Arriving at The Lion park

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August 7th 2009
Published: September 27th 2009
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Today I finally arrived at the Lion Park, the original purpose for this whole, now rather extended, trip. I can't believe I have finally made it! I got up early, double checked all my documents and travel plans and dragged my rucksack to reception to await my taxi. I got to the airport to meet the rest of the group, but not seeing anyone else, sat down to wait...and wait. When it got to 9 'o' clock I decided to phone one of my contact numbers as I was starting to wonder why no-one else was at the airport. I was informed that plans had changed and the meeting time was now 11am and hadn't I got the email? Obviously not! I wasn't too happy about being abandoned at the airport for two hours but in the end it was quite enjoyable. I found an internet cafe and then curled up in a plastic chair with a book. After a while I noticed the distinctive bright blue company t-shirt and hurried towards the girl waving my own toothpaste stained shirt at her. (I didn't realise we were supposed to wear them to identify ourselves and have unfortunately been using it as a nightshirt for quite some time!)
We were soon joined by the other two volunteers, a couple from America, and our driver Mike, and the five of us finally headed out of the airport and set off for the Lion Park, filling the journey time with excited conversation as Mike told us about the project and what previous volunteers have done and what we may get to see and do while we're here.
We finally arrived and drove through the main gate with a carving of a roaring lion's head welcoming us to the Lion Park. We drove down to our tented camp area and were met by Carolina, our representative and project co-ordinator. Since we are overlapping with the previous volunteers for one night there aren't any of the volunteer tents available and we have been given an upgrade and will be spending the first night in one of the guest tents. The four of us dumped our bags, said goodbye to Mike and followed Carolina for a quick tour of the park, although we will be having our full induction tomorrow. It's been nice to see the place and get our bearings a bit.
The Lion Park was first established in November 1966 by the world famous Chipperfields Circus and was taken over by the current management in 1999. It covers around 208 hectares and each of the individual lion camps are between 3 and 5 hectares.
The park has a long-term relationship with the Endangered Wildlife Trust's 'Wildlife Biological Resource Centre', which is also part of the National Research Foundation. This project has enabled the park to test all the lions for FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus), TB and other cat related diseases. The Lion park is involved with eco-tourism and conservation, and is a member of PAAZAB (Pan African Association of Zoological and Aquaria Gardens) and animals bred at the lion park will only be sold to other members of this organisation, ensuring they all go to good homes that subscribe to the same ethics and code of conduct with regard to the animals.
We didn't get to visit the cubs but I comforted myself with the thought there will be numerous opportunities to do so over the next week and a half. We met a few of the other volunteers as we were wandering through the shop. Although many are leaving tomorrow there are some who are staying on and will be working with us too. We got lunch for oursleves in the restaurant. As volunteers we get a nice 20% discount off all food and souvenirs. We had to set up a tab with the staff and basically serve ourselves by placing our orders directly at the kitchen and collecting our food from there. We enjoyed our meal togther, watching tourists milling around us and introducing ourselves to any volunteers who walked past.
After lunch we were taken to a nearby supermarket to buy our food. Glenn got the front seat and us girls piled into the trailer and slid around in the back as we sped along the roads. Em-J and I grabbed a trolley between us and set off. We passed Glenn and Tara leisurely browsing the shelves by which point we'd already filled our trolley! We came back to the Lion park, claimed cupboard and fridge space in the kitchen, and settled into the tent to relax. Everyone apart from me fell aslepp, but I suppose I am the only one who didn't step off a plane first thing this morning.
For dinner we ate with all the other volunteers. there are about 20 of us tonight and I've given up trying to keep track of names and faces. We had a traditional African meal, meat stew or vegetable stew with pap, which is one of the most widely eaten foods in South Africa. It is a kind of maize porridge and is a staple in most people's diet. It's also bland and lumpy and made me wish for potatoes! It was a fun night though and after sitting around the camp fire chatting and eating our meal, we all retired to our tents after a good first day.


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