When I first came to Harnas in February of 2007, my first experience with lions was taking Zion and Trust on a walk. They were around a year old then--still pretty big by my standards then, but young enough not to be much of a threat.
But here's a picture of Zion as a cub (taken by a friend).
As we sat in the back of the truck with them--stepping on us and falling into us as the truck sped through the dirt roads, I got up close and personal with them--their faces and tails hitting me, their hot breathe in my face. I loved it. They are amazing creatures--especially Zion, who was always trustworthy and gentle. (Trust, on the other hand, never lived up to his name.)
Each time I've come back to Harnas, I've watched them grow up a little more until now they are massive and magnificent brothers, both with full manes and roars to match their stature. They are on the food tour now--which means every tourist who comes to Harnas gets to see these amazing boys get fed. And where I'm staying this trip, I can hear them roar throughout the night. It takes less than 2 minutes to walk to their enclosure, so when they roar, it sounds like it's at my door.
I've been campaigning for a walk with Zion, but Schalk (Marieta's son) just laughs. Even though he's gentle, if he took me down in play, it might be very serious. Instead, I'm hoping I'll get a lion walk with the three Brothers--who are getting their manes now, but are gentle and sweet--the way Zion always was. Still, this past weekend, a German film crew was here and went on a bushwalk with the Brothers, and one of the guys got taken down to the ground by a lion (in play, of course--and they have learned not to use their claws--just enormous paws).
Once a male lion reaches sexual maturity, all bets are off on how tame they can be. Most will turn even against the one who raised them. But I still think Zion would be a gentleman with me. Keep your fingers crossed that I get to do more than pet them through the fence.