Here Kitty Kitty Kitty!
11.20.06 0 °F
Entry # 30A –First Week at the Lion Park
Monday, November 6 – 10 months on the road today!
We had a 10:00 pick up and we arrived at noon. I won the award at the park of having the second most luggage from any one volunteer. I can’t wait to be able to mail most of my stuff home!
Given – the Staff member who will be our main supervisor, tour guide and orientation host sent us through our paperwork and facts about the park and the different animals we will handle.
Animals at the park – lion, white lion, leopard, cheetah, wart hog, black-sided jackal, side stripe jackal, ostrich, giraffe, brown hyena (very rare) and spotted hyenas.
Our Group – Casey – Magnetic Island, Aust, Erin – NSW, Aust, Zara – Nottingham, UK, Karen – Nottingham, UK, Angie – Birmingham, UK, Nick –???, UK, Amanda – Birmingham, UK, Goeff – Melbourne, Aust – Most of them are first time ItoI’ers, although Casey and Erin have done three. I am staying for 2 weeks, and most of the others are staying at least 3 and two will be staying for 4 weeks. We just have to tell them the day before you want off. We can take off days between Mondays through Friday, but Saturday and Sunday’s are the biggest days at the park so everyone is on duty.
The Lion Park was established in 1966 as a retirement community for former circus animals. Now they are an education center (not zoo or private game reserve) for native wildlife. They have changed management as of 1998 and have just established a second company for filming with lions and carnivores. It is a 208 hectares enclosure, separated into 5 different camps within a residential area on the northern suburbs. You can hear not only the lions but also the highway not that far away.
We are housed in tents that sleep 4 with proper beds. I am with Amanda, Karen and Zara.
Our days will be split with ½ in the nursery and ½ in the touch-a-cub enclosure in Cub World. In the nursery there are four pens. Currently they house three wild white lion cubs that are going to a zoo in Mexico, 3 three-week-old cubs (Swazi, Nia and Zam – named for African countries), 2 four-month old cubs (Kiango and Kumara) and the young leopard – Ohno. Ohno is an 8-month-old leopard and he is very handsome. He came up to us in his cage enclosure and seemed very social.
Apparently, all the lion cubs answer to kip kip kip and the hyenas answer to woozie, woozie woozie.
I spent the early evening unpacking and blogging. We had a braii for dinner and were in bed by 9:00 pm. Up by 7:00 to be at work at 8:00.
Tuesday, November 7
First day on the job. My group of Zara, Angie and Amanda began in the nursery.
Inside the nursery there are 4 cages that house animals overnight. There is quite a smell, probably a combination of the lions, leopard and the horsemeat bones that had been fed to the trio of wild lion cubs.
Our first job was to clean out the outside enclosure for the 4-month-old pair, Kumara (female) and Kianga (male). They spend the night inside and the days outside. Their enclosure has lots of trees and rocks and is surrounded by a fence with the top layer is electrified. We were warned to be aware of the fence as it is constantly electrified and people had stood up unexpectedly and got a bit of a shock. I was on the rake, Zara was on clearing the pool and Angie was on collecting up the piles of leaves that I raked up. During our cleaning, we heard a screech from the cub world pen where the other team where cleaning. Erin was hugged and bitten from behind by Miasha.
Then we went back to the nursery and prepared bottles for the three tiniest cubs. The milk is Esbilac (puppy formula similar to Similac that we used on the kittens). They are only 9 weeks old and very cute. Zam and Swazi are the males and Nia is the female. Very cute and yet their little teeth are quite sharp and their claws prominent. We were not able to bottle feed, Princess, who is now in charge of the nursery said that we would not be able to bottle feed until we had been here for two weeks. I guess I may not be able to feed as I only am here for two weeks. I will ask Princess closer to the time I am leaving if she would please allow me to bottle-feed someone once.
Next we got the bowls of food ready for the two little cubs and the 6 guys in the outside pen, the pen in cub world where you get to touch the cubs. The bowls included a cup of cat kibble and a layer of horsemeat.
The horsemeat is always donated from local people. There was a problem as we arrived, because the pen in cub world that houses the 10-11 months old cubs had been given meat from a horse that had been euthanized. Apparently the horse had been sedated and the people who picked up the meat did not know to ask how the horse had died. Yesterday, two pens of cubs were very lethargic and had been administered charcoal and liver injections to counter act the sedation. Today, one of the 11 months old females was still in a bad way and was sent to the vet for additional treatment. All the other cats were but still got more liver injections and charcoal today. A lot of the staff were used during the treatments and were pretty exhausted from the ordeal. Luckily, the female that had been to the vet is doing well and has returned to the park.
We got to take the dishes to the two cubs and I had one of the bowls. They were waiting for us, were very excited to see the food and sort of jumped at me. I ended up drop/throwing the bowl in their general direction. I was told that I could place them on the ground the next time. It was an adrenaline rush to have that little cub approach and it was a bit scary.
