South Africa – first impressions (February 2015; by Jenni)

Our arrival in South Africa marked the first time we had to fill out an Ebola screening form before entering a country. They also did a thermal body scan of every person entering the country to check for Ebola; I am assuming it was really checking for fever and anyone with a fever would then undergo further screening.

So far, South Africa is more like the US than any other country we have visited. The drive from Johannesburg to Pretoria seemed a lot like driving anywhere-USA (except that you drive on the left side of the road and the driver’s side is opposite of what we are used to). Housing is also very similar to what we are used to.

The day after we arrived, we visited a lion park near Pretoria. Now, this part is definitely different! The animals in this park are born in captivity and they have an active breeding program to supply zoos all over the world with lions. They roam free in very large areas and are given fresh meat to eat. To see them, we went in a big safari truck. Basically, we were in a cage.

DSCN3531Before the drive started, we got to visit and play with some lion cubs. Again, these lions will never be in the wild, so they are allowed human contact until they are six months old, and become too dangerous. The four of us got to play with four cubs. Three of the cubs were white. I was petting one of them while it was drinking from a pond; then Oliver came over to pet it with me. Suddenly, one of the others jumped on Oliver’s back to play with him. When Oliver stood up, the cub was on its hind legs and was as tall as Oliver. Oliver got a big paw print on the back of his shirt.

We also saw and learned about zebras (including one nursing a baby), two types of antelope (with lots of babies), ostriches, wildebeest, cheetahs, a wild dog, hyenas, meerkats, and a pregnant giraffe. While we were on the game drive, the truck stopped next to some lions. This beautiful young white male came and sat right next to IMG_2783where I was seated on the truck. I was struck by his gorgeous blue eyes, and couldn’t help staring at them. Bad idea. He leaped up to attack me! In an instant, his front paws were on the metal cage right where my head was on the other side! It was amazing! Audrey was right behind me, and we were both pretty shaken up. We were very glad for the protection of the cage.

Because we were on an evening drive, we got to see a pride of lions being fed. The rangers had chained two of the legs of a large animal (probably a horse) to a tree stump. While we were there, they opened a gate for the small pride (a male, six females, and three cubs) to come to this area to eat. It was an incredible thing to see. Five of the lionesses went for one leg, and one went for a leg of her own. Then, the lion showed up and the lone lioness made way for him to enjoy a whole leg for himself while all nine of the others shared one together. One of the little cubs made the mistake of trying to join the lion. The lion snarled and grabbed the cub in his mouth and tossed him aside. At first, the little cub appeared to be dead. His mom pulled him away and tried to revive him. After a couple of minutes, he stood up and his mom stood over him protecting him. The little cub wasn’t bleeding and just seemed to be stunned. The rangers were getting their vet involved to be on the safe side.

What a day!DSCN3750

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