March 17, 2006

You must be this tall to pet the lion

The excitement of seeing a cheetah 100 feet away behind a bush has nothing on petting one on the head after watching it saunter out of your kitchen.

We had spent 4 days in the Serengeti and saw herds of elephants, zebras, impalas and more from safety of the car. We almost decided not to go to the Tshukudu private wildlife preserve, as we were headed to the Kruger National Park the next day. But we were persuaded, and we are so glad that we went!

Private game reserves, in contrast to government run parks, breed animals and are involved in animal conservation. Tshukudu focuses on leopards, cheetahs, and lions, and because it is situated right next to Kruger, has all the other animals randomly wandering through their reserve. When we drove through on an evening drive, one elephant came right up to the truck, and tried to take my water bottle! I got a first hand smack with an elephant trunk. Who knew it was so hairy?

The animals are a mixture of wild and those raised by humans. The tame ones are used for breeding, and then the cubs are sent to re-populate parks in other parts of Africa, or to zoos. The tame ones must be kept in captivity, since they have no fear of humans and could become a nuisance or threat if released. We walked into a large fenced enclosure with an adult male lion and several lionesses, and were treated to the back and forth roaring of lions. Standing 3 feet from the lions, the power of the vibrations resonated deep in my chest, and left me humble.

We had the opportunity to walk with a young male lion, pet a cheetah and some leopards, and play with lion cubs. Even the cubs are the size of a large dog, with enormous paws, so it made me a little nervous, even though the guides were very comfortable with roughing it with them.

We had two kids in our group, and they had to stay in the car while the adults could get closer to the animals. Evidently even tamed animals see little kids as prey, and we literally watched the leopard’s eyes come into sharp focus whenever one of the kids moved.

I made the mistake of squatting down to get a photo of the lion cub, when suddenly his eyes zeroed in on me, then he was right in front of me and his head came within 6 inches of my face. The ranger on my right quickly pulled me back up, and just as fast, the lion lost interest.

Good to know I am too big to be seen as easy prey. :)

1 Comment

  1. Ohh, this is also on my to-do list. Very exciting!

    Comment by Ken — March 17, 2006 @ 2:20 pm

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