Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lion Lunch

South African Journal: Day Eight - Got bitten by a lion today, but more on that later.

Drove from the beach town of Knysna north east with a small mountain range following us closely to our left with the Indian Ocean often visible at times to our right. We are traveling the very green Garden Route. The area we have been staying the last three nights, Knysna, was heavily populated with evergreen trees but now we have rolling green hills feeding herds of cows, with the occasional patch of trees. There are also these really alien looking dirt orbs slightly larger than exercise balls along the road. Miles tells me they are ant or termite hills but they look more like Invasion of the Body Snatchers pods.

We passed Jeffrey's Bay, about an hours drive toward the ocean from the highway. It supposedly has one of the best right breaks in the world. If you've seen the movie Endless Summer, you know what I mean. We were going to make a detour but we all just want to get to the game park and out of the cars. Thea and I may go back their tomorrow or the next day to give the waves a ride or two.

For the next three nights we are staying in Kragga Kamma Game Park, a small, little known wildlife reserve just outside Port Elizabeth. As soon as we drove into the park we saw five giraffe, a bunch of wildebeest, six or seven zebra and bonebok. Before we got to the accommodations, a little less than a mile into the park, we came across three huge white rhinos and a bunch of warhogs. Unbelievable. We are staying in a beautiful two story structure and these animals are rooming freely all around us. Miles asked if it was a bad idea to go jogging in the morning and the game warden replied, with a very serious face, that she suggested he not. She also suggested we stay out of the tall grass where the snakes hide.

We arrived at Kragga Kamma around 1:00pm, dropped our gear and headed to Seaview Game & Lion Park. Meg wanted to take us here because they rehabilitate lions and other animals and to help raise money, they let the public pet, play with and hold lions! I had seen a picture of Meg holding a baby lion when she visited about three years ago and I was pretty excited. At first, we watched two eleven-day-old babies get feed by bottle. They couldn't really see yet. Pretty cute. Then my nephew Ben and I played with two cubs who were a couple of weeks old. They already had really sharp teeth and claws. Just playing around they could do some serious damage to us. We had to be really careful.

Ben plays with a three month old baby lion.

Then Meg, Miles and I entered an area where there were four 60kg albino lions, one boy and three girls. This was truly scary. The three wardens who entered (slowly!) with us acted if it was no problem but you could tell they were keeping a close eye on the lions and us. One warden, Mirelle, took my Nikon D300 and took pictures. Another, Dee, prepped the lions for their new visitors (read: lunch) and showed us how to interact with them. We pet them, scratched them and played with them almost the same as you would with a house cat. The difference: these animals had huge muscles. They were all muscles. And like many house cats, they just wanted to play. Except they had big teeth, long sharp claws and skin literally five times as thick as ours. So when they whack you with a paw as big as our hands, claws like a small, razor sharp knives, these adolescent lions didn't take into account that they were tougher than us. Everything was going fairly well until one of them got a little too playful and gave me a “play bite” on the side of my waist and wouldn't let go. Dee came quickly to my rescue and though the female lion did not rip one of my favorite t-shirts, she did break skin. It was obvious she was playing, she could have easily taken a softball sized chunk of my waist out before Dee got close, but this made it no less scary. It was really strange the way these 130lbs. cats stared into our eyes. Eerie. Dee and the others were amazing hosts, the cats were all beautiful, the park, full of giraffes, zebra, bonebok, a tiger (caged) and many others. Amazing, action-packed day.
These lions are nine months old and very scary.

Thea pets the nine month old male. You can see his mane starting to come in.

These teeth hurt, trust me.

Hard to see in this photo, but this is where I got bitten by one of the 130lbs. lions (she was playing of course).

Postcard my nephew Ben sent to his classmates back in St. Louis

We didn't play with papa lion.

Came home, had a BBQ and ingested libations a plenty.

Labels: , ,


At 10:06 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

The pic of you with the lion on your lap looks an awful lot like the pic of you with Stella in your lap - ha!

Happy holidays from a zillion miles away....


Post a Comment

<< Home