Walking with lions in South Africa

Guest post by Emma Spires

Horseback Africa lies half an hour outside of Pretoria in South Africa. It is a beautiful, secluded and enchanting animal sanctuary.

In March 2012, I had the pleasure of meeting the owners, the MacRae family, who specialise in wildlife conservation and run a lion breeding and rehabilitation program.

Colin (the owner) with lion

Colin (the owner) with lion

Whilst visiting this sanctuary, I had the experience of a lifetime: I walked with the lions. There was a group of four lions who were six months old – it sounds young, but trust me, they had already grown pretty big…

Group of lions

Group of lions

Part of the rehabilitation program is to ensure that the lions are walked before they are fed, thus teaching them the connection between movement and food.

Walking with lions

Walking with lions

Colin, the owner, had advised us not to approach the lions, and to let them approach you; he explained that this is how you gain respect. One by one, the lions bounded over to us, smelt us and rubbed their nose across our skin. They were boisterous, playful cubs, and, amazingly, the owner’s dog came with us on this walk and joined in with the playing lions.

Lion plays with dog

Lion plays with dog

Colin had also advised us that if the lions gave us what he called “The McDonald’s stare” then to stamp your feet, clap your hands and shout “No;” one man in our group had the unfortunate misadventure to receive such a look, the cub even jumped up and rested it’s paws on the man’s shoulders, the man advanced back shouting “No” and the lion, who was just being playful bounded off.  Suddenly the realisation of what we were doing – walking with lions, hit home…

We enjoyed a half hour walk with the cubs to their favorite watering hole; when they got there, they swam, played and drank, and then, tired from the midday African sun, they fell back upon the long, emerald green grass and dozed off.

Resting lion

Resting lion

When our walk was over, we were also given the opportunity to meet some of the younger lions. There was a three month old cub who we were given the opportunity to feed. I was given a milk bottle and the cub bounded over to me, sat happily at my feet and suckled the milk down within seconds!

Feeding lion with milk

Feeding lion with milk

Baby lion with dog

Baby lion with dog

 We also met two beautiful new born cubs, who were so small they could fit in the palm of your hand. It was certainly hard to believe that such small creatures could grow so large!

Baby lion

Baby lion

 We finished the day by visiting the fully grown adults who were kept in spacious grounds at the back of the complex. There were two beautiful males – one with an incredibly spectacular black mane. One of the men in our group dared to get close to the fence and take a picture. The lion emitted a low growl, and the man, in surprise, literally toppled backwards and dropped his SLR camera….! It was a quiet reminder that whilst these beautiful animals were spectacular to observe, you should always give them the respect they deserved.

With baby lion

With baby lion

About the Author: Emma Spires is a backpacker with a serious case of itchy feet! Her first trip was a solo adventure at aged 17 to Ghana, West Africa, to participate in a Volunteering project. Nine years later, she has covered every continent in the world, but still has not cured those itchy feet!

Check out her website Backpacking Spirit for some awesome travel tips, advice and inspiration; you can also follow Emma’s travel adventures Backpacking Spirit Blog!