Saturday, January 8, 2011

Lions in Antelope Park

Our next stop was Antelope Park. Now, I must admit, my first impression was “tourist trap” and in reality, it was designed to satisfy the tourist and part them from their ready cash. That said, I became impressed with what they are doing to support African wildlife, return animals to the wild, eliminate poaching, and educate people. Their lion program is their reason for existence. They hand raise lions that can be used in an extensive breeding program that is a part of a multi-step plan for releasing their offspring into the wild. They work to increase the genetic stock released in the wild as well as to increase the number of animals. One of the tours we took was the behind the scene program where they talked about the steps and what they were doing to ensure safe and successful releases-really fascinating.

Yeah…now for the fun part. To support the program, Antelope Park has tons of activities that you can participate in, yes indeed, for a fee. Their hallmark activity is “walk with the lions” and what a rush that is. Now, to be fair, you’re not going out there with a full grown lion – thank goodness.
They have young cubs, around 14 months or so, that walk with their handlers and, just incidentally, with a rather large group of people. We wandered around the African countryside, strolling with the cubs, meandering around (they do wander a bit), taking pictures and generally being awed. The two females were very social, allowing us to pose with them, pet them, and watch them play like great cats that they are. The male, however, held himself aloof from the proceedings, generally keeping to his own path separate from the rest of us. We periodically could catch him off in the bush, looking quite disdainful, head held high, nose in the air, eyes partially closed – great shots of him with his great mane just coming in.
Now, even though the lions were “tame”, we were warned not to wander off from the group. The lion’s stalking pattern is to find the odd animal, the one that is separate from the group. Every group that goes out for these walks includes a volunteer observer whose job it is to watch the animals, do they notice prey, do they start stalking it, periodically they’ve even made a kill on these walks. They actually want this to happen because it’s one of the steps in the release program – the animals have to learn to observe, notice and stalk prey. Obviously, it’s important NOT to be the only one standing there trying to get the perfect shot. 

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