Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Southern Cross - Antelope Park

7th - 9th September - Antelope Park

So we arrived in Antelope Park in Gweru Zimbabwe. The last time I was here was 4 years ago. It feels great to be back as this was the last place our family was together as a family before they all immigrated to the UK. So it is a special place for me.
Antelope Park is home to the world famous ALERT lion rehabilitation programme, as seen in the major UK TV documentary series – “LION COUNTRY”. The Trust aims to support the four-stage African Lion Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild Program developed by Andrew & Wendy Conolly in 1999. The aim of this program is to provide a solution to augmenting the sharply decreasing numbers of African lions through the release of wild-borne offspring from rehabilitated captive bred lions by raising awareness and funds to source, secure and prepare suitable release sites for the lions.
We are here for 3 days! We have booked to check out the lion breeding programme, lion feeding, see and play with 7 week old lion cubs, to walk with lions aged 12 months as well as check out the stage 2 research of lions that have bred in the release site. Their offspring will be released into the wild as the cubs have had no physical human contact. We will also do elephant training and have an elephant ride.
Day 1
Today we are playing with the lion cubs, learning about the breeding programme, watching lion feeding and walking with lions. It will be Dave’s first experience walking with lions, it will be my 3rd time.
The day started with cub viewing. We played with 3 very cute and fluffy 7 week old cubs. Turns out 4 years ago I walked with two female lions Sarai and Sara. These cubs are Sarai’s cubs. So I walked with mommy and played with the kids.  Very cool!
We headed off for the breeding centre where we learnt more about the programme. What we did learn and we found a really interesting fact is there is a form of feline aids called FIV (Feline immunodeficiency virus). The primary modes of FIV transmission are deep bite wounds and scratches, where the infected cat’s saliva enters the other cat’s bloodstream. FIV may also be transmitted from pregnant females to their offspring. They had 3 lions with FIV, which for obvious reasons cannot breed.
After the breeding centre we went to check out the male lions being fed. They normally feed the lions every 2/3 days and they do this to determine who is the strongest male through their eating and dominance behaviour and realise which male lion has the strongest genes for breeding with. The meat was dropped of in an empty lion cage roughly 40m by 60m, rotten bits of meat from the abbatoir. I cannot even begin to describe the smell of this meat. In the next lion area was 5 male lions between the ages of 3-5 years pacing backwards and forwards waiting for the gate to be opened. The occasional swipe at one another to show dominace occured normally followed by loud roars! We all positioned ourselves right by the fence near the meat and once the gate opened, 5 huge beautiful maned male lions decended towards us crashing into the fence, rotten bits of meat spraying all of us on the other end of the fence. It was a hair raising experience as some of the lions tried to take a swipe at us at the fence, with literally all of us jumping back knowing that they could not get us through the fence. The stonger male lion will lay on top of as much meat as possible and hold his position until the other lions have moved away with their share of the meat. But for a whole 30 mins we sat and watched all 5 squabbling over the meat. Loud sounding roars - the only way to describe it is natures V8 Engine! It was incredible to experience.
Later that evening Dave and I did a lion walk with two 12 month old female cubs with a few other people from our truck. The lions were so playful and we got to have pictures taken while we touched them. During our walk we also got to witness the lions learning how to stalk a giraffe. The lions that are walked with will become part of the breeding programme. Antelope Park remove the lions from human contact once they reach 18 months as they are now too big to be walked with by humans. During the time that the lion cubs are walked with, this is the time for the researchers to determine which female lion is better at hunting/stalking and then be able to determine which male lion would breed better with her. Was quite impressive seeing the lions stalking a few meters away from us.
Day 2
We were up early this morning for another lion walk. After which we went to elephant training. They have 4 elephants, 3 females and one male. We watched the trainers to tricks with the elephants. Once we were showed what the elephants could do it was our turn to interact with the elephants. I played ball with the male elephant, who eventually got a bit annoyed as he wasn’t getting treats all the time for throwing or kicking the ball back to me. It was good fun getting close and interacting with the elephants.
Day 3
Dave and I took a taxi into the town of Gweru. This is where Dave’s mom was born. So he wanted to check it out.  The rest of the day we spent chilling out as the past few days has been quite busy. We leave early tomorrow morning for the city of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest town. We will be going to Matopos, a Rhino sanctuary for black and white rhinos.

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