Elephant Walk And More Lions

Trip Start Jul 17, 2010
Trip End Sep 19, 2010

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Where I stayed
Antelope Park

Flag of Zimbabwe  ,
Thursday, August 19, 2010

It was a bit cold last night, even had to get the booster bag out. Hearing the roaring from the lions up on the hill during the night was fantastic… one would start, then a couple would answer, then several more until all 60+ lions were roaring away. The sound carries for miles, especially when the night is cold – sensational. The girls all went for the “elephant training” session in the morning while I had a sleep-in. The training session had them doing lots of
circus-like tricks, the pics and video looked pretty cool.

After that the elephants went off for a feed and short rest then we got picked up to go for a 90 min elephant back “game ride”. The idea was that we would get a lot closer to the animals in the reserve because we were on elephants and not in noisy cars but in the end we didn’t even get as close as what we had done on the Masai Mara. Saw the usual soft of game animals – kudu, zebra, hartebeest and more bloody impala. They are everywhere.

The elephants themselves were pretty cool. Behind me the elephant Lauren & Sally were on kept picking up presents to give to me – rocks, grass, sticks, dried poop etc. Their elephant at one stage decided that it wanted to eat part of one particular tree and while it was trying to reach it at the bottom of the tree nearly fell over. Don’t think the girls were expecting that lol. In the end it was pretty uneventful and a bit painful sitting on the elephant for 90 mins. With how you have to sit on it your arse goes numb and the circulation to your legs gets cut off, I was trying to shift around to get comfortable but it just didn’t happen.

Matt’s Travel Tip #434: Don’t do a 90 min elephant ride. 30 mins is enough.

The handler of my elephant, was pretty cool, chatted not only about the elephants and the park but about Zimbabwe in general, politics here and back in Australia (he asked me if the election had happened yet), and the way forward for Zimbabwe. He had the same opinion that a number of other people in Zimbabwe had – things were improving at the moment but if “certain changes” happened in the government then the pace of growth would increase rapidly. I took “certain changes” to mean no more Mugabe but people are still a bit dubious on saying things like that out loud.

The whole way through the walk we could see the fires just outside the park had flared up again and were hearing updates over the radio, including when then called for the local fire brigade to come and give them a hand because they were worried about the fires getting close to the lion enclosures. By the time we got back from the elephant walk they had the fires under control and people were coming back from the fire fighting.

Had a relax in the sun at the tables lake side after lunch and updated my diary while the girls enjoyed having a perve on the guys working there playing soccer. We watched some of the handlers have some trouble getting a group of 4 elephants to swim across the lake. The elephants were wanting to go around the lake and it took a lot of back and forth before they would go into the deeper water, eventually just the top of their heads and their trunks were sticking out of the water like snorkels.

Another lion walk was lined up at 16:00, this time with 16 month olds and with a much smaller group of people. This time the handlers were a lot stricter on what people were wearing and what they had with them. One guy had to go and change his shirt because of the colour, I could’ve have the camera hanging around my neck, I had to hold it and wrap the strap around my hand instead, other people had to put shoes on instead of thongs, etc.

These lions were so much bigger than the ones we walked with the day before. The male’s mane was starting to grow, their spots had faded a lot, and the females’ hunting instincts were starting to kick in - when they saw a herd of impala in the distance they were dying to go off and chase them, it took a lot of effort from the handlers to get them to stay with us lol. The walk followed the same pattern as the day before with a few photo stops and the lions playing with each other, although they did spend a bit of time watching us and the handlers like they wanted to pounce on us.

When we were approaching the lions to pose for photos we had to back off a few times because the lions were giving what they call a “naughty look” – paws spread, shoulders hunched, looking out the corner of their eyes – when they were ready to jump someone. They weren't going to eat us but their playing activities would end up with us getting some pretty serious cuts and scrapes that would require medical attention. The only bad thing about the walk was the annoying American couple, the kind that love to hear their own voices and will constant ask questions so they can hear it, no matter how stupid those questions are.

After the walk Fanuel took Loris & I up to the lion enclosures to check out the lions in the breeding program. It was starting to get dark when we were up there so the lions were starting to roar again – that was something pretty special to be in the middle of, you could feel the air pulsing as they all joined in. Fanuel showed us the females that are to be released into a stage 2 enclosure with the male of their choice, Milo. He walked straight up to the fence with seven adult lionesses behind it and stuck his hand straight in!!

Surprisingly none of the lionesses attacked him, instead one came up and licked his hand and rubbed her face and head against it. “My favourite girl” he said, apparently she was the first cub he had looked after when he started here. Milo was in the enclosure next door – the meanest lion in all of Africa was how Fanuel described him. Milo certainly scared the shit out of me when I was standing up to the fence and he lunged and jumped up against it trying to get to me, growling away. The adrenalin was still going when we got back to camp for dinner.

After dinner we paid for our activities at the office, which was where we saw that they sell rape for 50c, I found this greatly amusing until Gift said it was a vegetable like spinach. Sat around the campfire for a while before heading to bed.

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