Thursday 18 September – Lion Park (sunny day 32°C)

After a good night’s sleep, we were up early, had breakfast and were waiting in the foyer for our Shuttle Bus to take us to the Lion Park. The Lion Park is a sanctuary and breeding ground for the various species, in particular the Cheetah, the rare White Lion and the endangered Wild Dog.

When the Shuttle didn’t arrive, what could have been a disaster for us, was quickly averted by the wonderful Sheraton Hotel concierge staff, who made several phone calls and then organized a private taxi/limousine to take us. It took approximately 40 minutes and along the way we chatted to Jerry, the driver. When we arrived at the Lion Park, they reimbursed us for the taxi, which we were not expecting – how nice!

We were booked into the Cheetah Walk at 9.00am. We met TK, our guide and Shaun the Park Photographer and were then loaded into a wire-enclosed vehicle, along with six other people and taken to the Cheetah enclosure. TK and the other guides brought Felix, a beautiful 10 year old Cheetah, out to the vehicle and he rode inside with us to an area of the park for our Cheetah Walk. We all laughed at the idea of being locked INSIDE a caged vehicle WITH a Cheetah, who wandered up and down the aisle between the seats, stopping for a pat along the way.

We learnt so much about the Cheetah on our walk. Cheetahs are a threatened species and are one of the most graceful animals on earth. They do not roar like a lion but chirp like a bird and purr like a domestic cat!! The cheetah is the fastest land animal, reaching speeds of up to 120km per hour and can accelerate from 0 – 100km/hr is just 3 seconds. One stride covers from 6 – 9 metres and it can cover 28 metres in one second – that is fast! Interestingly, Cheetahs have binocular vision and can see up to 5 kms away.

We thoroughly enjoyed our walk and were over the moon when we were given the opportunity to each have some up close and personal time with Felix, where we were able to touch, pat, stroke him and also to have our photo taken on several occasions during the walk. There were no restrictions with regards to where we could pat him, but it had to be with a firm touch – on his head, along his back and even his tail.

While Felix was wearing a harness and he had a lead attached, the only time the lead was used was when we were actually walking along and even then, it was loose. During our interaction times, he was free to move about unrestricted. It was an overwhelming experience to be so close to a basically wild animal and yet not feel in any way uncomfortable or threatened by his presence. It was just magical!!!

After our wonderful experience with Felix, we were taken on a relatively new tour of the Park, the Photographic Tour, which lasted for 1½ hours and was for the two of us with our own personal guide, Mbengeni, who took us in a small electric vehicle around the park to visit all the animals.

There were large grazing areas where we saw antelopes, zebra, giraffe, gemsbok, impala, springbuck, blesbok and ostriches, to mention a few. They are free to roam the area and we were able to see them up close from the safety of our vehicle.

From there we went to the carnivore camps, where Mbengeni drove right up next to each of the four prides of white lions with their young. He had a bucket filled with pieces of meat that he threw out to some of the lions and others were enticed to take the meat from his fingers, which involved the lions stretching right up, holding on to the wire enclosure of our vehicle – WOW!!! Richard was able to stand up in the vehicle and take photos through a section at the top that had a wider space to allow easy use of cameras – needless to say we have hundreds of fantastic photos!!

In the 1st Camp, there were brown/tawny lions – Jamu, the male, 3 females and 2 young males, who will be able to stay with the pride until they reach the age of 18 months when they will be moved.

The 2nd Camp was made up of white lions – there were 3 males (there is normally only one male in each pride but these ones were brothers/cousin), 3 females and 2 five-month old cubs. When Mbengeni was throwing out pieces of meat and encouraging them to come closer, one of the male lions, Malik, bit the tyre on the vehicle, making a loud pop and causing the tyre to deflate. Mbengeni quickly drove out of that camp/enclosure as the tyre went flat. They had spare tyres at the centre, but because it was going to take some time to change the tyre, they offered that we could finish the tour in a bigger vehicle, with a driver and Mbengeni coming with us as our guide – we happily agreed to this. (At no time were we in any sort of danger.)

At Camp 3, we saw Lizzazi a white male, the largest of their lions weighing in at 300kg and his 6 females. Richard was in his element when Mbengeni coaxed one of the females up a tree right next to our vehicle and Richard was able to eyeball her and get lots of great photos!!

Camp 4, there was a male – Nikolas and also a young male Split lion, whose mother was brown and father was white.

