildlife. I had been looking for a good volunteering project to help animals and ultimately felt ripped off by my tour agent. The place was not ethical, I did not get the activities advertised, and there were far fewer animals there than advertised. The hygiene was terrible, with cockroaches in the beds, kitchen and bathrooms, and the ‘safe drinking water’ was yellow and came from the river. The the staff were unfriendly and not transparent about the project. I only stayed because I was worried about the cubs and left the day after they did. I don’t want any other volunteers to have such a bad experience, and wanted to set something up that was honest, pairing volunteers with good ethical projects who understand real conservation. I decided only to work with the best places whose reputation I am confident in.

How does your work contribute to conservation?

I help the animals and the projects through the volunteers I send and I only represent the good places, if volunteers have a good experience they want to volunteer again, bad places can prevent you contributing in the future. I want people to have a good experience and only promote the good projects.

What are the main activities in your work?

I am concentrating on growing our online advertising and social media, and getting information out  wherever I can. I research good projects through online forums and talking to the owners. I look at their ethics, how they interacts with animals, the size of the project, how the animals are treated, and whether or not they have cubs and the background of the cubs. I also work with clients to find the best project for them. We have been working on the documentary which is due out soon.

What’s the best part of the job?

Finding new, ethical places and knowing there are so many good people in this world. Bad experiences can make you bitter about people who have conservation places and are not ethical. I enjoy helping volunteers choose ethical projects and in turn help animals.

What’s the worst part of the job?

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Carewildlife is quite new, so it is all really exciting, so at the moment there isn’t really a bad thing, however finding the money for online advertising can be tough!

What are your tips for someone wanting to get into conservation?

Go volunteer to see if you like it, it’s easy to say I’m going to be a conservationist – you have to see how it works and get your hands dirty. It’s different there, you won’t have a huge house, nice car, and local restaurants. See if you like living in the bush with animals and only a few people, research carefully and try it first. 

What are you most proud of achieving?

I am proud of myself for setting up Carewildlife, I send people to help around the world from my laptop and that’s great. I am proud of the documentary too, and hope to help expose the canned hunting industry.  The thing I am most proud of is saving Serabie though!

What advice would you give someone wishing volunteer?

Research, ask questions, look on tripadvisor and connect with people. Do what you think is the best for the animals, that’s why you are going.

Who is your hero and why?

Chris Mercer is a wonderful man who lives for lions and to make changes to canned hunting. He has such a presence and knows so much about this industry. Drew Abrahamson too, she fights hard to save lions through thing like Global March for Lions, putting so much into saving animals is impressive.

Watch Alexandra’s film about canned hunting!

Saving Serabie is about saving a baby lion from growing to be a canned hunted.This documentary was produced to educate future generations against hunting the animal for its skin.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLC3-RGtrpk?list=UURMeS5aY3tYn3whlR6t2C-w]

About the author

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This article was written by Conservation Careers Blogger Gemma Marshall. Gemma is passionate about wildlife and conservation. Her background in fundraising and marketing took her overseas to work on a wildlife sanctuary and conservation project in Namibia for the last two years. Here she was helping to raise funds and publicise the good work of the organisation, along with hand-raising two baby zebras and a baby donkey. She is an avid traveller and currently looking for her next overseas adventure!

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