Though a straight line appears to be the shortest distance between 2 points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the dalliances and the detours that define us. There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition and a willingness to be surprised.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Incredible Zimbabwe (2) - Antelope Park

(Unbelievably close to lions. No fences, no zoom. Just a few feet from sleepy lions!)

Antelope Park is a private wildlife reserve and conservation site. The park concentrates on looking after and breeding lions with a view to re-introducing them into the wild. Though not a zoo, Antelope Park is a going-concern and pays its way through wildlife and other activities aimed at travellers and tourists.

(Start of the lion walk and I am 'part of the pride'.)

The place is beautiful and one of the best sites we've stayed at on the whole trip. I get the impression that it was originally geared towards the middle and upper parts of the tourism market but as that business has melted away in Zimbabwe, they are now catering mostly to overland tours. This is to our benefit as the prices were reasonable for activities which were just awesome.
(Brock and lions)

The first activity was a lion walk, where a small group of us got to walk across fields with three lions. The lions have been brought up in captivity and though they are encouraged to hunt, mate and do other activities which will prepare them to return to the wild, they are accustomed to humans. In fact, as we walked along they treated us as part of their pride. In order to keep this illusion up though, we were warned not to stray away from the group, in case we were suddenly seen as an outsider, whether potential competitor.. or dinner.

(Two of the lions on our lion walk 'playing'! Luckily they didn't play with us like this, if only because we were warned not to turn our back on them, crouch down, or get separated from anyone else!)

Walking with the lions, petting them and watching them play with each other was just incredible. And this was just the first activity. After the lion walk, we had an encounter with two four-month old lion cubs, then we went to the breeding centre where we saw a large number of adult lions and lionnesses being fed. This was the only part of the lion experience where the lions were behind bars - and just as well! However, in spite of the barrier, we could still pet the lions through the wire mesh, though this rather back-fired (no euphemism intended) when one of the lionesses marked her territory all over my jeans, t-shirt and face!
(Right - lions run for their dinner)

As well as lion watching, I had a chance to go horse-riding and spot wild game. Really got the hang of horse-riding (trotting at least) and spotted Wildebeast, Impala, Warthogs, Ostrich and Dik-Diks. Also had a close encounter with elephants, which was pretty special.

But the big highlight was the lion and cub viewing. At one point, I had two lion-cubs on my knee. I had no fear at all of the lions and couldn't spend enough time with them. I'll never forget the experiences I had at Antelope Park. They say it's unique in the world and I can believe it. I'm hoping to get a few pics from friends on the truck as some people got some great shots but I've posted a few of my own for now.

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