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Margarita Samsonova

    Giving Back Journal

    Dreams to Reality: Volunteering with Animals Around the World

    Today you can hardly impress anyone by traveling to another continent, however there are still some things that trigger the “WOW! You really did that?” reaction. Ever since I was a child I wanted to travel and explore our planet, my father told me stories about lands far far away and at a very young age, I decided that when I grow up I will become a traveler. Time was passing me by but for some reason, this dream was not becoming a reality and so, I forgot about it. When I graduated school I had no clue what to do with my life, I was scared and confused because society was telling me to study and settle for a mundane job but my heart was telling to follow my dreams. And so, I left my country for the first time with no intention of coming back. I began working on a cruise line with my first ever itinerary to Alaska. The experience would change my life forever.

    One day I signed up for a whale watching tour and met people who follow whales anywhere from Alaska to Galapagos Islands and back to study their habitat, behavior and vocalizations. They were doing what they love, waking up every morning surrounded by wild nature and contributing to a meaningful cause. I was inspired to say the least. I decided to apply for a volunteer position at a Safari Park in Thailand. It didn’t hit me what I had actually gotten myself into until I was standing at the airport trying to catch a bus to a city with a name of which I couldn’t pronounce. The next 2 months were spent taking lions and leopard cubs for walks at sunrise, bathing tires and watching a moon bear that was not supposed to survive, take its first steps.

    All of that changed me from inside and things that seemed important before no longer mattered. I had to leave again after I was invited to a zoo in Cyprus, where a newborn tiger cub was abandoned by its mother. I taught Lara how to eat, walk, climb trees, swim and more. I will never forget the day when it was decided to leave Lara in her new enclosure overnight for the first time. In the middle of the night, a terrible thunderstorm erupted and I couldn’t fall asleep knowing that Lara will be there alone and scared. I arrived to the zoo only to find Lara screaming and flouncing around her enclosure. We spent that night together under the rain and comforting Lara was the best feeling in the world. I was so happy to learn that Lara was no longer scared of thunders and the reintroduction to her family was a great success, which is a very rare case in tigers.

    My most recent trip was to Costa Rica where I was undergoing research for my university about the predator response of sloth and squirrel monkeys. The rehabilitation center helps injured animals and releases them back into wild. Every day starts with many animals arriving to the clinics some of them in a very critical state. Caring for them is very strenuous and dangerous process. Eventually, staff are unable to come close to help the animal as it is wild, aggressive and has not had an encounter with humans before. It is a very hard decision to release animals without knowing what will happen with it after. But I’ve learned so much during the process.

    Working with animals is not just interesting; it is has been an unforgettable experience and opportunity to educate people about the importance of preserving wildlife and the environment. It has given me the chance to open my mind and to realize that every little step along the way helps to save our planet.

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