Two lions were ahead. I was behind. As they rested under the shadow of a bush, I slowly got nearer them, silently without seeking their attention as they played with each other. As I caressed on their body for a while, suddenly one of them swung his head towards me, making me jump to safety 3 feet away.
In this era where the wild animals are endangered with their reducing population, Lion Encounter, an organization in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, provides some breath of space with their clear agenda of conserving this species of Lion in Africa.
In the middle of the African jungle in Zimbabwe, there lies a bounded area for upbringing of the lions where they are bred, fed and grew up. There has been four different stages in this conservation cycle, cubs being in Stage 1 and finally fully grown independent adult being in Stage 4, where they are finally released in the jungle to live on their own. The project apparently very new in Zimbabwe, the lions are yet to reach Stage 4.
fees they charge the visitors are used to run this upbringing.
Some interesting learning before the walk:
1. Touch on the head is an insult
Humans find this insulting. The king of the jungle will be ferocious if you ever slide your hand up its mane. So, if you ever want a trouble free walk with them, rather be friendly and caress them on their back in affection.
This caressing is itself enough to make you feel accomplished if you have never been so close with the wild king before.
2. Never walk In front of them
You are at a disadvantage to have the lions follow you. They could pounce on you any time and cripple and feast on you. Follow the king rather than lead.
3. Never think of being jolly with them
The animal instinct of being playful like those of cats and dogs are plenty in the lion and tigers as well. One might be tempted to create such moment with the king in this short walk. Caution. As they become playful, so does their retractable 7-8 cm long claws moves forth and back. A slight touch could leave deep incision on you tearing the skin apart.
Air with the smell of blood would tempt the animal and the rest could be history.
4. Never be left alone: Singleton is always vulnerable and hence you should never part away from the group. As an experiment, when you are in the zoo next time, try to remain alone away from the group and look at an active tiger or lion. The animal will run towards you with all might looking at all possible exit to pounce on you. (This is based on my experience in this sanctuary where caged adult lion kept for breeding, looked delighted and made the swiftest move seeing a loner lady viewing at them from one corner).
5. Carry a stick always
One reason is that they also fear pain to some extent. Another is to divert their attention whenever they stare at you, by tapping the stick on the ground. (This stick is provided by the guide).
6. Camera always on of course
If you are a budding photographer or looking for one excellent shot, always keep your camera on. The animals would pose as per their whims and fancies.
This is an experience one should take in Africa. Not all African countries would provide this magnificent and memorable walk. At the top of my list are South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia where this arrangement for the tourists are available.
I have never heard or read about such great walks in other continents. However the idea of conservation with this model is an innovative way of saving the endangered species.
Cost – Varies from USD 120 to 160 depending on where the booking is done from. The hotels where you stay would charge commission and hence you end up paying USD 160. Else, take a walk in the market and reach the office of Lion Encounter to pay 120 USD.