Walk with the Pride
Picture yourself strolling with Simba and his friends through a Lion King incarnate. Imagine reaching out to rub the lions’ arching backs and soft bellies, then watching as they stride forward with grace through the African bush, trying to hunt their prey. Sounds surreal, doesn’t it? Even impossible. But that’s a pretty accurate description of what you can actually experience during a lion encounter in Zimbabwe.
In the Masuwe River Concession, 10 minutes from Victoria Falls, you can walk among these golden cats as if you’re a member of their pride. Because the animals are only 6 to 18 months old, the experience is deemed relatively safe, but it might take a while for your wobbly knees and racing heart to get the message.
With only a stick in your hand, you can walk toward groups of cubs as they run circles around you. You can pet them, watch them play, and stroll beside them. It’s one of the most awesome wildlife experiences on Earth.
But we’re not talking about a petting zoo or swimming with dolphins here. While lions may be cute, even young ones aren’t completely harmless. The cubs you’ll see and touch were raised to think of humans as dominant members of their pride, but they’re still predatory carnivores and it’s important to stay calm, even as your adrenaline flows, so you don’t spook them. In fact, the main point of your walk with the lions is to help them get acclimated to the wild and develop their natural hunting skills. You might even see one of the older cubs make a kill; the lions here have successfully hunted more than 25 different species ranging from birds and rabbits to zebra and buffalo.
The unique half-day lion encounter in Zimbabwe is part of a program that aims to ethically introduce the offspring of rehabilitated captive-bred African lions into their natural environment. More than 200,000 lions used to roam the Africa continent, but recent estimates suggest that there has been an 80% to 90% decline in the population over the past 30 years. The objective of the lion rehabilitation and reintroduction project is to replenish depleted lion populations and safeguard the species’ future.
To spend more time with the lions and really help facilitate their release into the wild, check out the longer volunteer trips offered by African Impact’s Lion Rehabilitation Programme (www.africanimpact.com/volunteers/lion-conservation-zimbabwe). For 2 to 6 weeks, you can do more than walk with these cubs. You can feed and care for them, watch as they learn to stalk their prey, gather data, and conduct research on the impact of tourism on their natural environment. You’ll also spend time discussing conservation efforts with the local community in schools and national parks. And don’t worry; it’s not all work. There’s plenty of time to play, too. You can go on a safari or try one of the many other adventures offered here such as white water rafting, bungee jumping, and helicopter rides. But the biggest thrill of all is tickling and playing with young lions, knowing that one day they’ll be proudly roaming the Zimbabwean wilderness.
African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) ( 44/0-203-371-7835; www.lionalert.com).
Tour: Lion Encounter, 165 Courtney Selous Crescent ( 263/13-44386/43078; www.lionencounter.com).
When to Go: Year-round.
Victoria Falls International Airport, connecting through Harare or Johannesburg airports.
$–$$ Zambezi Waterfront, Victoria Falls ( 263/13-44510; www.safpar.net/waterfront.html). $$–$$$ Stanley and Livingstone at Victoria Falls, Nakavango Estate ( 27/011-658-0633; www.stanleyandlivingstone.com).