I’m going to write about something other than baking today, and tell you about one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had. A few months ago I went to South Africa for 5 weeks to volunteer in a Predator Park, much to my parents horror. In the days before I left I had my brothers sending me news articles of animal attacks, and family friends telling me stories of people being shot in the streets of South Africa, but nothing would stop me from going off and fulfilling my dream of working with big animals. I’ve always loved animals, but the idea of working with lions came to me last year, sitting in the kitchen with some friends, browsing 9Gag, I came across this gif: Can anything be more amazing than a lion hug?! I want to hug a lion!!
So a few months later, I was sitting indoors in the miserable place that is London in winter, when I decided I was going to escape winter this year. Ten days later I landed in Africa all alone, off to hang out with the animals. I was volunteering at a Predator Park in South Africa. Along with the other volunteers, I lived in cabins within the park itself, just meters away from the animals. I was there with around 20 other volunteers, from all over the world. There were people from Canada, Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Germany and Israel, just to name a few. After dropping our bags off in the cabins me and the other newbies walked up to the main park to meet the others. This was the first test to our fitness, with most of us gasping for breath by the time we reached the top of the hill. “I was like that in my first week, you’ll get used to it” is what everyone was telling us.
I can’t complain about it too much though – who can say their walk to work involves walking through groups of wild giraffe? Our day started each morning at 7.30am and ended around 5.30pm. Our morning duties varied each day, depending on which animal your group was assigned to that day, but would involve cleaning their enclosure and changing their water. After breakfast we would have ‘project time’ which would be park maintenence activities. This could be anything from building new enclosures, painting signs, debarking trees, or anything else which needed to be done. Afternoon was ‘animal time’ and the reason most of us were there!
There were two tiger cubs, aged 6 months. The first time I was left alone with them, I sat there in fear, thinking they would pounce and eat me, but by the end they were greeting me with a chuff like a good friend and I didn’t want to leave them! (That’s not to say I didn’t get my fair share of scratches!)
Coco was another absolute cutie. She was a lioness cub, aged 6 months, and loved constant attention. The first time I went in there alone with her she jumped and hugged me – not quite like the full grown lion in the gif, but good enough!
These were the oldest animals we were allowed to interact with, with both Ice (the white tiger) and Igor (the white lion) being 1 year old. Although they slept most of the day, (they are giant cats after all!), when they did wake up they were the most playful things ever! One time I was sitting on the floor and Igor the lion came to me for a hug, pushing me over and pinning me down while he licked my face! Their strength is extraordinary, its no wonder they’re the King of the Jungle.
While I was in the park, they received a 8 week old Golden Bengal Tiger. As cute as she looks, she was an absolute terror towards me! And 3 months on the scars that remain on my skin are the bites from this little one! It might look like we’re playing in that top picture, but that was actually me trying to keep her away from biting me!
My cabins were right next to all the adult animals, including Thor, the beautiful 12 year old white lion in the above picture. Each night I fell asleep to the sound of roaring lions, something I definitely miss now that I’m back in London -Waking to the sound of screeching peacocks is definitely something I don’t miss. I could talk forever about the experience, but I think I’ve bored my friends and family enough since coming back so I won’t bore you too. But this short video I made pretty much sums up everything I did there. Let me know what you think! I’m already planning when to go back! Jess x