Lions are a symbol of Africa, something that invokes the thought of this beautiful continent like Mount Kilimanjaro or a herd of zebra running across the plains. Despite this, most Africans have never seen a lion (wild or captive). Which is why I felt so privileged to be volunteering at the Drankenstein Lion Park in the Western Cape of South Africa. Every lion in the facility was rescued from canned hunts or circuses (where they had been severely beaten and tortured for the enjoyment of people.) This is why Morgan and I wanted make an effort to help an organization that is doing so much… all for the lions.
Nothing reminds me of Africa like a lion’s roar. Powerful and deep, it is the voice of Africa’s king. It had been over a month since we last heard the distant roars from across the bush at a wildlife sanctuary when we first arrived in Africa, but we were promised upon arriving to the lion park that we would hear them every night. This was true and we did hear them at night primarily from Chippy the male that occupied the camp right beside our cabin. This was not the problem… but when we really heard them was in the morning. Starting at around 3:00 a.m. One of them would start a domino effect and with only one roar would ensue a chain reaction. Throughout the night we were awakened at random intervals by a sound that would have put fear into the bravest person’s heart had it been in a different setting, say for instance, in the wild. But Chippy and the many other lions were safely behind a fence so that everyone staying at the camp could feel nothing but enjoyment at the sound emitting only a hundred feet away.
Wake-up was a loose term and we could get up any time we wanted as long as we were ready by 9:00 a.m. I might have even decided to sleep in except that wake-up was really whatever time the lions decided they wanted to start vocalizing. It is not an easy task to sleep through a sound that can be heard from over 5 miles away.
Work here at the lion park included cleaning out the enclosures, helping with maintenance, taking out invasive plants, and also visitor monitoring which is the process of making sure visitors did not do something to provoke or annoy the lions. Cleaning enclosures was cool because we got a closer view of the lions from behind the fence, but by far the best experience was when we were able to go into the cage with the four juveniles rescued from of all places Romania. They were young, only about 7 months old but already the size of a large german shepherd. To walk around with a lion with no fence is awesome no matter how big they are. They were cautious, but not afraid and were always looking to see where we were in their territory.
Bad Boy and Shy boy were two males and defiantly the largest and most aggressive in the park. Even though they had been shifted, we were instructed to move fast and not make eye contact with them because both lions had a temper and would probably get pretty mad. They were aggressive, powerful and they knew this.
It was all really fun and we had a constant source of conversations with our volunteer coordinator… anything from funny pranks to movies like 300, Bad Boys, and Blood Diamond. Also, while digging holes and taking apart fences, we talked a lot about Africa and learned some more about tracking and animals in the bush as well as how to identify bushman artifacts that were thousands of years old.
If we were not working so close to the road while taking apart the fence it would have really seemed like the bush. We were on constant watch for Cape Cobras and Puff adders. Puff adders do not like to move even if you are about to step on them, but do give a loud puff. It is like the click of a land mine, if you hear it you had better make a pretty quick decision to deviate your step. With the infinite amounts of snake-bush all over the property we were very disappointed not to see any! We were also informed that we were the first volunteers to ever want to see snakes… let alone seek them out.
At night after we ate dinner, we usually would watch a movie on our computer or read. From our small cabin the lions roars became at points unrecognizable from the lion roars coming from the speakers on our computer while we watched the movie Ghost and the Darkness. After a week of working in close proximity to some of the most beautiful and powerful animals in the world it feels like a good end to our stay here in Africa.
After two months it is sad to leave the beautiful continent of large animals and rugged scenery. A place that at times feels like you are back on the food chain, like in Kruger park where you are instructed with much signage as to where you can and cannot exit your vehicle. Africa is a place that I will always remember and at some point will defiantly come back to. Two months is not enough time but I feel that we have seen a lot and experienced many great things.