Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!!

June 15

Ok so no tigers or bears, but we did see lions and monkeys today.

I had been looking forward to our excursions to the Bush Babies Monkey Sanctuary and the Lion Park since I read about them in our guide books months ago and today we were finally going. Occasionally when you build an experience up in your mind it can be a bit of a let down when it finally occurs, but this day did not disappoint. We had planned to be at Bush Babies for the 10 AM tour, but when we awoke there was no power translating into no hot water and it was the coldest (probably 48-50 degrees) and windiest day since we arrived in South Africa. All these factors contributed to our lack of motivation to arise early from our warm beds.

At 10:10 we were out on the main road debating whether we could do the 11 AM Bush Babies tour and still make it to the Lion Park in time for our 13:30 game drive. After consulting both Google Maps and the NDrive we decided to live on the wild side and take the chance even though we would be cutting it close.

After booking our walking tour, we huddled in the car to stay warm, adorning ourselves with winter clothes(gloves,scarves, hats). He didn’t say, but I think Alex was regretting choosing shorts over jeans this morning.

Bush Babies Monkey Sanctuary is a forest rehabilitation center for domesticated monkeys and other primates. Many people in Africa still keep monkeys as pets; often train them to do chores around their homes. The problem with this arrangement is monkeys have a natural tendencies related to feces and pee smearing which is unsanitary for human living conditions. When monkeys/primates reach adolescents they become territorial (a natural tendency) and will begin to attack their owners, which is where Bush Babies comes in. When the monkeys are no longer cute and friendly most owners want to get rid of them, often by just killing them, so BB takes the primates and retrains them to live naturally in the wild.

Before beginning our tour the guide informed us that some of the monkeys might try to jump on people but to stay still as he scares the monkey away. BB tries to limit monkey and human physical contact because that is not a normal occurrence in their natural habitat.

Not more then 2 minutes into our walk the most adorable monkey appears with big brown eyes. He follows our group on the entire tour causing mischief several times. He particularly liked to pick at peoples shoes and once he tried to eat the bottom on the side of my cargo pants. Despite his generally ‘bad’ behavior he showed concern for the group. Just like a dog who goes bolting off ahead but always turns around to insure that their owner is fine and following behind this monkey would check that the whole group was moving along, that no one fell behind. On the last suspension bridge Alex went last in order record our journey, in front of me the monkey kept moving back and forth checking around me to insure Alex was still following.

Near the beginning of our walk I was admiring some monkeys when all of a sudden I felt something tightly grasp my jacket and cling to my back. I wanted to scream more from the shock then actual fear but I held back knowing it would make for a bad situation. The guide quickly came and scared the gray haired monkey away. However, no more then 5 minutes passed before I felt something grab and cling to me again.  The same monkey had once again found my back at a convenient location. Able to get higher and closer to my hair the monkey began pulling at my hair to ‘clean’ me.

The Bush Babies facility was well designed with wooden walk ways and bridges throughout the facility and an informative guide. We saw several varieties of monkeys, including howler, and lemurs. At one point a black and white lemur was within a foot or two of where Alex and I were standing. I had never seen a lemur up close before and I was surprised at how much of a badger looking face the animal had. BB was an exciting and interesting experience and I’m glad we didn’t miss out.

We arrived at the Lion Park with 30+ minutes to spare. The wind was stronger here because we were in a flat plain, no trees or mountains to block some of the force. It was made worse by the large gusts of wind pick up the dust and any other garbage on the ground.

There are two ways to do the lion park: (1) go on a game drive, in a caged open air truck or (2) drive your own car. We had quite a pee your pants adventure through a lion park in KwaZulu-Natal the last time we were in ZA so we opted to take the game drive. However with the current weather our warm car was looking like a more appealing option then an open air truck.

In the truck Alex and I huddled together, trying to keep my camera shooting hand warm so I would be ready to capture the beautiful lions. For the purpose of photography the truck turned out to be the better option because there were holes in the cage to put my camera through. In our own car we would have had to shoot through the glass of the windows.

