When I came to South Africa I knew for sure that the one thing I wanted to do was go on a safari. Being able to see exotic animals in the (more or less) wild is a dream I wanted to fulfill myself.
To visit the popular wildlife reserves, however, my boyfriend and I would’ve had to drive on a train for hours. That’s why we ended up deciding on going to the Lion & Safari park near Johannesburg, which is a small wildlife reserve as well, but it is also a park that tourists can visit easier without a car.
I was skeptical at first because the safari park had mixed reviews saying that parts of the reserve feel more like a park or zoo and I didn’t like that visitors could drive through the reservatory with their own cars and without guards checking they don’t do dumb stuff.
In the end, my reservations were proven to be wrong. The animals mostly had lots of space and the wild cats seemed to feel pretty good. Great, actually. We asked our tour guide (who took us on an extended trip through the park) if the animals had enough space to which he replied: ‘I have never seen any big or small cat go for a jog’.
That seems like a silly response but also quite true. If you’ve ever had a house cat and know how they behave, then let me just say that big cats are very similar, just bigger. They didn’t jump around wildly and ran all over the place. They mostly sat in their packs, cuddled each other and waited for food. It was the cutest thing seeing the big cats behaving in such a familiar way.
We also asked the trainer if anything bad has ever happened and he told the story of a tourist from the UK who was killed by a lion because she had opened her car’s window (which people are strongly advised against doing). It felt refreshing that he openly told us this story and didn’t chicken shit around the facts.
So, I trusted him when he told us that it is OK to feed giraffes with Sour Cream & Onion chips because they need salt in their diet. The lucky giraffe we found came from many meters towards our car. I guess she has a pretty good sense of smelling food considering her whole head is a nose.
I also believed our guide when he told us the story of a cheetah that grew to become 17 years old although their normal life expectancy is around 10 years. I didn’t believe him at first when he told us that we were gonna visit her and take pictures with her but he proved this statement too. I only hope he was wrong when he said that she is getting so old and weak that it is going to be the last season for her.
I hope our guide wasn’t lying when he told us that they don’t sell any of their animals even if they are old or behave aggressively. At least, he showed us the area with the lion who killed that UK tourist. He explained how these animals are becoming rarer and that they’re basically extinct outside of wildlife reserves because humans keep hunting them to sell their fur or their teeth.
It makes me sad to know that this is happening. It is even worse that there is nothing anyone can do about it because there is always gonna be that stupid human who believes he has to hunt an almost extinct animal for their own benefit. I don’t understand how you can ever be that reckless.
While I am still an opponent of classic zoos, my opinion about safari parks and wildlife reserves has changed for the better after having visited one. I truly believe they take good care of the animals. Parks like the one I’ve visited might be the only chance some species have of surviving. One day there will be no wild cats left except the ones human cater to and even domesticate and in a way that feels like an extinction in itself.