Saturday: last day :-(

And this was it, my last day at Antelope Park. I don’t know where the time has gone, the three weeks have passed in a blink of an eye and at the same time I feel like I’ve been at Antelope Park for ages, everything has become so familiar and „normal“. I will miss the lions, especially the lion walks in the morning and the evening!

Actually – writing this post on Monday, back in Germany – I think I have never before cried when leaving a vacation spot and now I’ve already done so twice. Anyways, my last day at Antelope Park was wonderful!!

It started with an exciting lion walk. Well actually it wasn’t exciting – although it almost started with a kill, since the camp mongoose Moyo was a bit suicidal and followed us to the lion enclosure and the lionesses went wild when they saw him (lucky for Moyo they were still inside, and he outside). But the walk was „just“ nice (got a few more pics with the Ks) until we were on our way back to the enclosure, when the lions suddenly stumbled upon Walter the waterbuck and started chasing him. We ran after the lions, only to find them in a face-off with the game animal that is so much bigger than the two youngsters. The face-off went on for about 5 minutes until the buck realised, that he was way bigger and had horns, and chased the lionesses off – he got reeeeally close!

Dan had agreed that Darlene and I could skip the meat prep and going to town since we were about to leave on Sunday and needed to pack and fill out the feedback form. Originally we were supposed to see the feeding at 12 o’clock but there wasn’t enough meat to do the big feeding that’s usually booked by clients, plus there were no clients due to the park being closed for a few days, so we didn’t go up to BPG. But it was okay, since I got to see three feedings during my time at Antelope Park.

After lunch we got to cubsit the As one more time. I’m gonna miss the little buggers so much! And then, in the evening, I finally got to see the release pride. I had bugged Dan about it because I wanted to see them so eagerly and was really worried when it didn’t happen and wasn’t sure whether I would see them until saturday morning.

The cubs from the release pride, the Ngamo pride will be the first to be released into the wild and I had followed the news about them since their release (well, since their release was shown in the second season of Lion Country where I first learned about the Lion Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild programme).

So on Saturday evening Darlene and I accompanied the researcher into the release site. Milo and AT1 were the first we saw, pretty close to them 3 more lionesses, and then 5, including the young male, AS5, who is incredibly gorgeous! At the moment he has an almost blonde mane. The researcher said that it will get darker, but still, I’ve never seen a lion with such a light mane before.

We were only missing Nala, the lowest female, but the lions got up from their respective locations and then all nine females and the young male came together, only Milo stayed with the meat. So we actually saw the entire pride. It was a wonderful farewell present to see them, and all of them!

It was three incredible weeks and I want to go back there eventually. It’s pretty expensive, so probably not in the next two years, but I will be back!

Friday: ninja cats and clumsy cats

Today the lionesses were extremely active in the morning. We saw Kaya and Kundiso chase and stalk some impala and bucks and more than ever before, play with and jump at each other. There were some pretty high jumps and ninja moves 😉

Not as active and certainly not as elegant were the SKs in the evening. Instead they gave us a parade example how clumsy cats can be, when it comes to climbing trees (and getting down again). Once they were up there (not at the first attempt, as you can see in the third from last photo), they were like “shit, what now?!”. We certainly had a good laugh on that walk. 😀

Very cool in between the two walks, was the feeding of the day encounter pride, that we got to see after doing BPG, and very nice the cub-sit of the adorable As.

Thursday: double dose of Ps

Thursday started with a slow walk with the Ks, who were still full from the feeding on Wednesday.  At some point we came to a water basin and one of the handlers flicked water at the lionesses, who – contrary to the face on photo #1 – enjoyed the refreshing drops.

After cleaning the enclosures we got to cubsit the Ps who were extremely playful (I don’t know what Pezulu smelled on photo #4, but he sniffed at the ground and then made this face). Maybe from tasting impala for the first time, earlier this day. Conincidently, when we walked with the cubs in the evening, we came across an impala herd and it was impressive to see their hunting instincts push through, even at four months: they actually stalked the impala (which without any doubt laughed at the cubs, but still).

Wednesday: full bellies!

