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Walking with lions

I managed to have a bit of a sleep in this morning, before going out to help get breakfast ready. At about 9am, the people who were going to see the elephants were heading off. Having seen elephants many times, I had no plans to go on this activity, however, I had nothing else to do, so I thought I would go along and see if there was a spare spot.

There was a spot for me, so I got back into the ute and myself and the group were taken to where four elephants were waiting for us. We watch them all do tricks, including fetching a stick and kicking a soccer ball. I was amazed at their intelligence, the trainer would call out one elephant's name and say Turn around, and only that elephant would turn around. Then he called out two names and told those elephants to sit down and only those two elephants sat down.

After we watched the training exercises, we divided ourselves up among the elephants. We got to pat them and look in their mouths, I even touched my elephant's tongue, which was one of the softest things I think I've ever felt.

Sitting on an elephat

We got to sit on their knees and feed them pellets, then we got to sit on them while they were sitting down…..or at least I thought that's what we were doing, that's what I get for volunteering to go first all the damn time! The elephant I was on stood up while I was totally unprepared, after being told to by its trainer. I was riding her bareback and I had nothing to hold onto, and I certainly didn't want to grab her ears, lord knows what mayhem that would have caused.

Once I got over the shock of now being six feet in the air, I sat up and began to enjoy the experience, especially when the trainer gave me some pellets to feed the elephant, who ut her truck up so I could put the pellets in. I felt the underside of her trunk, which unlike the top was really rough and calloused.

The trainer told the elephant to sit down now so I could get off, now prepared I leaned as far forward as I could and wasn't scared at all. When the elephant was sitting down, I gracefully swung my leg over and jumped down with no assistance. I watched everyone else have a go on the elephant and then went back to camp. I had no more activities until 2:30pm now and it was only 10am, so I decided to watch a movie before lunch and then laid in the sun and listened to my music for a bit before going off to learn about the lion breeding program.

I did learn quite a bit in the lion breeding program activity, but most of it I had already been told in the seminar and in the other activities I had done. The most interesting part was when we went up to one enclosure which had one male lion and two female lions in it. Apparently all were infected with FIV (lion aids), I did learn that 95% of all wild lions have the disease and that two FIV positive lions can give birth to a cub which is negative. They keep these lions there so they have study them and attempt to make a vaccine for the virus.

Hunting with the big cat

No sooner had I gotten back to camp, than it was time to go on my lion walk. Having already done this in Zambia two years ago, I pretty much knew what to expect. It was a bit different this time, last time I had walked the lions in a national park, with lots of bush, this time it was in open ground in a savanna type environment. We met our two lions Panna and Penya, who seemed very energetic, (very unusual for lions) at times it almost seemed like a run, rather than a walk. At one point the lions came across a heard of impala and began to stalk them. The trainers said the likelihood of an impala kill was about two percent, so we pressed on until the lions found some wildebeest.

One of the guides asked me if I would like to lead the way (be the dominant member of the pride), what a silly question, of course I would like to lead the way while two almost full grown lions are hunting. The lionesses started to crouch down and crawl along on their bellies, I walked along behind them, with the rest of the group a good ten metres back. As I followed the lionesses towards the wildebeest, I thought about the first safari adventurers who had come to, hunt the big cat, screw that, I thought, I'm hunting WITH the big cat. The lionesses occasionally looked back in my direction as if expecting instructions, it was funny how they looked at me as part of their pride and not as game, the way they looked at the wildebeest we were now hunting.

Alas, we didn't make a kill as the ground was far to open for good stalking so we went and sat on an ant hill and everyone had some photos with our two ladies. The beautiful African sun was setting just behind us, giving the two huge cats an almost golden glow, they nuzzled and licked each other and enjoyed all the attention we were giving them.

As the sun was going down, we walked them back to camp and I grabbed Panna's tail and walked in front of the group, two lions in front and eleven people behind me, my pride. I let go of Panna and walked along beside her, she would occasionally look up and me with her big golden eyes, and I would look down at her and smile. I thought, walking side by side with the king of beasts is never, ever going to get old. I thought back to working for Tucan on the Eastern European section of my last tour, and how if I had to do it again, I think I would have shot myself I was so sick of it. No matter how many times I come here, to Antelope Park, I will never, ever get sick of this.


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