lion face

Saving the best until last

My last full day in Africa, I made the most of every second! I walked with Lions, crossed the Zambia border and stood on the Victoria Falls Bridge, visited Victoria Falls National Park on the Zimbabwe side, danced with African performers and went on an Elephant back safari.

At the Lion Encounter we were lucky to be in a small group of seven, as there can be up to 12 and you don’t spend as long walking with the Lions. Two magnificent 15 month old Lion cubs walked like shadows in the grass in front of us and we took turns walking next to them, petting them. When one of the cubs sat on a big rock, we took plenty of natural photographs of the cubs grooming and just doing what they do best!

lion walk

The cubs were surprisingly uninterested in humans, considering the number of us and the cameras clicking away but just in case, we each had a long stick to tap on the floor and distract them from paying attention to us.

lion yawning

We headed back to the base for a fried breakfast and got to know more about the work the Lion Encounter staff do. The money from the experience we paid for gets ploughed back into the breeding and rehabilitation project, which has the ultimate aim over several generations of Lions, to release prides back into the wild. As the staff had kindly taken a lot of photos of me walking with them on my camera, I bought the DVD of the experience to help with the project funds.

The pre-release stage lasts from the ages of six weeks to 18 months, then they go back to the breeding centre 700km from Victoria Falls. At this release stage, brothers and sisters are separated and go into a fenced habitat where there are a variety of prey species to hunt, and all human contact is removed. Cubs born in the release stage in the hunting ground can be released back into the wild, with all the skills and human avoidance behaviours of any wild born cub. To avoid inbreeding, cubs are given a name beginning with the first letter of their mother’s name.

I was back at camp in enough time to cross the Zambia border to the Victoria Falls Bridge with a few others, getting covered in mist from the falls, to watch one of our group bungee jump. As the staff pushed her off the edge, she said she felt no fear and it was over very quickly, but became really shaky when she was hoisted up and walked back to join us. Good on her for going for it!

Back at Victoria Falls National Park, we ended up dancing with some of the local African performers in the sunshine, who were singing traditional songs in the car park, before heading in to see the falls. Having seen them from the Zambia side already, I wanted to compare the view from Zimbabwe.

Map of the falls

We walked along the path beside the falls, taking in the scenery at every opportunity. Watching the large volume of rushing water just drop off the edge at Devil’s Cataract was incredible, nature at its most awesome.

victoria falls zimbabwe

I rented a poncho but got soaked in front of the main falls from all the mist, and with the warm weather it stuck uncomfortably to my legs and arms – far better to just get your clothes wet!

Side view of the main falls

In the afternoon, I was taken to Stanley and Livingstone Private Game Reserve for an Elephant back safari. We had a briefing on the decking next to the river before meeting the six elephants we would ride on. They are 12 orphan elephants in total, who needed care before the age when they learn to fend for themselves in the wild and can leave their mother, so money from the safaris is ploughed back into the programme.

Getting on to the elephants was made easy, as they have been trained to stand next to a tall ramp and lean in for a few pellet treats – their equivalent of chocolate. I swung my leg over the 15 year old Masuwe’s back onto a canvas seat and put my feet into stirrups. Masuwe then raised her trunk over her head endearingly into my guide’s hand, snuffling around for her well-deserved treats.

Elephant trunk

Once everyone was aboard, we set off on a 45 minute procession through the game reserve down through the water and up through the undergrowth, feeling their legs lift up for each step they take.

elephant safari

My elephant was a typical lazy teenager and despite being the first to set off and many attempts to get her to keep up with the crowd, we ended up being the last to get back. She was a real character and much to my amusement, whenever she could take a shortcut through the trees to rejoin the back of the group – she did!

Elephants have to eat a third of their body weight every day as only 40% is absorbed properly due to their poor digestive systems, so all the elephants grabbed quick takeaways during our time together. The trainers were great; giving us information about their elephants, the surrounding fauna, taking photos of us astride our elephants and letting us feel their rough skin. I also fed my elephant some of her chocolate, her thick trunk hoovering around my hands sucking up her treats.

If you are expecting to see lots of animals on the safari you will be disappointed – the staff admit it is a bushy area so it is all about the ride and learning about elephants, which I was delighted with. They are such beautiful animals with their expressive trunks, long eyelashes concealing soulful eyes and sure, calm movements.

Elephant head

Back at camp I met everyone in the restaurant for our last evening together. It’s been one hell of a trip! Asante Africa and to all the marafiki I’ve met along the way.

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