On the first walk Kaya and Kundiso were still pretty active, though there were many tourists on that walk, so most of the time they were taking pictures with the very patient lionesses. After that and after fixing some more fences we got to cubsit the As, who got pretty fat bellies when they got their meat. They love to use their siblings as dinner table, however, the get really grumpy when the same sibling turns around and gets to close to their piece of meat. 😉

In the evening we got to see some really fat bellies. The SKs were just fat (and it was hot, so it was more like sitting them, like the cubs, instead of doing an extended walk) – see Sikumi on the second last photo. They were too lazy to play a lot, just once or twice they attempted to do so but with their full bellies it looked pretty awkward (see last photo) 😉

Tuesday: hunts and feeding

Today was an unexpectedly exciting day. The plan for today was not very special: lion walks, BPG (shit-shovelling at the breeding project enclosures) and filling the water troughs at the walking lions’ and P-cubs enclosures.

But the Ks were very active in the morning and chased a herd of wildebeest and zebras and we had a perfect view since they stalked and chased them on one of the roads (see photo #1), and they continued stalking them, so it was a pretty interesting morning walk.

BPG is usually the nastiest duty (apart from meat prep on Saturdays, which is optional). And it was nasty, but afterwards we were allowed to stay for the feeding of the two big male coalitions. Usually it’s just for clients, so it was cool that we could stay. It was amazing to see these massive animals come charging towards the fence where the meat was lying. I hope to see it again on Saturday without doing the meat prep – at least I put that on my wish list, since I leave on Sunday. :-/

After that, we quickly filled the troughs of the Ks, the SKs and the Ps, and stayed for a few minutes and watched the Ps pass out 😉

The evening walk was one of the most interesting ones. We went with the SKs while some tourists walked with the Ks, and our SKs soon spotted all 7 of the park’s giraffes and started stalking them and chased them. The giraffes spread out in all directions, two of them went onto the polocrosse field that lay on our right – and right towards the other lion walk. And while we turned left, following the other giraffes, we saw the Ks on the other side of the polocrosse field, chasing the two giraffes. That was pretty cool! (I think on photo #10 it’s actually right before that scene. The lioness is one of the SKs, the giraffes were about to scatter and the people were the tourists who went with the Ks; we hadn’t quite reached the polocrosse field).

It took us a while to turn the SKs away from the giraffes and on our way back we almost stumbled over an injured impala. There was water between us and the impala though, so the SKs immediately started chasing it but it took them too long to cross the water, so the impala got away. We really hoped they would get it.

But it was a great walk, like the one in the morning! That’s why I actually enjoy walking with the subadult lions more than with the Ps, although they are without any doubt adorable!

Monday: cantering, fixing fences, cubsit and lion walk

Today I didn’t take as many photos, due to the fact that the battery charger of my camera probably got fried by a power surge during the storm on Friday/Saturday, along with all other chargers in our vol block that were plugged in at that point. Another vol is going to town tomorrow; maybe she finds a recharger for this battery. If not, I’ll probably have to use my back-up camera, as I did yesterday and for the cubsit today.

The other reason that I didn’t take as many photos, were today’s activities: First I got a cantering lesson, which was kind of scary. When I asked Ted, the head of the stables here, I thought we would go onto the polocrosse field, but instead we went for a ride in the bush. It definitely was more exciting 😉

Next on my timetable was reserve management/maintenance. This time we didn’t put hay with additional nutrition out in the park, but went to fix the fences around the park. There are quite a few gaps in it, where animals pushed through from the inside and the outside, and also poachers. So we used wire and wood and thorn bush branches to barricade the wholes. My legs look accordingly – I only hope that whoever tries to get through there, will hurt himself more 😉

But for both activities I didn’t bring/use my camera, so no photos. Only from cubsitting the Ps (photo #1: Pendo’s trying to get onto the climbing contraption – using the most difficult way. She didn’t manage that but climbed up the ramp, only to see herself in a window at the same level. It was too cute to see her freak out and run down the other ramp!) and the lion walk with the Ks. After stalking and chasing an impala herd they became pretty lazy but when we were on our way back they started playfighting. They got really grumpy when we reached their enclosure and Kaya grabbed a stick and Kundiso wanted it.

