Lions on the Line

Written By: The Lowdown - Feb• 28•13

small cover 2013 02Every once in awhile we all like to get away, get some good old R&R.

Rest and Relaxation, with maybe a hint of adventure was my intention when I jumped in the van and drove the 7 hours from Lusaka to Livingstone. It seems I was given more than I bargained for when I arrived and my lodge manager organised some last minute activities for the next day, I knew I could not opt out of the experience.

Being woken up at dawn (what type of holiday is this?!) to get ready for my day, I was picked up shortly afterwards by staff from the Mukuni Big 5 Safari, 15 minutes later I was listening to “the do’s and the don’ts” and then 10 minutes after that I was face to face with an … Elephant!

Yes, you read that correctly. An Elephant. I had signed up for an Elephant ride and a Lion walk combination for the morning’s activities. Let me tell you, TV and photographs do not do these humungous mammals justice. I was in complete awe of these animals, their sheer size and power was breathtaking and a little frightening! That was until one reached up and touched my hand with it’s trunk in what I can only assume was an act of cheekiness looking for a snack, and I realised two things; 1. how gentle this creature was and; 2. this Elephant and I were going to be friends.

After awkwardly making my way onto the Elephant’s back with a guide in front, we proceeded through the bush for the next two hours. We then got to feed and interact with the Elephants, them knowing instructions such as “Open mouth” and “Trunk down”. It was a nice surprise when at the end of the experience the Elephants all put their trunks and left front leg up in a salute to say goodbye. I must say there is only one thing better than riding an Elephant … and that is sitting on top of an Elephant, on the top of the hill overlooking the town of Livingstone, seeing the spray of Victoria Falls in the distance.

Not all is fun and games though. All six of the Elephants were orphaned while young, due to poaching. Without organisations and conservations such as Mukuni Big 5, Elephants like the ones there would be left to their own defences, and would surely not survive in the wild. You may think “It’s cruel to make Elephants take humans for a ride”. Well, the Elephants are only taken on 3 walks a day, and they seem to enjoy the social interactions. The rest of the time they are maintained in a free roaming environment.

Once departing from the Elephants (I didn’t want to go!) we made our way over to the side of the park and were greeted in the bush by two big but young lionesses, one brown and one white lion, who were part of a pride of four that called the park home. It is an unbelievable experience being so close to such a feared, powerful, and cunning predator. Goose-bumps pop up all over when the lion is less than a metre away and looks you directly in the eyes. That is when you realise just how defenceless as a human you are.  We were able to walk up behind the animals and pat their backs and rub their bellies, plus walk with them through the bush and hold their tails.

The experience was amazing and one of a kind, although maybe a little discomforting depending on your view of lion/human interactions. Lions are endangered, and the white Lion very rare, but I’m not sure if I truly believe the intentions of the park will workout. My brother loved the experience and despite my few reservations I had a thoroughly exciting time.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to do the Cheetah walk. We were told on this walk you get to interact on a personal level with the Cheetahs. I did however get a lot of information on the parks long term intentions for these magnificent creatures. The Mukuni Research Centre has an ongoing programme for conserving and breeding this threatened and endangered animal. They aim at breeding captive Cheetahs, and for their young to be released into appropriate National Parks and conservancies around     Zambia.

Be sure to book ahead of time, and check if there are any others going on the walk. Or you can just do it with your own friends/family. My brother and I were lucky enough to be the only people on our lion walk at the time, and I’m sure our time there would have been a lot different, even disappointing, if there were many other people.

Throughout this whole experience I was very impressed with the local Zambian guides and helpers, they were all very kind, professional, alert, and gave clear directions when needed. They had an excellent knowledge of the animals and showed a real love for their job and the animals they care for.

This trip has been one the most amazing experiences, and most memorable. I would highly recommend any animals lovers out there to give this place a visit. The activities are a bit pricey (around US$260) but well worth the money. I am already looking forward to my next visit to Livingstone and the memories, experiences and adventures that I may find!







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