June 19: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Today we flew from Joburg to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The airport in Victoria Falls is small. Small? Very Small, no computers, nothing technological. We are no longer in 21st century South Africa. I’m pretty sure Botswana will be the same.
We were greeted and transported to the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge where we were met by the Zulu Chief. Baboons and warthogs and velvet monkeys are everywhere! In town as well as on the grounds of the Lodge. There are no fences keeping any animal out of any place. The lodge is beautiful with a stunning view and great balconies which we must close when we are not in our rooms, or when we have food in the room. The monkeys and baboons come in to eat any food you may have. So we were told, and I heard the truth of it: the guest above us began screaming shortly after we arrived because she opened some potato chips and immediately had guests…the monkeys swung onto the balcony and into her room…took her chips and all other food while she bolted out the door. I have advised Randy and the kids to keep the balcony doors closed!
We had a free afternoon, so we went to Lion Encounters, an African Impact program teamed with ALERT that is repopulating the bush with lions. Lion populations are down 80% in the last 30 years which endangers the African ecosystem. ALERT and Lion Encounters take lion cubs born into captivity and allow small numbers of visitors to interact with them (for a fairly large fee) until they are sexually mature, around 15 months.
When they are sexually mature they are moved into phase II, released in a pride into a large enclosure where they live as a wild pride. They are closely monitored for research purposes but at this stage there is no human contact or intervention. Stage 3 is when the pride is relocated to a larger area, where they will spend the rest of their lives. This area is big enough to have many different species in it, including competitive ones. For stage 4, the cubs born and raised in Stage 3 can be relocated into those areas of Africa that need them the most. We are happy to aid in that endeavor while having the experience of walking with lions in the wild. Alexandra, our cat lover, was beside herself with anticipation….lion cubs! I was expecting small cubs, or maybe a little bigger, but We WALKED WITH, and among, LIONS. One male and one female, not yet sexually mature….but very close! They are huge. They are beautiful beyond description. We touched them, walked in the bush with them, watched them, took photographs, and were completely inspired by them. We are all overwhelmed by the experience. Did you know that young lions have spots, and the spots disappear with sexual maturity? I never knew that until today. I cannot even begin to describe the wonder, the excitement (tinged with fear, certainly) of being close to, and walking in the bush with, these young lions….and nine rangers! Photos are worth a thousand words.
Tonight at dinner we watched a herd of elephants make their way to the waterhole in the distance. Everywhere we have been so far has been a dream come true…the food has been excellent, the service exceptional, and we are at a lodge where animals are everywhere! Tomorrow we are off to the Falls and a cruise on the Zambezi River….hippos! Crocs!