Walk on the Wild Side

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August 15th 2009
Published: October 31st 2009
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I was back to the usual routine today after my trip away from the Lion Park yesterday. I set off for the early morning shift and got to see the cubs first thing today as I now have enclosure cleaning duty. Glenn, Tara and I quickly located the things we'd need for cleaning the enclosures in the hovel and set to work. I soon discovered that our cute little cubs are quite revolting creatures. We walked around the enclosures picking up the mess they'd made in the night while the cubs trailed along behind us and every so often lept onto the bin liner, or stuck their faces into our scoops to have a good sniff. I left Glenn scooping out the pools, a job that would be completely unecessary if the plugs weren't completely blocked up, and dragged my bin liner around the enclosures removing the trails of ostrich poo from where the public would be most likely to walk. The ostrich poo was quite a relief after the cubs, although when I moaned to Patricia she shrugged and said cheetahs smell worse than lions.
Straight after enclosures I had to go and supervise the public coming through Elias Gate. Since it's the weekend again we were expecting to be a bit busier than usual, but the first hour on the gate was relatively quiet. I was sitting in the hut waiting for the next car to come past when the top half of the door banged shut. I went out to investigate and found Purdy standing outside. I pushed the door open so I could see and she immediately started licking the top of the wooden door until it swung shut again. I wasted about 10 minutes fighting with the giraffe on whether the door should stay open or be closed and the next tourist who drove up found me giving a long explanation to Purdy why I needed both halves of the door fully open so I could see out.
An hour later Iris came to swap shift with me and I ran down to cub world before it got too busy. I only got around 15 minutes with the cubs before the staff wanted to open both of the enclosures to the public and then went back to camp. While I was sitting out on the decking I a commotion happening over by the giraffe pen. The staff were weilding long wooden poles and chasing the Georgina around. The poor little giraffe looked quite terrified the two adults who were both nearby were looking rather skittish. I assumed one of the adults had got into Georgina's pen but it all seemed a bit much just to seperate them. When I got back to the park I found that what had actually been happening was the staff were releasing Georgina into the main camp. Since Purdy had been getting in with her so frequently the staff decided to let georgina out a couple of weeks early and see how she fares with the other animals. The poor thing stayed standing just outside her old pen and Gambit came by to check on her.
My next shift was on cub world gate. As I walked there I noticed how busy the park had suddenly got. I found Em-J on cub world gate deep in conversation with a mother and her two daughters. The older girl was listening excitedly to Em-J's description of what we do in the lion park and when they left Em-J said they'd been talking to her for ages. I took over her post and within a few minutes the same family was back obviously eager to talk to another volunteer. They were a lovely family and the daughter was very disappointed to learn that at 12, she was too young to be a volunteer herself. I told her to wait a few years and decided not to pass on the rumour that the lion park will be closing soon.
The next person who came into cub world wasn't nearly as pleasant. A woman marched past me without even waving a ticket at me. When I called after her that I would need to see a ticket she turned round and said 'I don't need a ticket'. I started to politely explain that everyone had to show a ticket of some sort when she interrupted me with 'These are MY lions. I don't have to pay to see them' and she walked off. Not quite sure what to do I passed a message onto a member of staff who confirmed that yes, the owners of the lion park were visiting today. I stayed in my seat thinking a little odd that the woman hadn't bothered to explain to me personally, or that the staff hadn't passed a message around the volunteers to warn us. Still at least I wasn't the only one. I later found that Carmel had had a similar experience trying to sell giraffe feed to the owners.
At 4pm it was starting to get a little quieter and it was also time for me to leave my post and take a walk on the wild side. 'Walk on the Wild Side' is the name we have at the park for the enclosures where the performing animals are kept. The Lion Park has several trained animals who are used in wildlife documentaries and filming. Victor had agreed to drive up there and take any volunteers who weren't on shift. So Iris, Em-J, Chris, Jen, Carmel and myself set off. Em-J, Iris and I are the only ones who hadn't been before while Carmel had unbelievably managed to go every time the staff were running a trip that way.
