A Denny veterinary nurse had a life changing experience as she spent one month getting up close and personal with exotic animals in Malawi.
Kayleigh Boardman (25) swapped Scotland for Africa and spent four weeks at the Lilongwe Animal Sanctuary in Malawi.
She said: “It has always been my dream to go and work in Africa with all different types of animals so there was no chance I could miss out on this amazing opportunity.”
After applying to volunteer through the Born Free Foundation, Kayleigh was packing her bags in October last year and soon found herself in a place completely different to home.
She said: “It is exactly like what you see on television. Kids were running around villages with no shoes and little food and water.
“I felt kind of guilty for how much we have back home and how we take it all for granted sometimes.”
Volunteering at the sanctuary is no holiday and Kayleigh was quickly having to use her veterinary skills she learned while studying at Edinburgh Napier University.
She said: “I helped carry out health checks on a troop of vervet monkeys before they were released back into the wild.”
The monkeys were darted, leaving them unconscious, and the team of vets, nurses and volunteers began drawing blood, checking for TB, administering vaccines and tagging the monkeys so the sanctuary can keep track of the animals once they are released.
In Malawi baby monkeys are sold as pets to people completely unprepared to look after them.
Kayleigh explained how the sanctuary helps. She said: “The monkeys are eventually brought to the sanctuary and we help rehabilitate them, ensuring they would survive in the wild before being released.”
One of Kayleigh’s highlights was getting to hold a two-month old baby monkey.
She said: “The mother was still coming round from being unconscious and the young monkeys need someone to cling on to, so it clung on to me. It was so cute.”
The differences in equipment between Africa and Scotland is easy to see, however it really hit home for Kayleigh when she had to use a wheelbarrow as an operating table.
“We had to perform a vasectomy on a duiker and he was too big to be taken to the surgery.
“So instead the surgery was completed in his enclosure using a wheelbarrow as an operating table and lots and lots of sheets.
“Everything is sterilised there and then, it was so different to back home. It is amazing to see what people can do with so little. It was really inspiring.”
Kayleigh also got to meet the star attraction of the Lilongwe Animal Sanctuary, lions Simba and Bella.
“Obviously they are too dangerous to get really close to but their stories were brilliant.”
Both animals were saved by the sanctuary and now spend their glory days exploring their massive enclosure together.
On a weekend off Kayleigh went on safari and on the way passed through some local villages, visiting some schools along the way.
She said: “I was shocked at how good the children’s English was. However, to see how basic the schools and equipment were really showed me just how lucky I was to have computers, books and enough desks.
“Some of the schools I visited don’t even have electricity!”
While on safari Kayleigh was treated to an extra rare treat.
She said: “We managed to catch a glimpse of the endangered African Wild Dog. Most people never see it and on our trip we saw a pack of 24. It was really special.”
At night Kayleigh ventured out to track some Hyenas. “It was awesome. We used infra-red camera to try and spot some, played sounds to attract them and left dead chickens out as well.
“Sadly though we didn’t see any.”
Kayleigh also got to help train a local who has since become a vet nurse. She said: “I was recently told she is now helping on surgeries. It felt good knowing I had maybe made a difference.”
A month quickly flew by and Kayleigh was set to leave her adventure and return home to her work at Atex Vets in Denny.
However, the Lilongwe Animal Sanctuary had one more surprise for their helper.
“They made me an ambassador and I was so honoured to be given the role.”
As one of only seven ambassadors, Kayleigh will do her best to alert anyone interested in going abroad to see the world to go to the Lilongwe Animal Sanctuary.
She said: “The month made me so much more appreciative of everything we had and showed me anything is possible.
“The people are so friendly and Malawi is most definitely the warm heart of Africa.
“Anyone with an interest should sign up to have the experience of a lifetime.”