Lions, Giraffes and Photos — Oh My! Olivia Kubli ’18’s summer volunteer work included photographing lions, giraffes and elephants in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
“Having the chance to meet and have conversations with local people and learn local culture was rewarding and enlightening”
Minor: Studio Art
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Q. What did you do this summer?
This summer I worked with African Impact and Lion Encounter as a photography, research and conservation efforts volunteer in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Every day I would go on different projects. I took pictures of other volunteers in various projects; giraffes and elephants on game drives for IDing and cataloging each individual spotted; and animals for Lion Encounter’s promotion purposes and social media. I also spent time volunteering with the giraffe and elephant game drives, with the lion care and research, and with the orphanage in the community.
Q. What was your favorite part of being in Zimbabwe?
I loved the fact that animals were around every corner. Once, we were driving down the road and had to stop the van because elephants were crossing. On my walks to town, I passed warthogs and baboons walking along or on the road. A trip to the local golf course guaranteed views of dozens of impala, waterbuck and beautiful native birds. Additionally, I saw giraffes, lions, bushbuck, crocodiles, hippos, kudu, sable antelope, African buffalo, common eland, and even a leopard.
Q. What did an average day for you look like?
I would usually start the day with a game count or giraffe and elephant research, where we would leave in a large safari car around at 6:30 a.m. We would be out counting and documenting the location, sex, and/or approximate age of the animals with a compass, viewfinder, GPS and cameras until 11:30 a.m. We came back to Tokki Lodge for lunch and usually a trip to town before returning for the afternoon session of projects. In the afternoon, I often went to walk with the Lion Encounter lions and record their behavior, volunteer at the orphanage, listen to talks about local plants and tracking animals, or take pictures of the wildlife. All of the volunteers and coordinators gathered for dinner at 6:30 p.m., after which we gathered around a campfire every night.
Q. If you can choose one part of your experience that has been the most rewarding and fulfilling, what would it be?
Having the opportunity to volunteer alongside other people from all around the world with the same goal was one of the most fulfilling things. Seeing how we all changed during our time there and came to appreciate everything we have back at home was an incredible feeling. Also, having the chance to meet and have conversations with local people and learn local culture was rewarding and enlightening. For me, the people — both local and other volunteers from all around the world — made the difference.
Q. What was the biggest challenge you faced?
The biggest challenge I faced was navigating the market and trying not to get taken advantage of as a tourist. The townspeople know that you are not from Victoria Falls and will try to overcharge you.
Q. Who has served as a mentor to you this summer, and what have they taught you?
Hayley Beavon was my photography coordinator and taught me the basics of photography and how to shoot in manual. I learned about shutter speed, ISO, aperture size, photo file types, how to edit photos in Light Room, and what makes a good picture. There were many other “mentors” on the various projects that taught me about local wildlife and conservation efforts, as well.
Q. What have you learned at W&L that helped you in this endeavor, and what will you bring back to your life on campus?
My art classes were helpful because all of my previous experience with setting up the composition of paintings helped with setting up the composition of my photographs. I learned that photography is really an art and it is one that I want to keep learning and practicing. I also am going to invest in a new lens and the photo editing software I was taught in Zimbabwe.
Q. Has this experience impacted your studies or future plans in any way?
I hope to continue to pursue photography!
Q. Why is this kind of experience important to W&L students?
Being exposed to such a different lifestyle and culture is really important for students at Washington and Lee. Sometimes students feel that they are in a bubble in Lexington, and getting out and seeing the world helps put everything into perspective. Also, hearing the views, opinions and beliefs of not only the locals in Zimbabwe but other volunteers from England, Australia, Israel and Belgium was incredibly interesting and informative.
Q. Describe your summer adventure in one word: