Walking with Lions... yes, real ones!!

Harare Travel Blog

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Situated 8km from Gweru in the Zimbabwe Midlands, the Antelope Park was another picture-postcard campsite on the edge of a river. Very modern in facilities, this is a privately-owned park with a plethora of activities for young and old.

We chose our activities carefully, starting on Day One with a morning stroll across the plains, accompanied by four young lions (well, it gets lonely out here after a while). It was an amazing experience to be so close to these potential man-killers - claws and teeth perfectly capable of releiving someone of their right arm with no real difficulty, even at such a young age. Still, you can all rest on the knowledge that I still have the ability to type this entry, therefore all fingers are still attached. Anyway, we were all given a big stick (more like a twig) just incase our new friends got a little too close!

We walked for around two hours, seeing them train the lions in tree climbing and hearing about their rehabilitation programme from lion cub to fully-grown hunting beast to be released into the wild. Even if the place seemed a little artificial, you can't really accuse them of doing anything other than what they believe is the best for the animals, and all credit for their determination and setup here.

After our stroll, we stopped by to see four large elephants in their morning training session. These are used for walks for campsite guests, so in order to judge their mood every morning (and to ensure they are considered safe for the day's paying visitors) they partake in a short training schedule. This includes a few simple movements on command, raising trunks, kicking footballs, etc, before we were allowed in closer to meet the giants, feed them and sit up on their backs for some photos. These are immense beasts - there is simply nothing else that compares to the weight of an elephant's trunk wrapping around your shoulder as he/she tries to get to the small handful of food in your pocket! Sitting on their knee just a few inches from their head, it is quite scary to think that a simple roll to the left by one elephant can result in the flattening of one human and the inability to help of several other onlookers! However, all was well and we left the elephants after around 45 minutes.

That afternoon, we continued our hectic day by taking an elephant ride. The 30-minute stroll seemed like a very very VERY slow walk through the bush, and wasn't particularly enthralling, but still it is one more thing to tick off on the list of things to do before you are 30! The swim was something different - three people on the back on each elephant in a lake, holding on for one's life as the beast rolled to each side, staying under the water for up to 30 seconds at a time. Quite an experience, but very scary.

Still in the daylight hours, our next walk took us to a small enclosure to visit three lion cubs, each around 2-3 months in age. Again we were told of the breeding programme and spent an hour stroking the cubs, playing with them and watching them chew on Denise's hand as if it were a squeaky toy! They appeared so gentle, yet thinking of the potential of what they can do in their later years is a reminder not to take their quiet nature for granted, just in case those killer instincts kick in a few years early!

After Aaron's BBQ dinner for the group, we then took a trip out of the camp area for a "Night Encounter" - an open-topped, open-sided off-road trip following three adolescent lions on the hunt for food. This particular group hadn't eaten for four days, so the chance of a kill was high. Two hours of trailing them through the bush was very interesting, seeing them use their newly-taught skills as they hunted in a group, circling their game and then attempting to take them down. A few close calls were unsuccessful, but when we lost the lions for a while and retraced our tracks, we found the three of them tucking into the remains of a good hearty meal. Most of the carcass had already been consumed, and the stench was horrendous, but again it was good to see the result of the hard work of the lions.

We returned to camp, tired from a full day. The next morning, after another quick visit to the lion cubs (they are just so adorable!!!), we settled our bills and headed for Bulaweyo for the next installment of our adventures, glad in the knowledge that all limbs are still in tact.

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photo by: davidx