The Lion Park
A trip to the Lion Park has been on our to-do list for a while now. We actually went to the park a week ago, but disaster struck. We were minutes away from the park when I realized I had left the battery for my camera charging back at our Airbnb. I whined like a child. We were 45 minutes from our place! So we turned onto the road where the park was located to make a u-turn. However, quickly approaching us was a lorrie (cargo truck). The road was narrow so Jordan quickly adjusted for space, but sadly over adjusted. Our car's tire hit the edge of the road, damaging the wheel. The roads in South Africa, although paved, sometimes don't have clean finished edges. We pulled into the parking lot of The Lion Park and as I stepped out of the vehicle, the tire's air gushed out and I knew there would be no Lion Park that day. Miraculously, I stayed calm during the event. The guard at the entrance helped us get to a telephone (neither of us had calling services on our cell phones) so we could contact Avis.
Note: Jordan would want me to make sure I gave acknowledgment to the fact that he can change a tire.
When we returned from our call with Avis, the guard went to work and changed our tire! Afterwards we asked if we could pay him and he said, "If you wish. We are just happy to help." This man is a testament of how kind many South Africans are. We paid him, and we were on our way out of the park and back home.
So as you can see, we eventually made it back to The Lion Park. The events of the previous Tuesday happened to work out because it meant we had plans for Jordan's birthday!
The Lion Park, located in the Gauteng province, is just 45 minutes from Johannesburg. There's no exact address for the park, but we simply put in the coordinates listed on the park's website (what normal person uses coordinates!?), and got there just fine. At least, the coordinates got us in the area. If you see a lion statue on the corner of Malibongwe Drive and R114 Road then you've arrived.
The Lion Park is a big tourist attraction in these parts, but going on a Tuesday wasn't crazy busy. In fact, I was able to go on the "Walk with Lions" all by myself! I had three guides with me, Mbengane who fed the lions and kept them behaved, Kayla who also tamed the lions, and Lavious the photographer. Although I was excited, I was nervous about being the only tourist. I mean, I'm Asian and everyone knows that Asians are the worst tourists when animals are involved and South Africans get annoyed with Americans for the same reason. So the deck was stacked against me! I had no husband to protect me (he was watching the babe - we took turns walking with the lions sans baby) and no other tourist to distract hungry lions away from me!
Nervousness aside, it truly was a thrilling experience! I had the opportunity to hang out with Jay, a 14 month old white lion, and Ben who was 12 months. Both of them were raised at the Lion Park and have grown accustomed to visitors playing with them, which is why the park considers them safe until they get a bit older. It took me a while to warm up to the boys, but I soon got to know their personalities and learned which lion I could trust. Jay was mellow and willing to obey orders. And by orders, I mean the reward system of doing tricks and then getting a nice hunk of horse meat. He never did anything he wasn't supposed to. Ben, on the other hand, was naughty (how he was often called by the rangers). Ben is a lady's man and being younger means he's more playful. So at one point he wanted to play with me. You see the photo to the left and below of Ben trying to play with Jay (Jay was not having it)? Yeah, Ben did that to me too! It felt similar to when a dog nips at you when it's being playful, but a lot bigger! A part of my body was in a lion's mouth!!!! You see, I did have a reason to be worried, but I probably brought it on myself because Mbengane repeatedly told me to not be scared because they can sense it.
One great thing about the park is that even though they have their professional photographers (and they're everywhere so you won't miss any photo ops), they allow you to take your own photos as well. The pros are also very willing to take photos of you with your device! So I was able to get photos and videos of me with the lion so I could just enjoy being with the lions!
Jordan walked with Shandor, 16 months, and Naledi, who was from the same litter as Jay. During his walk, Naledi caught a bird! She just wandered off and came back with a bird! Kayla said that one of the things people worry about with lions living in captivity is that they lose their natural instincts. Naledi's hunting skills suggest otherwise. That's what's so great about the Lion Park! These animals aren't kept in solitude and in small cages. The antelope, birds and giraffes roam freely in the park. The wild cats and dogs live in large fenced areas (each pride has it's own area) and have plenty of opportunity to roam freely!
After my walk with the lions, it was time for the game drive. Lion Park has two options for game drives, the group game drive or the self game drive. We did the latter since we had the babe and could go at our own pace. So we tucked Anthem in his car seat for a nap (he didn't take a nap), got our windows taped up and we were off!
The taping up of the windows is a recent change. Apparently, a few weeks ago, there was an American woman who was hanging out of her window and was killed by a lion. Locals would tell me how they used to drive through with their windows half way down (they wouldn't hang out of the windows though).
We went on the drive around two in the afternoon. It probably wasn't the best time to see the animals because pretty much the time between noon and dusk is nap time. Every animal from the birds, great and small, to the wild cats were all tucked away, snoozing in the grass. Well, all except for the zebras who were busy feeding.
The lions were of course the main event. Most of the lions were sleeping in big piles, but we had some good activity. It was just mesmerizing to be near them and to see how big they actually are. That's one thing that I still can't fully grasp, is how big lions are. It's terrifying and amazing! Even the cubs are ginormous. The cubs were snoozing as well, which I guess is a good thing when you have your baby with you. The cubs did wake up after we left, so next group got to hold them and hug them! Shame.
After getting bit by Ben, I was nervous to get close to them. I've always dreamed of cuddling up next to these babies, but alas my fear got the better of me. Anthem was even braver than I was and petted the sleeping cub on his own! I didn't even pet it! But I'll blame that on being too busy taking photos and videos.
The rest of the evening was spent feeding Perdi the giraffe and hanging out with Sebo the cheetah. No footage of our time with Sebo because my camera had died by this time (always bring a spare battery my friends!), but it happened and it was the cherry on top cause cheetahs are absolutely my faves!