My first day in Zimbabwe started at 5:45am with a fellow traveler, Michelle, calling my name through my tent. My alarm failed to go off, and we had a 6:30 pick-up to go walking with lions. After scurrying to get ready in the dark tent, we headed to the front of our campsite where a van came to collect us, and Lenard, our guide, took us to the park. This park was nothing much, a drive into the bush and a few small buildings for a bathroom, kitchen, and meeting area.
We went over a few guidelines while having coffee to warm us up, and signed our waivers, then before we knew it, he handed us sticks, which we were to put in the animals’ mouths if they turned back to look at us, and we were off. With a couple of men, and no guns might I add, we walked straight into the bush. Being that this was my first day in Africa, I wasn’t exactly prepared and my mind kept racing about what was lying within the bush. But, as soon as we came to a clearing and I saw the lions, all of that changed.
They were adorable and so sweet sitting up on their rock. There was a man watching them and another man on the lookout for any other animals that could approach. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to put my mind at ease.
As a group, we moved closer to the lions and then, one by one, we had the chance to approach them from behind and pet them. The men guided us on where to step and sit, while others took our pictures with the lions. The animals were so sweet and really paid no attention to us, they only got up to change positions or play with each other.
After getting to know the lions a little bit, it was time to walk with them through the bush. This sounded at least a little better to me than walking the bush on my own.
After walking with the six month old lions, we walked to another area of the bush where we met the one year old lions. They were clearly less interested in us, and only one allowed us to go near him and pet him. But, it was enough to fully appreciate the beauty of this animal.
What I loved about my lion encounter was that it felt more authentic than my experience with tigers in Thailand. These lions were out in the bush and ALERT, African Lion & Environmental Research Trust, works to rehabilitate and put the lions back into the wild. After they are a year, their contact with humans is limited in order to get them back to their natural state.
After my walk with the lions, I felt a better understanding for the animal and an appreciation for its beauty. And, during the rest of my time in Africa, when I would see a lion, I felt a better connection to the animal. I think that this encounter and experience was one of the best I had, and this was only the beginning of my time in Africa.