In Camp number 5, we saw 2 Wild Dogs – a male and a female. They are an endangered species and in there are only 300 left in the wild in South Africa.

Camp 6 was the Cheetah Camp and they had 2 more Cheetahs there – Shitana and Zebe.

During our tour, we observed that all of the animals were in excellent condition and the grounds were well maintained and we didn’t see any mosquitos or flies. We also learnt lots of interesting information about the lions and the Lion Park.

There are currently 85 lions, including the white lions, at the Lion Park. The lions are protected from one another by barriers and fences to prevent the different prides from attacking one another, because they are fiercely protective of their territory and apparently would become aggressive if other lions or prides enter their domain.

The lion is the biggest of all of Africa’s big cats. The body length in the African male lion can be up to 3.3 metres, from nose to tip of tail. At the shoulder a male may stand at 1.2 metres, while the lioness is slightly shorter at up to 90 centimetres. The male may weigh up to 190 kilograms and the female 135kg.

Interestingly, white lions are not albinos. The whiteness is a result of a recessive gene carried by some lions, giving these particular creatures a white hide and eyes that are a lighter yellow than those of the tawny lion. Some may even have very light blue eyes. The survival of white lions seems to have always been a problem because of their very whiteness – they lack the camouflage of the tawny lion.

We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the carnivore camps and we couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces. We were then taken to Cub World, where we were able to play with the lion cubs. We were not able to touch the cubs on their head or their tails as they don’t like, but we were able to kneel down beside them and stroke/ pat them and have our photos taken with them. The tawny/brown cub decided that Sandy’s shoe looked interesting and tried to eat eat – hilarious!

We learnt that the cubs get inoculated at 6 weeks, and are disease free before they get introduced to Cub World at three months old. They then interact with visitors until they are six months old. During the three-month period that they are with the visitors, they are subject to very strict rules that involve careful monitoring of the number of hours per day they spend in Cub World. This is done to ensure that the time spent with visitors is limited and that the cubs are not over-exposed to the point where they may become restless or irritable. On the rare occasion where this does occur, the cub is immediately removed to the comfort of the nursery. After six months, the cubs are sent to the Lion Park’s farm near Hartbeesport Dam where they are kept in large enclosures.

Lion Park has gone to great lengths to ensure that their lions never end up in “canned hunting” scenarios, which is where lions are bred specifically to be shot by rich game hunters. Lion Park donates or sells their lions to reputable zoos or game parks that are thoroughly vetted before any sale takes place. If the lions are not sold, the staff at the farm looks after them until they die of natural causes.

Over the years, Lion Park has established a good reputation for keeping their lions in excellent condition and is the preferred partner of zoos and game parks around the world when they seek new blood-lines for their lions. They have recently sent lions to the Sydney zoo.

From there, we fed Purdy the giraffe and saw Zoe, her daughter and also saw and fed an ostrich. We loved the antics of the cute little meerkats too.

We had an enjoyable lunch in the shade, with a lovely cool breeze blowing, while we talked about all the wonderful animals we had seen.

After visiting the gift shop and collecting some photos taken by the professional photographer, we were brought back to our hotel, arriving here at 3.30pm. – two very tired, but extremely delighted adventurers!!!

When visiting Africa, seeing “The Big Five” – buffalo, lion, elephant, leopard and rhinoceros – is what all visitors hope for. So far, we can tick lion off our list. Yaayyy!

Sandy had found the Lion Park on the internet and we had organized and paid for this tour months ago. We were concerned that our expectations were too high, but our experience was even more amazing than we thought possible!! We just had the BEST day!! See two lots of photos in the gallery.

4 Responses to “Thursday 18 September – Lion Park (sunny day 32°C)”

  1. Maria says:

    Wow what an amazing experience…..and the photos are brilliant lots of love from Maria and Dennis xoxo

  2. Liana says:

    Aaahhh lovely! Beautiful pics! Glad you had such a wonderful experience, popping tires included 😉

    Enjoy today – when you go through the North West Province, that’s where I grew up (farm in Klerksdorp/Ventersdorp area). Flatter, more plains, agricultural areas (you might be going another route to reach Kimberley though).

    Looking forward to the next installment! xx

  3. Janet says:

    Wow, looks like the new camera is going well Dad. I just love seeing the big grin on both your faces – what an experience!

  4. Francie says:

    What a wonderful experience. Photos are a once in a lifetime. How good that this turned out better than you expected,

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