Saturday, March 27, 2010

Zion and Trust

When I was a volunteer here in Feb of 2007, the first lions I ever got to touch, walk, and fall in love with were a pair of brothers named Zion and Trust. I'll never forget that first time riding in the back of a truck with the year-old lions, bouncing around on the dirt roads, the lions stepping on my toes and pushing their heads into my face.

And Trust was the first lion ever to jump me, grabbing me around my waist with his huge paws and sliding down my legs with his teeth gently biting just hard enough to leave a bruise but not break the skin. You never forget your first lion "attack."

Now they're about 4 years old, out in an enclosure away from the farm, massive in size with nearly-full manes. And last night I got to spend a little time with them.

There's a young artist here named Annika Funke (see picture)--painter, poet, photographer--who is not only extremely talented but has a heart that animals respond to intensely. Last year when she was visiting, she literally fell in love with Trust and Zion (but especially Trust) and spent many nights sleeping outside their enclosure, painting, drawing, and more. Trust would slip his huge paw under the gate and the two would hold "hands" while they slept. A connection is between them that is hard to describe, but I got to see it a little last night.

Around 4:30 yesterday afternoon I saw Marieta and her granddaughter Nica in the golf cart going somewhere. I asked if I could go along (always fun). Then we picked up Annika at the gate. We visited the vervet monkey enclosure to inspect some work going on there, and then I tentatively asked Marieta, "Can we go visit Zion and Trust?"

Off we zoomed, both Annika and I with bright expectant eyes and smiles on our faces. Once we were there, Annika pushed it further, "Can we stay for awhile?" Marieta nodded and took off with Nica, leaving us outside the gate with the two lions pushing and rubbing and trying to get to us, but not to hurt us.

Zion and Trust tolerated me just fine. I got to pet them through the fence while they rubbed their magnificent heads into my hands. But Annika! I know I'm a writer and should be able to describe what happened, but I think it's beyond words. Trust immediately recognized her from last year, practically bent in the fence trying to reach her hand and kisses. Then he lay down next to the fence and they pressed up against each other--all the while "talking" to each other in this magical language lions have.

After a couple of hours, the sun began to set in one of the most colorful and dazzling sunsets I've seen as we began our walk back to the farm. Then all the lions on Harnas began their nightly roaring to each other, marking their territories by signaling to all the other lions where each is. Roaring came from every side and we just had to stand there in the orange and pink light and listen and listen and listen.

I thought about trying to tape it, but it's impossible to record the sound because you not only hear it, you FEEL it in your chest. It's deep and rumbling and like a physical force that enters your heart. Instead I'll include a short clip of Zion and Trust with Marieta, Frikkie, and me in January just so you can see how massive they are--and loving.

It's magical moments like this that fill my memories of Harnas. The things you don't plan for--they just happen, and when they're over I say, "No matter what happens in my life, I'll always have that."

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