We truly lucked out with how many different species we got up close and personal with on our safari. It is highly unusual to have as many game sighting as we did in such a short period of time. Obviously it was a really good time of year to go on safari in the Okavango Delta area.
While I love seeing all of the animals, I can never get enough of my personal favorite, lion.
The photo above is a real favorite of mine!
Our other amazing sighting were the Wild Dogs (sometimes referred to as Painted Dogs). These are really rare to sight and we had the most amazing view of them. Finding them had been our goal for our early morning game drive. After driving about 1/2 hour in the direction that our guide and tracker believed they would be, we had stopped on the side of the track to watch three ostriches happily prancing around. The next thing we knew, the ostriches were taking off running full gallop which is quite the sight to see.
And then we looked up at the track in the sand ahead of us and saw the most incredible sight:
The wild dogs had found us! and they trotted right on by –
They then nonchalantly sauntered by looking at us with slight curiosity.
Once they had passed us by we could clearly see that their heads and necks were caked from the blood of what ever feast they had just devoured before meeting up with us. And boy did they smell awful!!!! Glad we didn’t happen upon the kill! To learn more about African wild dogs you can check out this link http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/african-hunting-dog/
This tiny little one sleeping all by herself is the female leader of the pack, just proving that women rule and beware of tiny females!
During our game drives here are some of the creatures that we encountered
We may have been on the search for the elusive leopard but someone else was not so shy! But they were incredibly difficult to spot as the color of the grass perfectly camouflaged them.
The first one was soon joined by a second female, who according to Rams was a three year who was wearing a monitoring device. She is part of a research program that is assisting to identify the migration and breeding patterns of these wild beasts.
These two certainly were on friendly terms making me a wistful about getting out of the truck to join them! But even I know how deadly that would have been and in truth it was such a pleasure to sit and watch them for at least half an hour as the sun went down casting them in a golden light. Truly a beautiful sight!
Obviously neither of the two safari trucks caused the least bit of concern in these two magnificent females. As long as we kept reasonable quiet, didn’t stay up in the truck or move suddenly it was like we weren’t even there at all for them.
We didn’t even interfere with nap time!
Or using nature’s scratching post….
and then settling down for her own cat nap
Just as we were heading off for our own break, sundowners with the other guests, when Major and Rams came up with another find
We should have known that with two such beautiful ladies around that a virile African man couldn’t be too far away. And what a man he was! It was really hard to resist him….
But I had promised Rams that I wouldn’t get him into trouble by being eaten by a lion so I sat still and just enjoyed watching this magnificent creature in his natural element. It was truly breath-taking. Sadly the sun was quickly going down and with it the opportunity to take more pictures. Oh well, all in all it was a successful day on safari.
Well here is the concrete proof that I got as up close and personal with an actual lion as possible! I am truly thankful to the guides who accompanied us on the bush walk with the lions. At the start of our walk they happily took possession of our cameras and clicked away throughout the walk capturing photos that are truly once in a life time. And in my case, proof that I lived out my dream which I needed to show to Lawrence, Mr. Dingwa and Buche to actually prove that I did what I said I was going to do!
We headed out on the Lion Bush Walk at about 4:30 pm and after walking into the game park a little distance were joined by our two lion companions, one year old brother and sister.
Lions are legendary nocturnal creatures who spend the better part of the day sleeping and resting up for their night hunting activities. Like most inhabitants of Africa they seem to mind the heat and spend the daylight hours in lazy mode. This tendency to nap was extremely obvious with this pair. As the sun was still shining hot and brightly it took a while for my new friends to manage to much else rather than take rest breaks.
Once they joined us, the guides gave us ample opportunity to meet and greet while they took photos for us. I have to warn you at this point that I am lucky enough to have a significant number of photos which I am going to include here. This was a dream come true for me and these pictures are priceless so I am eager and proud to show them off. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Our initial meet and greet:
We were told that lions do this when it is hot to regulate their body temperature but I think that this guy just wanted to capture my heart.
Guess who couldn’t resist a rub???? with the guides permission although it was obvious that no one had ever asked to do this before, I wonder why not?
Who gets to rub the tummy of a year old lion????????? ME
I told they liked to nap
We didn’t make it very far when it was time for another rest!
Until it is nap time again!
Fortunately the sun was quickly going down so natural instincts started to kick in and we were off and running, well sort of :
As darkness fell my two friends natural instincts certainly became apparent and it was soon time for us to part company before I became supper.
All I can say is that as you can tell by the pictures that I had a once in a life time opportunity and I don’t know anyone else who got to spend such quality time with these amazing creatures. Who knows since I have been invited back to Lawrence’s parents I just may get an chance to go exploring the bush with my new sweetie when he is even bigger and more mature…now that could be fun as well as dangerous.
My lion adventures started with the educational tour of the Lion breeding program at Antelope Park. The African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) is one of the world’s leading conservation programs to help save the African lion from extinction. This program is dedicated to the facilitation and promotion of sound conservation and management plans for the African lion. It takes a responsible development approach to saving and revitalizing the species while also providing substantial social, cultural, ecological and economic benefits.
The program’s primary focus is the breeding of lions and a four stage release program that acclimatizes the lions through 4 stages to the ultimate goal of release back into the wild. The lions for the initial breeding program produce cubs that are removed from their mothers at the age of three weeks old. The purpose of this is so the cubs are brought up to respect their human handlers. It is this fact that made my walk in the bush with them possible but more about that later.
