The Lion Park, Johannesburg

David and I spent Saturday afternoon at the Lion Park which is only 30 minutes from where we are living here in Johannesburg.  We were hesitant to go since we had seen so many of the animals, which are at the park, in the wild.  Many local people recommended that we go, so we went. 

There are many options for you to chose from to see the animals.  You can drive through the park with your own car, take one of their guided tours, take a tour with an animal behaviorist and also, walk with the cheetahs.  We opted to have a tour with the animal behaviorist, Alex Larenty.  Alex is originally from England and came to South Africa 14 years ago.  He grew up in the circus and has considerable animal training.  He was a wealth of knowledge.  

Before we went on the tour, we ventured into the “interaction area” where we could play with the lion cubs, feed giraffes and see other animals.  The giraffes were not hungry since they had been fed so much, during the morning, by other tourist.  There was a pen of two, young cheetahs and another with two hyenas. 

The interaction with the lion cubs was fun…they are so cute but have very sharp teeth and claws.  Eight people are allowed in the enclosure at a time for 2 minutes of interacting.  It was mid-day when most animals tend to rest.  These cubs were no different.  There were a couple, though, who were playful.

In the beginning, we were not too impressed with the Lion Park.  It just seemed very touristy.  People were clamoring to take “selfies” with the animals, children were running everywhere and the animals were behind fences.   There are three souvenir shops that reminded me of something one would find at Disney World…..lots of stuffed animals, t-shirts, key rings and stamped out African artifacts. 

That all changed, once we got our our tour and learned more about the aspiration of the Lion Park.  It isn’t a zoo or game reserve but they are committed to regenerating endangered species like the African Wild Dogs, the rare white Lions and Cheetahs.  They use the animals as an opportunity to educate the public and help people learn about the amazing wildlife of South Africa. 

Before the tour started, we were waiting at the designated area.  At about ten minutes after the tour was supposed to start, a lady came and said that Alex would be right along but he was preparing the meat.  I panicked, “what meat?”  She said, “for the animals.”  I started laughing as I thought they were going to offer meat on this tour and I wanted them to know that I didn’t eat meat.  Silly me!!!  The lady and I both had a good laugh!

This is similar to the vehicle that we took our tour in, ours was smaller.  For a tour with Alex, he can take up to 10 people but David and I lucked out as we were the only ones who signed up for this tour!  Yea…a private tour!  Loved it!

As I mentioned earlier, Alex was a wealth of information and had a true love for the animals.  You could see the trust with each interaction he had with them.  The lions are from all over Africa…. Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Northern Gauteng and Botswana to avoid inbreeding.  If one becomes problematic or there are too many lions for the park, they will sell them to other sanctuaries but not to a private reserve, where they might be hunted.

The spray bottle hanging from his pocket was an herbal remedy to keep the flies off the lions.  Most of them would allow him to spray them but some didn’t like it at all.

This was the first pride.  There was one male, two females and two younger lions…I believe one was a male.  Eventually, when the young male matures, he will be removed from this pride.

Alex said that for awhile, this pride had two males…the brother to this one.  It was determined that one had to go due to territorial issues and was sold to another sanctuary.

Alex said when the two brothers were together, this male’s mane was lighter in color.  It was only after he became the dominate male, that it got to be the darker brown.  Out of all the lions we saw, this one was my favorite and I believe, the most photogenic.

The prides are kept in separate areas to prevent them attacking each other over territory, of which they are extremely protective.  The second pride we visited was of the endangered white lions.  This pride had 3 males, 3 females and two cubs.  I was unable to get a photo of the whole pride together.  The cubs were adorable.

They lay with their hind legs spread to dry their genitals when they perspire.

The last pride we visited was one elderly male.  I believe that Alex said he was about 11 or 12 years old and didn’t like having his picture taken.  That was true, he was very difficult to photograph. It seemed like every time I tried to take his picture, he would look away from the camera.  This male was by far, the largest, too.  To live up to 11 years is unheard of for a lion in the wild.  It is because of the stress free environment that this lion was able to live so long.  Life in the wild is challenging and difficult at best for an animal trying to survive from day to day.  One interesting fact that Alex shared was that 80% of the lion population in Kruger National Park are infected with tuberculosis and another 20% are HIV positive.  Kruger National Park is one of the largest game preserves in South Africa.  So sad that the lion population is not healthier.  It just reinforces the purpose of this Lion Park is for a good reason.

Alex said that he loved all the animals he worked with daily but this one was his favorite!

This male lives with two of the more onerous females.  At one time, they were almost sold but Alex convinced them not to.  He said that they constantly had to be monitored and even carried a large stick with him while with this group, something he didn’t do with the other prides.  They are beautiful, though…..

I found it hard to believe that they were such difficult animals but it was true, Alex was constantly monitoring them and “putting them in their places.”

Our final visit was with the cheetahs.  On our way to their area, we saw the wild dogs.

They are an endangered species here in Africa because they tend to attack livestock from farms and the farmers kill the wild dogs to protect their livelihood.  There are only 300 left in Africa.  Alex really isn’t fond of this animal. He said that they are dirty and when they kill, they do not let their prey die before starting to eat it.  Mother nature can be extremely cruel.  There are only 3 out of an original 6 in the sanctuary.  Two were killed by the pack, for reasons unknown.  The third died by falling into a hole.   They kind of remind me of hyenas by their markings.  

Oh my gosh, I LOVED the cheetahs!  They were stunning!

I loved that we could interact with them.

Their coats were so shiny and gorgeous.  They appeared to be extremely thin but I guess this is the norm for them and it is healthy.  They have to be sleek so they can run quickly!  They can run around 70 mph for short distances.

The Lion Park has bought land a short distance from the current park and hopes to relocate the animals by next year.  It will be much better as they will have more room to roam.   Thank you, Alex Larenty, for making our visit to the Lion Park so memorable.  If you should find yourself in Joburg and want a great animal experience, go to the Lion Park but make certain you go on one of Alex’s tour.  

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