We didn’t have tickets for any Saturday matches, so we went on a glorious adventure to the Lion Park! The Lion Park is located about an hour outside of Johannesburg. It would have been a costly taxi ride and costlier to have a tour guide take us, but the woman who owned our original hotel was sweet enough to take us to the Lion Park for the afternoon. She definitely didn’t have to give up so much of her day in order to shuttle us to an attraction that she’s been to a number of times. It was incredibly kind of her to do that for us.
The Lion Park has two main attractions: the game drive and touch-a-cub. We went on the game drive first. We were driven through the Lion Park’s ground by a very knowledgeable guide named Emma (her family breeds lions for a living. Seriously!). We started off driving through an area where we saw zebras, black wildebeests and springbok and all sorts of animals indigenous to Africa’s planes.
From there, we drove through the park’s four prides of lions. Each pride of lions is in its own area of the park and the vehicles just drive through the area: no fences, no moats, absolutely nothing between your cars and the lions. Apparently lions are creatures of habit and they’re used to the cars driving through their fenced-in areas, just as long as the cars stay on the road.
We were fascinated that the Lion Park allows self-guided tours. Essentially, people can pay a fee and drive their own cars through the Lion Park. (You’ll be happy to know that soft-top vehicles are not allowed.) As a result of this option, we were witness to a lot of stupid behavior. Such as the man who got out of his car inside of one of the lion prides. Or the man who drove his car off of the road and at a group of lounging lions. “This is what it is good that a lion kills someone every once and a while,” our tour guide exclaimed. “That way, people are reminded that lions are very dangerous creatures.” Well, then!
Our guide drove us through the back area of the park, where those who are taking the self-guided tour are not allowed. It was there where we saw other groups of lions, including their most beautiful lion, who is a bit of a film star. The park rents him out for movies, television and commercials. He’s the lion in the Pepsi commercials!
We also got to see our guide’s lion, who she calls Legs. Emma has been working at the Lion Park without pay for a year. As a result, they’re letting her take a lion home with her. I’m not even kidding. Apparently that’s a pretty good deal; we were told that a lion costs 150,000 Rand. Emma is going to take Legs back to her family’s lion breeding operation in a few weeks, once she has the proper import and export paperwork. In her car, I might add. Just in a crate inside of her car. No lie!
After our tour of the lion park was complete, we headed over to the touch-a-cub area. In groups of eight visitors at a time, you’re allowed into a pen with three or four lion cubs. You’re allowed to pet them and pose for pictures. The cubs are generally quite playful and good-natured about the whole thing, although we saw them get naughty and swipe a man’s hat or grab a water bottle and crunch on the plastic.
Lauren made a friend of one of the lion cubs. He liked her so much that he didn’t want her to leave! That’s the only reason I can think of that he would grab a mouthful of her shirt (with a bit of skin, too) and refuse to let go!
The park employee told Lauren to swat the lion on the nose. She wasn’t so excited about the prospects of hitting a lion. Eventually, he set her free. I might have spotting the young lion weeping as we walked away. I think that he wanted to come back to Michigan with us.
We were so fortunate that the owner of our original hotel, Jackie, offered to take us to the Lion Park. Tourist attraction or not, it did not disappoint. I mean, come on, we got to pet a lion cub. That’s pretty much the coolest thing ever.