Next we got to the take the 6 bowls to the pen with the 6 months old touch-a-cub guys. Maisha, Thando, Kookai the girls and the boys, Cochise and Duciele and the hyaena Keto.
Cohise and Maisha are siblings, Kookai and Duciele are siblings and Thando half sibling to Maisha and Cochise.
These guys up to your knee and VERY PLAYFUL!!!!. I told Amanda that I was not up for taking in the bowls to the bigger cubs, so she did it with the others. We ended up waiting for them and Amanda collected all the bowls with one of them continuing to try and get into the bowls. Left feeling a little shaken and unhappy with my first interactions with them.
Next we had a meeting with Ian, the owner/manager of the Lion Park. He told us all about the history of the Park. He shared with us about their experience with breeding the lions including that has never been a successful artificial insemination in lions. Lions are induced breeders and when the female is in heat for 5 days, the male breeds her every 7-15 minutes for the entire time. It is the frequency that causes the female to ovulate. The Lion Park is a member of the PAZ???? and the World ????? They do relocate or sell to other members of these groups and also receive other breeding animals in order to make sure there is genetic diversity.
The cubs are removed from their mothers for various reasons including first time mothers, to reduce crowding in the pride, if the cub is weak or the same sex as the twin, or for educational purposes. The mother tends to have a pair of cubs at a time. If there aren’t enough resources and one of the cubs is weak, it is not uncommon for them to kill weaker one.
After the meeting, we went to help clean out a vacant enclosure of rocks and sticks as one of the staff members was mowing all the pens.
Then we went out to cover the giraffe feeding area. There are two giraffe’s Gambit the male and Purdy, the female. There is a platform so that you are up at their head height so that you can feed them. We try to feed them on the platform instead of on the ground, as they tend to challenge the fence with their chests. We make up bags of giraffe nuggets that are basically alfalfa pellets for 10rand (around $1.30). It is lovely to feed. They have a 45 cm tongue that are blue black and they extend their tongue and you pour a few pellets on to it. I went up to help a family who was a little tentative about the feeding and getting giraffe slobber on their hands. The kids were lovely.
I then went to lunch and did a little hand laundry and then went back to help in the cub world area. The volunteers switch half way through the day so we went to the other area. In this area, we were back at the giraffes. There wasn’t much going on, so we packed the giraffe nuggets up and went to take the three cubs for a walk. We had three cubs and 9 staff and volunteers across the field to the airstrip for a ramble. Erin ran ahead of them and the three cubs gambled after her. They were pooped and we had to keep collecting them out of the grass and keeping them on the airstrip. They were wonderful.
Our final task of the day was to cut up the horsemeat for tomorrow. It was huge hunks of meat with lots of bright yellow fat. Angie and I cut up the meat.
We also got to meet Jake, the Side Striped Jackal is in the nursery and about as large as a large rat. One week old, he is cute as a bug’s ear, this little guy had a bottle with a tiny little nipple
Wednesday, November 8 – Big Feed Day
Today we started in the cub world area that meant our first duty was to go into the touch-a-cub cage with the 6 within. I was a little apprehensive, but we had a plan of how to approach the task including working in pairs, watching each other’s back and when all else fails, distract them by letting them play with a rake or the broom. Amanda tackled the pool and had 5 of the 6 of them amused for quite a while. I had the rake and my back to the fence. After the pool was emptied and the rakings gathered up, we assisted Amanda with the pool while Zara held off two different sub-groups with two rakes.
PHOTO – ZARA and the rakes
We ended up without any mishaps and I think all of us felt better about working in this pen.
Next, we raked around the perimeter of the cub world pens and finally opened up the giraffe food stall. I was not there at the time, but the actress Jane Seymour and entourage including bodyguard fed the giraffes and then spent a lot of time in the pen with the 6 cubs. No photo, but I could see she was petite, slight, with lovely reddish hair. Just as I had imagined her. After Jane had gone, I was on duty at the giraffes and could not resist buying a sack of pellets and feeding them. First I fed Purdy, the female and she is lovely. (I am having an attack of the lovelies again!) Angie got a video of Purdy and I. After that group had left, I bough another bag and fed Gambit. He is also lovely, but only hangs around as long as you have food. No food, and he is off. The staff was fixing the fence immediately underneath the feeding platform, so the giraffes went away and did not return for the day. Only 50 rand today, 20 of it from me, compared to 300 rand yesterday. Maybe more tomorrow.
At 11, we all loaded into the truck and did a drive around the park including the lion camps. Along the way we saw Springbok, Blasbok, Burchells Zebra, Black Wildebeest for a great distance, our giraffes, Impala, Gebok, Spotted hyena, Brown Hyena, Cheetah’s. There are 4 lion camps where there an existing prides with different societies.
Camp 1 has a single male and only two females. I didn’t get a very good look at these.
Camp 2 had about 8 females, two cubs and a lovely male lion named Sly. He posed very nicely for our cameras. This camp is full of split lions, they appear tawny, but all carry the white recessive gene. One of the cubs was definitely white. When the offspring of the male are about ready to breed, they are removed from the pride.