The program also does research into the effects of FIV (feline Immuno Deficiency Virus, the equivalent of HIV in lions). During my tour I was told that the program had successfully produced FIV-free cubs born from lions who are both infected with FIV. While there is no known cure for FIV research for treatment and prevention is on-going at Antelope Park through the ALERT program.
My educational tour included the opportunity to get as up close and personal with adult lions as you can get. I am happy to admit that while visiting the adult lions enclosures, I was the only one who held my ground at fence, not running quickly away when a somewhat cranky male lion sought to assert his authority.
This picture was taken just before Poppa Lion decided to rush the fence to assert his dominance. Let’s just say that I was close enough to him to smell his rather stinky breathe but loved every moment of it.
Following my personal tour of the adult facilities, it was back to the main center where I had to participate in a twenty minute lecture before heading out on the Lion Bush Walk.
The lecture included more information on the release program which is comprised of four stages as I mentioned. The first phase is the breeding program and removal of cubs from their mothers at three weeks old. The next stage is introducing the lion cubs to the bush and hunting environment. Once they are about six months old they are ready to be taken out into the bush twice a day for the development of their hunting instincts. These are the lions that participate in the bush walks with humans up until they are about 18 to 20 months old.
The purpose of the bush walks are for them to gain exposure, confidence and killer instincts so that they can make their own kills for food rather than be dependent on feeding by their human handlers. The bush walk takes place in an actual Savannah that is inhibited by all of the game that one would normally encounter. Here the lions have the opportunity to learn and practice their natural killer instincts…the guides are along to ensure that the accompanying humans don’t become the prey!
Once these lion cubs mature and become proficient hunters they are then released into Stage 3 of the program. This involves moving them to a new enclosure where they will no longer have any contact with humans. The enclosure is large and contains a variety of species so that the lions can continue to hone their hunting skills. This program is extremely expensive as we were told that a single zebra or wildebeest costs approximately $1,000 dollars and the lions often kill at the rate of one or two per day.
As the lions mature and mate new offspring enter the cycle which have no human exposure. As the hunting skill level increases, other natural predators and scavengers are introduced to the environment to provide competition to the lions. The goal is to make them totally self-sufficient within an environment that replicates the wild. Cubs who grow up and mature in this stage will then be ready to be released into the wild ensuring that this species will no longer face possible extinction.
The program will take many years to complete even one full cycle and release program and as I mentioned extremely costly to undertake. However, it is the African lions best chance at survival in their native environment.
In preparation for the bush walk we were given the following instructions:
Never get too low to the ground with the lions. You need to keep your eye level above theirs in order to establish dominance.
Never stray or wander away from the group as you will find yourself being stalked as prey!
Always carry a large stick which can be used to distract the lions if they are attacking one of the humans on the bush walk!
If the lion jumps on you don’t panic, the guides are trained to get them off of you but be prepared to suffer some heavy gashes from their paws or jaws!
Never run from a lion cause that just makes it fun for them to take you down!
As my friend and former Veterans Affairs Canada work colleague Andrew McAulay would say, someone had better warn Zimbabwe that Cheryl is about to land because it is never going to be the same ever again!
The presents are bought, money exchanged, all I have to do is finishing packing (Tanyala is helping me chose suitable clothing) and wait for Lawrence to pick me up early this afternoon then we hit the road. i have been told by Lawrence that I will actually get to have my turn driving the Mercedes. Even Buche was jealous! He figured that I would make good time driving in that nice machine as he calls it. Plus if I am driving I can stop where ever I want to, poor Lawrence has so much to learn about women but I am teaching him slowly but surely. By the time I am finished with him some lovely Zimbabwean beauty going to have the perfect man, right Lawrence?
Of course, I am unbelievably excited about the trip for many reasons. However, I am not sure that the Dingwa household will ever be the same again. We will see after the weekend if they will ever open their doors to a crazy woman from Canada ever again 🙂 Thankfully I got most of my misbehaving out of my system last weekend. I should be able to practice some decorum and control but no doubt I will have my moments too. Hopefully they will be out of sight and hearing of the Dingwas.
We are booked for the day at Antelope Park on Sunday so that I can play with the lions and accompany them on a bush walk, yippee! Hopefully I won’t get eaten or if I do that Lawrence will remain calm and take some great photos. There would be no better way for me to go! But alas, I have promised Buche that I would back so being eating by a lion is not an option for this trip. Perhaps another time.
So everyone have a great weekend! I promise that I will return next week with wonderful stories to tell.
Jetske sent this picture to me this morning just to make me insanely jealous. Quite frankly, I just want to be rolling around playing with them and having a good old snuggle with one in my lap 🙂
Jetske is currently in South Africa visiting with her family. While there she stays with her sister and her husband who own and run the Moreson Ranch http://www.moresonranch.co.za/. This spectacular ranch offers lots of activities including a Lion Camp, where you can get up close to lion cubs.
You can bet that there is no way possible that I am ever going to leave Sub-Sahara Africa without cuddling a lion, even if it is a baby!
Buche and Lawrence, I don’t care how dangerous you think it is….I am doing it one way or another!