Yesterday, Sunday, I asked Frikkie and Marieta if we could take some lions on a walk through the bush so I could get some film of Marieta with her buddies. We decided to take "the brothers," three boys from the same litter of September 2008. When I was here for Christmas 2008 they were about the size of my dog, Mile--around 35 pounds. Now they're--well, you'll see.
We loaded them up in a truck and took them out to a clearing under the power lines where the grass isn't so high. Then we simply walked. They walked with us. They played and pounced on each other and let us hug, pet, cuddle, and stroll alongside. I held their tails the way you'd hold a dog leash. These are really well-behaved lions--more so than the younger ones who don't seem to have much self-discipline.
It's hard to describe what it feels like to just hang out with some lions. They'd brush up against us and rub their heads on us--just like housecats. I had Marieta sit down in the grass and they came up and collapsed on her (their heads were higher than hers). It's truly amazing that she has such a way with animals--all animals. They seem to sense her comfort with them and they obey her and treat her as if she's their mother. Of course, in a way, Marieta IS mother to all of the animals here. So many of them were raised from infants, bottle-fed by her, talked to and cuddled with. She's got such a way with them. They sense she has no fear and she respects them.
Lions, especially, she always says, can be trusted if you know what to look for. Leopards are very difficult to read but lions give you fair warning. Their faces, their tails, their sounds--all these give clues as to whether they want to be approached and touched.
Most of the filming was of Marieta and Frikkie because that was the point of the outing, but I did hand my camera to Lars, a volunteer who went with us to take pictures. He shot a short clip of me. Just so you know I'm really here and still alive and kicking, I'll attach it.
I should mention that lion fur is rather coarse--not at all like a leopard's velvety pelt--which is why, I guess, lions haven't had to worry about being part of the fashion industry. But under the coat, you can feel the muscles--so strong, no fat, just liquid muscle. I could pet them all day. And their heads! They're enormous and they love to be petted the same places as any cat--along the jaw line, behind the ears, forehead. I was in heaven. I constantly marvel that I have this opportunity to engage with all the creatures. I feel so lucky.