Sunday: day off

On our day off I didn’t do much; I woke up very early because two of my roommates were going to Vic Falls at 6:30, but there was no sun, and the storm on Saturday partially took out the electricity; I could still charge my netbook but not the camera battery, so I didn’t wanna waste the battery when there was no sun anyways. Long story short, I went back to bed after breakfast 😉

After lunch I wanted to go horse riding but Ted told me it would be better to go and try to canter at 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning, so I postponed it to today. I took a few photos of animals in out camp instead and then went on the evening lion walk with Kaya and Kundiso. The Ks ignored the impala even though we got so close to the three impalas on the photo than I could have sprinted after them. ;D Instead they chose to stalk and chase after some giraffes (photo #6: such an incredible sight, seeing this lioness stalk their prey; #7: find the lioness! ;)). They didn’t get them, but they got pretty close. It was great to watch!

Saturday: lions and polocrosse

The weather changed quickly yesterday evening; it was about 37 °C during the day and today it was about 15 °C with freezing wind (needed three layers of clothes). Two positive aspects: 1) we visited the orphanage in Gweru today and played football and other sport games with the kids – we would have dropped pretty soon if it had been as hot as yesterday. 2) the lions were very active and playful, even Sikumi and Kariba in the evening, even though they had just been fed.

So today there were two lion walks, with the Ks in the morning and the SKs in the evening, with three hunts/stalking tries, then the visit at the orphanage (I didn’t take any photos since one of my roommates volunteered me to partake in the sport games ;)), after lunch there was another polocrosse session. The dark horse in the first horse photo is “my” Willow’s Way who proved on the field how fast – and temperamental – she is.

Most photos are of the Ks and SKs, who were not only active, but very cuddly as well.

Friday: an eventful day at Antelope Park

Today was an eventful day at Antelope Park, with interesting coincidences: on both lion walks the lionesses (morning: Ks, evening: SKs) were drawn towards trees. First the Ks both climbed up a tree and in the evening the SKs scratched no less than four trees and Kariba tried two times to climb up, and failed twice (not really graceful today, that cat). I caught the 2nd time on camera, her butt hanging in the air for a few seconds before she had to let go.

Also we were lucky to go on a day encounter. Once the lions turn 18 months, it’s no longer possible to walk with them because these teenagers don’t recognize the handlers as dominant members of their pride anymore. This respect towards the handlers makes lion walks possible, and at 18 months the risk of them challenging the superior members – ergo the handlers and the rest of the (human) pride, the tourists and volunteers – increases. So they stop going on walks and are no longer accompanied on foot. However, til then they have learned to hunt and kill and are put together to form a pride (as the SKs and Ks and the Ss – who are on a site at Vic Falls atm – will). These subadults/adults have the chance to optimize their hunting skills in day and night encounters, while tourists and vols observe them from a vehicle. We went on such a day encounter today, following and leading three of a pride of 8 to a hunt. The boy’s name is Dingane, the girls are Wadiwa and Washe. And as soon as they were out of the enclosure, they spotted Antelope Park’s giraffes and started hunting them, unsuccessfully though. So we lead them to an area crawling with impala, zebra and wildebeest. Dingane and one of the Ws went after an impala while we followed the other W who was stalking the bigger animals. And then it was total mayhem. Wildebeest and zebra running everywhere. Since the vehicle sped up to follow the hunt, we had to sit down and I didn’t get to take many photos, but a few should show the mayhem. Unfortunately none of the lions made a kill.

After that it took us a few minutes to find all lions again and they soon went for a drink at a waterhole – look at these muscles. These lionesses are real hunting machines! That’s where we came across the secretary bird on one of the pics.

In the evening we went on a walk with the SKs and they also came across the giraffes and both Sikumi and Kariba hunted them (unsuccessfully). All in all an exciting day!

Thursday: shit-shovelling and a lot of P-time

The first two duties for me on Thursday were shovelling elephant poo (after that we followed the elephants and got to see a few game animals) and then cleaning the breeding programm enclosures. Thankfully I was able to get to do the less stinky water duty, ergo cleaning the water trough instead of removing the poop of the lions. It was harder work since we had to get a lot of water to each enclosure to clean and refill the troughs, but at least we could pour water over our heads now and then.

After lunch the pleasant part of the day began, with cubsitting the Ps and then walking with the Ps (who were totally tired by then from playing, and didn’t get far).