One girl and her cheetah


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Africa » South Africa » Gauteng
August 16th 2009
Published: November 1st 2009
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It was my last day working at the Lion Park today. Since I spoke to Carolina on behalf of the rest of the group we have arranged a later pick-up tomorrow so we can have more time with the cubs, but today was our last day of work.
I set of to the enclosures first thing this morning. The smell of lion poo in the morning is not pleasant and I have also noticed it is particularly bad if they've had fresh meat the day before... which they did yesterday. I hurried around the enclosure trying not to breathe. The cubs are quite filthy, which makes me wonde rif the staff ever have to give them a bath. A particularly filthy cub crawled onto my shoes and set about chewing my laces. I managed to disentangle myself from the cubs and did a bit of litter picking in the near area. I was glad to notice Georgina looking much happier. She had finally moved away from her old pen and was staying by the wooden fence watching everything that was going on, Purdy standing beside her. Gambit soon came to join them and it was lovely to see the whole family together. I kept an eye on them throughout the day and the parents rarely left Georgina's side.
I didn't have an early shift so I spent the first part of my day indulging in cub play. The cubs were split up as usual for the visitors, so even though I was limited to playing in the enclosure which normally houses the older cubs some of the little ones were in there too. Chris and Jen joined me and we froliked with the cubs and took more photos (well one never can have too many pictures of cute lion cubs!) As we were sitting there a member of staff yelled though to us that we had to meet at reception at 3pm and bring our cameras as there was a surprise for us! Wondering what was going on we agreed to be there and said we'd pass the message on to the other volunteers.
While I was sitting crossed legged on the ground one of the cubs came and flopped on me and promptly went back to sleep. The three of us sat chatting while visitors took pictures of us being pillows for the sleepy cubs. When my cub woke up and wandered off I decided to pull up another one for a photo. This cub was less than pleased at being disturbed and evidently didn't care to have his picture taken. He looked grumpily at the camera and then turned round and bit me on the arm. The bite has made me quite certain I never want to end up eaten by lions. For one thing they don't bite, they just sort of grab and hold with their teeth, and would probably literally rip a person apart. I really struggled to get the cub off me. His teeth pressed into my upper arm with incredible pressure and even when I put my hand in his mouth and tried to pull his teeth away he kept hold. I finally managed to pull him off and offered an apology for being too entusiastic about cub photos, but he merely sniffed and sauntered off. The cub hadn't broken the skin but my arm has been left with a deep dent in it.
Since all the volunteers were expected to go on the 'Big Feed' game drive at 11.30 I ran back to camp to change. I have never before been in a job where I have to change clothes after only an hour of work, but today I was so filthy it was unavoidable. I also had to finally throw my trainers into the washing machine as they smelt very strongly of lion poo, so much so the smell followed me wherever I walked.
Back up at the lion park we found the safari trucks ready to leave. The volunteers all gathered together and clambered into a truck. We were feeling very pleased with ourselves for getting tot eh trucks early and getting better seats than last time and when the staff appeared we demanded that there be a volunteers only truck as it would be far more fun. We messed around in the truck and got some group photos while we waited for the trucks to leave. When it got to 11.30 we were all told to get out and we stood watching as the tourists climbed in and took all the seats! The staff made a great effort to fit all the volunteers back into the trucks. I ended up sitting with Emily in the front of one next to the driver. We set off through the antelope camp George's familiar lecture sounded muffled behind us. Our driver Nadien kept yelling at him to hurry things along as we were already late leaving. We drove on only to have another hold up. Purdy decided to take a stroll down the middle of the road directly in the way of the truck. We soon had a traffic jam of several tourist cars and we all crawled along behind the giraffe who kept looking back over her shoulder to see how annoyed we were getting. I swear she was doing it deliberatly. Eventually we drove into the lion camp although I was disappointed to find that the lions already had their food, several had dragged the meat out of sight and I did not have a good view for taking pictures at all. Emily and I contented ourselves with chatting and talking to Nadien about her work at the lion park. As we drove through the white lion camp one of the lionesses came up to the truck and actually tried to put her head through the window to say hello.
We returned to the park and after checking Jen was covering our giraffe shift went for lunch back at camp, and put my clothes (and shoes!) out to dry. While I was down at the camp the new volunteers arrived. I said 'hi' to Mike and Carolina and confirmed our pick up time with Mike for tomorrow. The new volunteers are less of a mix than we are. They are all women, all look to be in their mid-20s to mid-30s and judging from the accents are all either English or American. They're getting the tourist tents we had the first night and will then move into ours once we've left. I spoke briefly to a couple of them then returned to the park where Jen and I sat with a few stray volunteers chatting and waiting for 3pm, getting quite excited as there was a rumour that our treat had something to do with meeting the cheetahs! The staff were supposed to take over our shifts at 3, so once someone had appeared to cover for me I handed over the money and tickets and joined the others who were gathering at the front of the main building. We were told to wait for Alex to fetch us and when we asked if the rumour was true the staff rolled their eyes and said it never takes long for that information to get out, but we had to pretend we didn't know as Alex still thought he was giving us a surprise. Bursting with excitement now we knew we were definitely going to get to meet the cheetahs we impatiently waited for Alex to appear. He arrived and led us to the car park at the back. We climbed into the back of an open truck and bumped down the road. Elias grinned as we passed his gate all clinging onto the back of the open vehicle and looking very excited. We bumped down the dirt track and stopped by a small hut where Alex got out. He soon returned ... with a bucket of neat little pieces of meat, and two great slabs of bloody flesh with the hair still attached. He flung all this into the back and we all shifted our positions, trying not to end up sitting on the meat. We drove on, bouncing along the dusty track with the smell of fresh meat wafting on the breeze, and soon pulled up back at the car park and piled out. Fervently hoping our treat hadn't simply being going to fetch meat we watched as Alex attached a large trailer to the back of the truck. Then we all piled back in and retraced our previous route waving at Elias and the tourist cars as we went past. We drove down the short route through the antelope camp and arrived at the animal enclosures. We drove past the hyena camp and pulled up beside the cheetah camp.
