Port Elizabeth, South Africa
I volunteered for two months in the South African Lion Park just outside Port Elizabeth in March, 2011. The park specializes in the rehabilitation and breeding of different endangered wildlife species. The park focuses most of its efforts on expanding the White Lion population. White lions are now extinct from nature and only exist in wildlife centers such as this. The park has 46 lions that, someday, will be reintroduced back into nature.
During my GoEco volunteer program I was in charge of nine lions of varying ages. I took care of cubs just a few weeks old as well as older cubs, up to eleven months of age. Most of my days were spent with the lions, though there are a ton more animals in the park.
My daily routine involved cleaning the cages, changing their water, preparing their food, monitoring their behavior, and walking the lions around the park recreation area twice a day.
At first, my relationship with the lions was not as affectionate as displayed in the video below. The cubs were suspicious of me; furthermore, I was nervous in their company. The lions were not familiar with me.
They could sense my fear and responded by jumping and biting me. However, as time passed, we got to know each other and a truly miraculous friendship evolved. Everyday we felt closer and closer to one another. After a mere two weeks, I realized that they had accepted me as one of their own. Every morning they’d eagerly greet me and compete for my attention. I found myself allowing the lions to come very close to me as opposed to pushing them away as I might have done before.
We grew to trust one another and I no longer felt nervous in their company; They would even rest their heads in my lap as they dozed off for a nap in the sun.
Likewise, there were a few days when I used to come to the pen and just fall asleep, cuddling with cubs for an afternoon nap. I never imagined I would sleep on a lion’s chest!
After a few weeks, I went for a ten day trip to Capetown. I couldn’t believe attached to the lions I had become!
What you see in the video is the welcome I received from the lions when I returned from Capetown. Enjoy.