Lions are now on the list of animals that are 'of concern' at their loss of numbers. "Walking with Lions" is a programme to try and help this situation. Antelope Park hopes to be able to rear lions, and then to set them free in areas in Africa where the numbers of lions are dangerously low.Wildlife in Zimbabwe is being systematically slaughtered at this moment in time, as the people have nothing to eat due to their President. So, in fact, no animal is safe there. However, I decided at the end of last year to go out to help and I spent the month of February at Antelope Park. It was my job as a volunteer to be with the young lion cubs, so that they got used to humans. Tourists come over and pay lots of the mighty dollars to be able to go out and "Walk with Lions". As soon as the cubs are adjusted to having lots of people around them they would then go out in groups with clients. When I was at Antelope Park there were cubs of 3 weeks, 5 weeks, 3 months and 6 months. It is a most wonderful experience to be out in the African bush walking with lions.
Money earned from clients is used for the upkeep of the Park, Lions, and staff. A great number of people working there are volunteers, and it costs a great deal of money for the privilege of "Working with Lions" There are many locals who work there, who get fed and clothed and earn wages. The Handlers, all African, know the lions so well, and it is a joy to see the cubs rushing up to them, nuzzling their knees and rubbing against their legs asking for attention. They talk to the lions, as we do to our dogs, and demand and get respect from the lions.
Once the cubs grow up and become too dangerous to continue to go on their walks, they are still housed and fed, and we volunteers prepare their food, clean their enclosures, and a vet is on standby if any thing needs attention.At night we go out once a week with them. This is to train them to hunt for themselves. They run, well lumber, behind the jeep, and if they see movement of other game or smell something they run off on the hunt, and we need to rush after them, in the jeep of course. Once they catch something and have eaten their fill, we then drive them, well they follow our jeep, back to their enclosures for the rest of the night. A very exciting part of our job at Antelope Park.
As soon as they are considered able to look after themselves for food, then they become available to be sent to places where lions are few and far between. This can be to anywhere. There is a breeding programme and two male lions of different genes sire the best of the females, if she so wishes of course. Cubs are born and it is deemed that as fathers don't care much about their offspring, and their Mum's are used to, if they are living in the real African bush, their babies not surviving all that well, that taking the cubs away from their mums when quite young is not that damaging to them. Volunteers get to help feed these small cubs from when they are just over 3 weeks old, when they need feeds every two hours. They need rough and tumble and stroking and given lots of love - an oh so easy job. However they have no idea how sharp their little teeth are, and they can give you quite a scratch, as can their nails. A small tap on the nose is required when they 'play' with their teeth.
I was, and am still, torn in my emotions over this, but maybe some lions not being totally free to enable others to become totally free, is worth all the work involved in the breeding, caring and "Working with Lions".