By Learnmore Nyoni
A BEAUTIFUL teenage girl on a quad bike comes to the gate to meet us, while her pet monkey clutches onto her tummy, with its tail coiled around her waist. She greets us with a wide indulging smile as she opens the gate to usher us in and we drive into the game-fenced farm. We would later learn that the name of this lovely girl is Echoe.
This is the start to what is to be a fun-filled late afternoon. We only realised at sunset that we had been engrossed in many activities for the past four hours.
Echoe hands us over to her mother, Noelle Jardine-Austen, owner of Eye for the Wild, a wildlife sanctuary located 10km outside Kwekwe along Mvuma Road. The mother is as equally welcoming as her daughter.
What started as a housewife’s passion to cure, provide shelter and rehabilitate injured and traumatised animals, before releasing them back into the wild when they became stronger would over the years see Jardine-Austen convert her farm into a sizeable wildlife sanctuary, with many wildebeests, nyalas, elands, impalas, warthogs, a zebra, pookies, tortoises, horses and a lion.
“Rescuing animals is what I live for; everyday spent with nature is a day worth living,” Jardine-Austen said.
Born to Graham Jardine a veterinarian, Noelle was raised among animals under the care of her father, thereby developing a profound love for animals, an environment she has also created for her three daughters. One of her daughters, Echoe, says she wants to be a wildlife veterinarian when she grows up to support her mother’s growing sanctuary.
Jardine-Austen wakes up each morning to the 5am lion call and spends the day tending to animals and retires to bed around 9pm, after feeding the nocturnal species. Such is the daily routine of the woman who has dedicated her life to saving vulnerable wild animals.
She tells us rescue stories of some of the animals on the sanctuary, some of them very harrowing.
“From the way an injured rock monitor that had been shot by a pellet gun climbed up the wall through the kitchen window into my sink you could tell that the poor creature knew it was going to find help inside,” she chuckled.
And true to its intuitions, the rock monitor did find help. Jardine-Austine painstakingly and cautiously took out the pellet that had cut through the eye into the throat and for months fed the poor reptile from a pipe until it was totally healed. From a traumatised, nervous and frail creature the rock monitor now feeds by itself and even swims.
After receiving a call from Gweru one morning to rescue an owl that had been hanging on a barbed-wire fence the whole night and had practically tried to chew its wing out of the trap, Jardine-Austen spent more than three hours taking the wire out and treating the wound of Zimbabwe’s biggest species of owl now weighing 4,2kg. The bird has gone through months of treatment and physiotherapy and can now do minor flights. Many vultures and owls that have been weaned and released back into the wild still come for the 6-9pm meal-time, when she routinely feeds her owls.
Jardine-Austen feels that her cause is more than a passion, but a calling to save suffering animals.
From the tour one could tell that Zulu the lion holds a special place in the heart of this animal lover. She took in the orphaned and epileptic lion cub when she was merely four days old and fed him a daily dose of epilem (an epilepsy drug).
“I would tuck his tongue out when he had the epileptic seizures, give him medicines, daily until he outgrew the condition at nine months. We grew up with him in the yard together with our dog, they would play together. He is a full-grown healthy lion now, but I love his disposition, he is very calm and I would love to have his progeny, at least one litter,” she said.
You can tell from her feint and rusty voice that she has a cold, her explanations interrupted by intermittent dry coughs, but driven by her eagerness to tell her story she endures, and she speaks on as she takes us through the sanctuary.
Her plan is to bring in a giraffes, a female zebra, and a female lion to mate with her lone zebra and her lovely lion pet, Zulu.
Zimbeef, Dendairy and recently Goldridge Schools have been supporting her worthy cause to save orphaned and vulnerable animals. Over the years she has largely ran the sanctuary at her own expense.
Eye for the Wild has seen kindergarten schools visiting on educational tours and she hopes to attract more visitors once the formalisation procedures are completed with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
“I am finalising some paperwork with the national parks authority and also building a coffee shop with lavatories that can be used during tours,” she said.
Jardine-Austen tells us why she does not allow hunting: “I detest trophy hunting, this place will cease to be a sanctuary the day I allow hunting here. I have been offered thousands of greenbacks which would have come in handy, but I said no. I have said no to my brother, who is a professional hunter.”
Visitors have the pleasure of seeing Wena the monkey swim, play ball and showing off all human mannerisms of a teenage girl, no doubt rubbing off from Echoe who spends most of her time with the monkey.
Eye for the Wild offers game drives, educational tours and horse rides to both local and international visitors.