Upon arrival at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe we were offered an overwhelming number of activities to partake in. Even more overwhelming than the number of options we had to choose from was the cost of many of these adventures. Victoria Falls, although beautiful and well worth seeing, is a tourist trap, and an expensive one at that. Despite the cries of my bank account I decided to sign up for a few different activities to fill up my three day stop. First thing on the list was walking with lions at Lion Encounter.
I had seen a number of lions up close on safari in Chobe National Park in Botswana, and had just had quite an incredible lion spotting at Hwange National Park, but this would be an opportunity to get so close to these big cats you can walk side by side and even touch them. I had heard someone rave about their experience with Lion Encounter from a previous Absolute Africa trip, so I let my fear of missing out get the best of me. One hundred and fifty dollars later I was on a bus being driven out to the conservation area.
The afternoon started out with the signing of wavers, just in case we happened to get mauled by these giant kitties, and a quick lesson about conservation efforts to save the lion population. Lastly, we were each handed a walking stick that we were to put in the lions face if he were to turn towards us. I’m not sure that a piece of bamboo would really stop these cats if they decided they were hungry. With that we headed out to the bush to meet the guards who would be making sure things ran smoothly and the two feline friends who were to keep us company for the next 20 minutes.
When the cats, Phezulu and Pendo, appeared it was hard to keep the adrenalin from spiking just a little. As someone who works with animals on a daily basis I was fully aware that ones that often seem quite friendly are actually the ones that can snap and charge in a split second. As terrifying as the thought should have been, I was mostly just excited.
The male and female adolescent lions walked slowly along the path where we all took turns walking beside them, our hands on their rump. I had seen photos of people walking while holding the lion’s tail, but this wasn’t allowed. The cats then decided to play with each other for a bit before laying down on a throne of a rock. Phezulu fell off backwards off the rock while pawing a low hanging tree, I couldn’t help but chuckle and compare him to a clumsy kitten.
While the male lion relaxed we were each given the opportunity to pose beside him. It was my turn next. He let out a big yawn, baring all his sharp, pearly teeth as he turned to look at me. I was so mesmerized that I didn’t put my stick up and was pulled out of the moment by the hollers of the guides. Phezulu turned away before I even realized what the commotion was about. I smiled for the camera, then left the beautiful animal alone. Just a few minutes later he decided he was bored of the attention and photos, got up, collected Pendo who was napping on the path in front of us, then wandered off. The lions were hungry, we were told. That would be the end of our time with them.
As we headed back to the briefing area, we stopped to watch two other adolescent lions get fed inside their pens. It was donkey meat we were told. The cats seemed to love it as the grabbed their massive chunks of carcass and retreated to the back of the enclosures to feast.
Although the experience was neat and I came out with some pretty cool pictures, this isn’t an activity I would do again. After the $150 fee to walk we were asked for another $30 for a video of us walking with the lions. I felt the price was absurd and definitely not worth it. If this activity was offered at a more reasonable cost, somewhere closer to the $80 mark, I would have no hard feelings about the experience. At the end of the day,seeing lions on safari in their natural habitat was way more impressing than this forced photo opportunity.