Last Updated on April 29, 2021
Walking With Lions In Mossel Bay
Driving along the Garden Route in South Africa, we stopped in Mossel Bay to Walk with Lions at Zorgfontein’s Walking With Lions Project. The Zorgfontein Eco and Wildlife Reserve is located at Great Brak River, about a half-hour drive outside of Mossel Bay.
We were excited, and very nervous, to walk alongside one of the world’s most fearsome predators.
A Controversial Choice
The topic of walking with lions in South Africa is very controversial. There are always new cases reported of animal abuse where lions (among other animals) are displayed for tourists and then sold for the purpose of becoming a kill after they are fully grown.
However, it can also be argued that money coming from tourists to reputable organizations can contribute to conservation in a HUGE way.
We felt that we really learned a TON about lions and how to best help them. It is through exposing people to the unfortunate situation of some animals, that we can make progress to reverse negative cycles in nature. Remember, ignorance is not always bliss.
At the end of the day, you have to choose what feels right to you. Always decide on your own if you are comfortable with having an encounter this way.
Where Did The Lions Come From?
The lions were saved from potential canned-lion hunting programs and were hand raised. Since the lions were captive-bred, and their mothers were raised in captivity, they could not be released into the wild. Though the lions have instinct, they do not possess the skills for survival.
If the cubs were not brought to Zorgfontein, their fate would have been sealed by lion hunters. Instead, when the lions become too old to continue to safely be walking, they retire at the the Botlierskop Game Reserve, in the lion camp. The female lionesses are also on birth control, so unnecessary captive births are avoided.
The friendly coexistence between humans and lions is only possible if the lions are accustomed to humans from small cubs.
You may have seen lions on safari, but nothing is quite like taking a walk with lions.
What To Expect
The walk lasts for one hour, with two free-roaming lions and their Rangers. Each person is given a walking stick, to help with the uneven terrain and to keep the lions at a distance if they come near. The walk is done in an area that the lions are familiar with, and enjoy exploring.
During the lion walk, we did not feel that the lions were treated badly. They were able to choose what to do and where to go. They were not drugged or tranquilized. If the Rangers tried for photos and the lions were not interested, it was not forced.
The walks are strictly controlled and petting the lions is not allowed, except when instructed it is okay. Getting to ‘roam’ with the beautiful, proud lions in their natural environment is such a privilege. You are within their pride as they play stalk each other and witness their action first-hand.
The Rangers were so passionate about the lions. You could seriously feel their love for them radiating as they taught us more about them during our walk with the lions.
Their Rangers also do not let the predators out of their sight. They watch every step the lions take very attentively.
Is It Dangerous To Walk With Lions?
At first, it is a little intimidating being in the open with the lions and only a stick in hand, but as the walk continued we became a little more confident. It was fun to watch how the lions interact and play.
The lions seemed comfortable enough around people, but it was definitely better to keep them in sight than to have one behind you. Even though they have been hand-reared, at the end of the day they are lions and it is important to be aware of that.
Also, only younger lions are allowed for walking with lions. As they get older, they become too dominant and unpredictable.
Interesting Lion Facts:
Some cool facts we learned about lions that we did not know before were:
- Males guard the pride’s territory, females do most of the hunting.
- A lion’s tongue is enough to take your skin off if it licks you because of the barbs on the tongue. A lion started licking one of the guys in our walking group and they had the lion stop, but luckily the guy was wearing long pants, too.
- Most lions drink water daily if available, but can go four or five days without it.
- After the kill, the males usually eat first, lionesses next, and the cubs get what’s left.
What If It Rains?
Do not cancel your walk if it is raining. We were told that during less favorable weather, the lions have more energy. In the heat of the day, they can become lazy and could instead decide that they just want to laze under the shade of a tree.
Walking With Lions Was Incredible — But We Wouldn’t Do It Again
When done properly, walking with lions can be an incredible experience. But even so, the experience left us a bit torn. Looking back at the experience now (in 2021), with the additional knowledge we have from traveling through all these years, we wonder if it was a legitimate conservation facility. At the time of this update in April 2021, it appears that these lion walks are no longer offered.
It does not feel right to exploit wildlife to ‘save it.’ What we have learned since really makes us feel like a lion walk falls into a lot of grey areas.
When we walked with the lions, we had good intentions. We are huge animal lovers and wanted to know what it felt like to be up close with some incredible wildlife. It was our first time visiting South Africa and the opportunities are all so overwhelming, feel endless, and like anything is possible. We also wanted to support what we felt was a legitimate conservation effort.
We should have done more research and asked more questions. Just because you CAN do something, does not always mean that you should.
Have you ever walked with lions or any other otherwise dangerous animal? What was your experience like?
Updated April 2021