Alex got out, opened the trailer and instructed us to stand in two lines facing each other, covering the space between the open trailer and the door to the enclosure. The two cheetahs ran up and Alex fed them pieces of meat, eventually seperating them so one chased a piece of meat back into the enclosure and the other walked up to the door and stepped out. We stood there as the cheetah walked out of the enclosure, stopped to sniff at us and then followed Alex's flung pieces of meat into the trailer. He shut the door and we drove off once more, this time with a cheetah in the back. We drove to the far side of the antelope camp and all clambered out. A tourist car was slowly driving past and stopped to watch the large group of volunteers. Alex opened the door and Shitani, the cheetah, looked out. She jumped down and stalked around looking at us, and sniffing at the trailer. The tourists meanwhile were craning out of their car trying to see what we were doing. Alex couldn't get Shitani to follow us so put a lead on her and led her across the road. I could practically hear the tourists' jaws dropping as an adult cheetah stalked across the road and the large group of volunteers trailed after her. Yes, we're just out walking our cheetah!
We strolled along the path and picked our way through the long grass while I briefly regretted the soggy state of my shoes back at camp and decided flipflops are not the most practical footwear for walking cheetahs. As soon as we were away from the road Alex took the lead off Shitani and she was free to walk alongside us. We stopped in a clearing to take some photos. Shitani was quite happy to sit and pose as long as Alex kept throwing bits of meat for her. It also meant that most of our pictures have the cheetah nose to the ground munching on another bloody snack!
We set off again and it was amazing to just be strolling in the countryside with a cheetah running along beside us like a well trained dog! We put Shitani back on the lead as we got closer to the road. She was eyeing up one of the tourist cars and Alex wanted to stop her jumping up on the roof as it's her favourite spot. We walked back to our trailer and Alex let Shintani climb up on the roof of his battered old truck and then had trouble convincing her to come back down and get into the trailer. We drove back to the cheetah enclosure, perching on the edge of the truck and warily watching the large slabs of meat which on arrival Alex had moved out of the cheetah's reach on top of the trailer and were now sliding around. We didn't fancy being knocked out by large pieces of meat flying through the air!
We dropped Shitani off back at home and then drove back up to walk on the wild side for a second visit. Alex warned us not to put our fingers to the cages as the lions might decide to take our fingers off. Unable to decide whether Alex was being overly dramatic or whether we should hit Victor for not being more concerned with our safety yesterday we kept our hands to ourselves this time, although the animals still ran up to the front of their enclosures and rubbed their heads against the wire.
Alex was great fun to be around and told us lots of stories about his days working in the circus, including a time in Russia when the police demanded to search the trailer and ended up with several elephants standing on the road. Asking if they liked watermelons the policeman aquired several from a nearby street seller and the elephants happily mashed their way through the melons in the middle of the road. Alex pulled out his bucket of meat pieces and fed his lions even encouraging one of the lions to rear to his full height for a piece of meat!
We finally trailed back to camp as we'd already missed the end of the day at the lion park. Back at camp we cleaned ourselves up for our final party and walked back up to the lion park (quite difficult in slippers or high heels!) We walked to the boma area at the back and found drinks and snacks ready inside and a braii starting outside. The new volunteers had joined us and we got to know each other while we waited to be told the barbecue was ready. A lot of the staff came to join us and we played music and loaded our plates at the barbecue and stood chatting around the open fire outside. The new volunteers left early, obviously more affected by the altitude than the rest of us, and eager to be up early for their duties in the morning. The rest of us stayed behind, pumped up the music and started dancing. The dancing slowly moved outside and ended with us all prancing around the fire under the stars which was a lot of fun. It was past midnight when we finally started to walk back. I was very excited to see the Aardwolf up and about. I've only reslly noticed him once before and he was fast asleep. However as we walked past the nocturnal creature was wide awake and running around his enclosure, crazy mohican style hair bouncing and he raced up and down. We stopped to watch him and the other animals for a while and then linked arms and stumbled over the ueven ground of the car park and walked over the cattle grid (no easy feat in party shoes in the dark!) back to camp.


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8th November 2009

To be young, and doing the things you do!
Can't imagine myself doing the things you do.....complete with cub bites. Yay! I'd faint as soon as they even open their mouths. ;-) Happy for you, doing what you do. And thanks for letting us travel with you through your blogs. It's the only way for some of us. sob.
25th November 2010
Me and Shitani

Oh my god this is such an amazing picture!
3rd December 2010

Lovely
I am in love with your pictures. I love animals. Very interesting experience. I want to do that. Love, from Argentina. Graciela.

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