We drove to the first enclosures where I got to see my first leopard. Uno, as the leopard is called, was evidently very pleased to have some company and sprang over to the fence rubbing himself up against the wire mesh as soon as he saw us. It was amazing to see such a magnificent animal behaving like, well a fireside tabby. He rubbed his face against the fence and stared at us with greenish-yellow eyes. Although only the animals' individual trainers are allowed in with them Uno was perfectly amenable to letting us pet him through the wire fencing. I put my hand up against the fence and felt him brush his head against me, and then turn and lick my hand. I never would have thought I'd be licked by a leopard!
Next to Uno we met a white lion and lioness who were less sociable than their neighbour and stayed sitting in the middle of their enclosure. Victor was keen to move us on but I had to run back for a last lok at Uno before we drove a little further on to meet some more lions. The next pair of lions were brown. The male his called Thunder and the female Rain. Thunder spent most of his time lying flat on his side - obviously being a great star is exhausting. Rain came right up to the fencing rubbing up against it and trying to nuzzle at our hands. Eventually she realised we weren't coming through the fencing and sat down just inside the gate so close we could slip our hands through the holes and stroke her. The enclosures further up contain the youngsters, a mix of young brown and white lions have been handreared and not only are used to people's company but seem to miss it too. They greeted us enthusiastically, running around each other beside the fence. I noticed they were also considerably dirtier than the older lions and one 'white' lion was completely covered in dirt. Either they are going for the fashionably scruffy look or else they just can't afford better stylists like the top stars!
We spent a while with the young lions but eventually were shooed back into the truck and back to the lion park, with the promise that we can probably come again before we all leave.
We were all due to go out tonight. Carolina had booked us a table at one of her favourite restaurants in Johannesburg. Back at camp we all ran around trying to pull restaurant appropriate clothes out of rucksacks and running to the showers to try and wash the scent of lions of ourselves. Eventually we deemed oursleves presentable and at 7pm our taxi arrived. Since taxis are quite expensive and the restaurant is a fair distance from the lion park we opted to share one taxi... between 11 people plus the driver! I squeezed into the back with some of the other girls. We thought we'd start by fitting as many of us on the back seat as possible and when Carolina came and peered into the darkness she counted six shapes squeezed onto the far back seat! Iris, Em-J, Carmel, Emily, Nicole and I fit in the small space while the others took the middle back seat and Carolina got the front so she could give directions. We managed to keep our positions until we stopped at a cashpoint. When we all clambered back into the taxi Nicole and Emily decided to make life easier by crawling into the open boot and that was how we continued all the way into Johannesburg! We finally arrived at Moyos restaurant after a ridiculously long drive for the sake of food. I had to agree that the restaurant was fun though. It has great seating and when we arrived I saw couples lounged on sofas and wrapped in blankets eating off their laps. We got a more traditional table and chair arrangement and opted for the buffet outside. We had live music and a woman who came round each table to do face painting (obviously this was the whole appeal of coming so far from the lion park!) We had a great meal which was a lot of fun and several people made use of the open market shop we passed though on the way and got a few souvenirs too. When it got really late we all walked back to our waiting taxi and squeezed in. We got Carolina to take a photo of us all squeezed in the taxi together... well I say one photo. It was one photo on each camera which caused a lot of hilarity as the driver just set off while Carolina clicked away, blinding us all with the flashes, and we wiggled and giggled and groaned everytime another person pulled out their camera. As we drove into the lion park we saw Gambit up by the main entrance and when we got back to camp we found Purdy trying to break in again. So we're not hugely impressed by their parenting skills. Poor little Goergina is out on her own for the first time and her parents are occupied at opposite ends of the park! We made it back to camp, washed our face paints off and crawled into bed. It's the first late night we've had here and we're obviously not coping with staying up late. Whether it's all the fresh air and chasing lion cubs we do, or just due to the altitude we're usually in bed by 10pm at the latest!

Additional photos below
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1st November 2009

I still can't decide which is my favourite cub! All to cute and chubby. Just like boisterous puppies.

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