We drove through three different lion areas. The first group of lions we came upon had one male lion with a long golden main and several females with cubs laying out enjoying the sunshine. The lions could have cared less that a stream of cars were driving by them, only moving to adjust their bodies for maximum sun exposure. At one point two of the cubs got up and started tugging at the main of male lion, but he didn’t seem to mind as he allowed them to play as he continued to rest. Moving along we came across the teenagers whose favorite pass time according to our guide is take license plates off cars. It was also where Alex and I saw our first white lion; they are more of an ivory white then a pure white like a Siberian tiger. All of the teenagers had been hand raised in captivity so they were very comfortable and curious about humans. One of the lionesses decided that we looked like an interesting group of people and began to walk in our direction, the sun gleaming off her golden back. When we reached the truck she immediately jumped up examining all of us inside and scratching her head against the side. It was amazing to be within a foot of this magnificent creature. The last group of lions were all females with one token male who had a dark brown main and deep gold color fur, very different from the male we had perviously seen. In addition to the lions we saw springbok, African wild dogs, hyenas, and zebra.

After the conclusion of our game drive we headed off to the area of the park I had been really excited to visit- Cub World. We waited in line for probably 20 minutes as groups went in and played/took photos with the lion cubs. I was hoping to be able to play with a white lion cub, but it was in the other cage that was not currently being utilized for hands on viewing. I did however get to see one through the fence. One thing that really frustrated me while waiting in line was the true stupidity of some of the visitors. The gentlemen controlling entry into the area clearly stated not to pick up to cubs and do not touch them on their heads because they will bite you. Repeatedly people would do exactly what they were told not to and it always resulted in the lion trying to attach them. I wanted to scream “these are animals people you can’t just do with them what you want and expect them to sit nicely!! You were told the rules, now follow them, don’t ruin it for the rest of us”. One lady, who had been on the game drive with us, had been told several times when the lioness approached to keep her hands inside the cage, however she wanted to “pet the kitty” and didn’t listen. The first thing she did upon entering the cub area was pick up one of the cubs for a picture. I know its wrong but I really wanted her to have her hand taken off as an exchange for her stupidity.

When we finally entered the cage it was delightful. In line I had taken notice and grown attached to one of the smallest still spotted cubs who wasn’t taking crap from anyone. When he got touched or picked up in a way he didn’t like he let the people know it. He was also the most playful; climbing on top of the bigger cubs and pulling on the other little ones tail. Inside I headed over to him and gave him a little back rub before he went scurrying off to climb on and tug at an older cub. There was a larger older cub sunning himself on a large rock, so Alex and I decided to go take some pictures of him, since he we had observed his mellow behavior in line. Well apparently he is chill unless he thinks there is something yummy in your pocket. The park had a lady taking photos of people with the lions that you could then purchase. Normal I think those things are a rip off but it was a decent price and it allowed for Alex and I to have a picture together. In the middle of the photo the sun bathing lion decided that the pocket on Alex’s safari jacket was a great chew toy. Soon it became less of a toy and more of a challenge as the velcro on the pocket began to pull apart and the lion got more aggressive towards the jacket. You might be thinking what was in Alex’s pocket? Food? The answer is No, the only thing in the pocket was our game drive tickets. Unsure of what to do Alex began to pull the jacket off of himself right as the man in charge came over to help him, for a split second the lion let go and we thought Alex was finally free, but the lion wasn’t going to let him go that easily. The lion grabbed and tugged hard, pulling Alex down against the rock. Finally after being smacked on the noise several times the lion released the jacket.   The lion must have smelled something on the jacket that no human could because prior to Alex sitting there the lion barely moved when people came next to him.
Out of the lion cub area we walked over to giraffe feeding area and had the opportunity to observe the exceptionally long dark tong reach for the pellets from a little girls hands. Our last stop was the cheetahs that paced back and forth with their eyes glued on what we only can guess was the lion cubs across the grass.

Left the park feeling that the day had been a wonderful success. So wonderful in fact that we started to think that maybe we should plan a trip to Kruger so we can see more lions in the wild.

Back at Elna’s for the night and trying to stay as warm as possible. Tomorrow we are in search of warmer clothes.

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