The Lion Encounter in Zimbabwe is a once in a lifetime experience! Walking alongside the King of the Jungle in their own environment is surreal, an experience I’m not likely to ever forget!
While in Zimbabwe I highly recommend signing up for a morning walk with a lion. It’s not as wild as the photos make it look, but it is probably as close as you would ever like it to be to retain some sense of security. The Lion Encounter operates an African Lion Rehabilitation & Release into the Wild Program, which is Africa’s first program to ethically re-introduce offspring of captive-bred African lions back into the wild. The lion cubs are taken out of captivity and placed back into the bush to build confidence in their natural habitat. As the cubs become familiar with the environment, they start to develop and practice their stalking and hunting skills, which are crucial for their release. These bush walks are done with guides, and you too, if you choose to go for a walk and assist the lions in their pre-release training!
After a video briefing, and a change of clothes (long pants, neutral colors, and no dangling items like scarves or belts), you head off with your walking stick to meet the lions. Upon approaching the lions, I felt anxious, even though I knew they were only cubs and as they were only leisurely lying on the ground in the sun, I felt uneasy. Their size was unmistakable, at only 6 months old they were already approaching 100 pounds and several feet long. Just knowing their capabilities strikes a bit of fear in you. But as you do, you lean over and give these big cats a rub on their belly!
A cat lover myself, it is striking the tendencies between these huge cats and my little one at home. First, the
stick you are provided essentially is a toy for the lions, something for you to use to distract them and have them play with if needed. They sleep most of the day, play fight with one another, and groom each other-it’s absolutely adorable just on a much larger scale. The actual lion walk itself is self-explanatory. You are lead out into the bush where you are, at all times, accompanied by experienced guides and handlers which allow you the liberty to observe the lions in their natural habitat as they play with one another, hunt and just be big cats. As the lions’ rest during the walk, as they often do, you have the opportunity to get up close, pet them and take some of the most memorable photos you’ll ever have. This isn’t the zoo, or even safari, here you become part of the pride!