The news of Cecil the Lion has been a controversial one over a couple of weeks now. To think that efforts being made by several organisations and groups in conserving wild animals are neglected by sheer drive to achieve trophies or some other unworthy title is a sad one. I never saw Cecil the lion. I didn’t have the opportunity to visit Hwange national park where he led his pride but hearing news of his death still made me feel like I had an encounter with him.
But I did have an encounter with two cubs in Victoria Falls. One that I didn’t anticipate and I believe will linger in my memory for years to come.
It was our last day in Victoria Falls and I had risen early to have a sunrise view of the Falls from the hotel rooftop (Yes! I take pleasure in minimal things). Some of my group members had made reservations for the Lion walk the day before but I had opted out; I wasn’t keen on going. I had planned to spend the rest of the morning in my room after my sunrise view. I was on my way to my room when I passed them by the lobby and they decided to lure me to the Lion’s den
“You should come with us and help us take some pictures.” They said. Without much ado, I agreed and went to fetch my Camera.
The morning was a cold one as the bus jeered into the wild on red stony road. The guide had told us earlier for the rocky ride but being African myself, that was much of a challenge for me.
Arriving at the Lion Encounter office, we were give a brief introduction about the organisation and their efforts in increasing the dwindling population of Lions. There are said to be about 20,000 lions left in Africa. This figure keeps reducing as a result of poaching and other causes of death are inherent factors such as diseases. Lion encounter was set up in a bid to increase the population. They raise some of the funds used for their projects through the Lion walks. Volunteers are also welcomed to help assist the staff in their activities.
After the briefing about lion encounter, we were given indemnity forms to sign (Yeah they have to protect themselves. I’d do the same). Then they told us the rules and gave us walking sticks. The stick was to be used to distract the Lions in case they intend to misbehave. Then we went ahead to meet the Lions.
The walk was going t be for about an hour according to the guide Jabulani. We were nine in the group and each of us took turns in walking with the lions. The male Phezulu was the calmer one and more focused in making the walk a memorable one while the female Pendo was getting in tune with her natural instincts. She kept peering into bushes and shrubs around sniffing and digging, trying to find something that was not. She was restless! As each person took his or her turn walking with the lions, we had our photos taken some people (they looked random…No offense) whom we handed our cameras and phones to whenever it was our turn. There were about seven women from different countries who were volunteering at the time who joined us in walking with the Lions as well. A video was also recorded during the walk.
I was a little nervous as it got closer to my turn to walk with Phezulu. Thoughts ran through my mind as I was directed on where to touch him and how close I should get. After about two minutes, I got comfortable walking with him. It sure was a daring thing to do I must admit. Daring enough to make you piss in your pants (Thank God I didn’t though).
After about forty minutes when we had all taken turns walking with the Lions, we stopped another informative session. Jabulani our guide told us about Lions and their survival and hunting skills. He also opened the floor for questions to be asked and a couple of people did. We wrapped up the whole activity with breakfast before we were taken back to our hotel.
I later discovered several articles and reports on how ethical these practices are a few weeks after the encounter that raised questions in my mind. Did I really support a good cause by walking with the lions? Is this organisation involved in hunting practices and putting up another face? These questions I really can’t answer but for now, all I wish for is for the poaching of these animals to stop. They contribute to a country’s economy by bringing tourists who are in search of viewing wildlife and killing these animals will cause more damage than good to a nation’s economy on the long run.
*My trip to Zimbabwe was courtesy of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority. All opinions however remain my own