Many of us grew up with Lion King and became infatuated with the kingdom of lions. In fact, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, there was a point in my childhood when I wanted to become a lion – king of the jungle. It was only later when I found out that I couldn’t become a lion and watched the Discovery Channel to discover they weren’t the nicest cats around.
But when I found out I had the chance to walk and interact one-on-one with real, non-drugged lions in Zambia (and because a friend had done it and loved it), I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. And coming from a guy who used to be afraid of normal dogs and cats…this would be a big step up for my ego.
Upon arrival early morning, growling snarls of hunger could be heard echoing into the parking lot – the lions were up and hungry. However, we were assured that these lions would be fed a full meal before our meet & greet, which would prevent them from potentially eating us for breakfast. Even though they were used to being around humans, one must still be very cautious when interacting with lions.
After several briefings on safety of which I totally blanked out on due to the fact of me thinking of all the lion attacks I’ve seen on YouTube, we then ventured inside the park. We were given a stick to guard ourselves in case the lion became too aggressive, which I lost within 10 minutes of seeing the beautiful lion and lioness due to my careless and inattentive nature.
At first glance, it seemed a bit unreal as we met the lions, sort of like when you meet the parents for the first time, awkwardness filled with a lot of analytical stares. Then as the canines started coming out, things got real and my adrenaline started pumping. And when the adrenaline starts pumping, fear begins to subside as thrill and ecstasy take over. To think I used to be afraid of black cats, I was now stroking the lion’s mane and prancing around trying to get the perfect shot. And in a flash, the guide handed me the lion’s tale and the next thing I knew, I was walking a lion by his tale. To be honest, I’ve never even walked a dog in my life. Only in Africa can you get up close and personal with a free roaming, non-drugged king of the jungle.
At the end of the day, Simba is merely a cartoon figure, and we cannot go around petting every lion we see. However, snuggling with lions has changed my perception once again of these kings and queens of the jungle – they aren’t just carnivorous eating machines but big, beautiful cats.