Camp 3 is called the Chinese Takeaway camp. They are currently without a male, but they have a small enclosure set aside for a younger male with 3 of the prides’ females. The main pride females were HUGE and very well fed. When they introduce the male to the rest of the pride, the three females will protect him from the other females until he has assimilated. They are called the takeaway because in 1998, two Taiwanese tourists ignored the signs about staying in their car and got out in order to take pictures of the sleeping pride. They must have gotten great pictures, but they also lost their lives. Just as we were leaving, the young male lion was showing that he was indeed trying to increase the population.
Camp 4 we found the gate wide open and the pride well within the cage. This camp has two male lions that are brothers. When a conglomerate of males enter and take over a pride, all the males share both the females and the food. We now know that not all prides have a single male.
All in all, we probably saw about 70 lions all together
We were pretty pooped after our ride so most of us went directly to lunch. After lunch, we had been told to clean up the playground area, but as it was currently being mowed, that was not an option. I ended up going on cigarette patrol around the cub world area. While there were things to pick up like cig butts, ice cream sticks, lolly pop sticks and bits of plastic candy wrappers, it really was pretty clean. At one point, I looked over and saw one of the white cubs that had the bad meat stalking me. I approached her closer and looked her in the eye and she stopped. I went back to my picking and as I was finishing, she was doing it again. So I approached her like I was stalking her and told her that I knew what she was doing and she went all cute on my and rubbed up against the fence and wanted to be rubbed. It is a pity that we can’t interact with them, but if I am afraid of the littlies and middles, I can’t imagine going in with the teenagers.
As I went to Amanda asking for my next task, she told me to hurry and catch up with the group as they were going to the wild side and were hanging up fly traps. These cages are the animals over 2 years of age who are being trained for the film unit or are not ready for viewing by the main public.
First and the most spectacular were two black leopards. They are brother and sister and are absolutely magnificent. These are what most people call black panthers. They may try a breeding program with them and Onho, who appears as a normal colored leopard, also carries the black gene and he may be able to be used. These animals most probably came from India, as they are not native to Africa.
I also know now that the other black cat, that people sometimes call panther is the black jaguar. They are from South America. None here at this time.
We made up flytraps that are a cone of plastic filled with powder that smells like rotting fish, mixed with hot water and then hung on the fences. They last 2-3 months and are only needed during the summer months.
PHOTO OF FLY TRAP
Along our trek we also got to see lots of male and female lions, several brown hyena’s that look like the werewolf in London monster, and the most beautiful white male lion named Mr. Whitey. Next to him was a perfectly marvelous jaguar named Jade who is trained, comes to her name and loves women. We have lots of pictures of Jade.
It was time to get back to the nursery, but ended up with not a lot to do. At one point, we had to corral the two younger cubes back into their outside pen as one of them escaped when two volunteers went in to visit them. We also brought in the laundry and got the pens ready for the night quarters, just in time for Ohno to be brought in. He is becoming used to Princess and was a stitch this morning as he was being moved. He did a lot of lying down and having to be physically moved or lured with toys.
We let the littlies in for their bottles and we watched as Princess pottied them with cotton wool and warm water. They are beginning to learn to do it by themselves, but not 100% of the time.
I am blogging at the pasture fence behind my tent as the sun fades and the crickets begin to sing. It is cool, but not too bad. I was hoping that my friends the giraffes would come by, but no such luck.
Day two completed on this placement. There is a definite feel of Africa time here where there are long breaks between duties. Nothing is written down as to work roster and people just sort of float through the day. As I look at it now, this is the one placement where they have the least need for volunteers from what I can see. There seem to be enough staff to get things done, and at times, they stand by and watch us work. It could just be that there are 8 of us currently and 6 of us aren’t up to speed yet.
I was told by Princess that tomorrow we spring clean the nursery, which should be good and will most likely use all of us for the entire morning. I am looking forward to that.
Thursday, November 9
I had some thoughts last night during the night about cutting this placement short and what I would do with the time. My main thought is that with 8 and soon to be only 7 volunteers, we are falling over each other to do our work and spending vast amounts of time together watching as someone else works. This is the first time that I have volunteers for a for-profit concern and they seem to have enough staff to do just fine without us. I will wait and see what unfolds.
Today we started back in the nursery and we knew that today we would be doing spring-cleaning. Princess is newly appointed as the supervisor over the nursery and is still feeling her way with the new responsibilities.
We saw little Jake the Jackal and found out a little more about him. The parents had a litter of three but they killed the other two. Apparently this has happened before. He is growing and doing okay. When I consider that the pen where the Side Stripe Jackals are housed is right up next to the car park, is the first pen to receive the public and all the large buses, I don’t find it hard to believe that the parents are hugely stressed and did not feel that their cubs were safe. Poor babies.
After we cleaned the two cub external pen, I spent some quality time searching for Easter eggs (litter) again in the area between the nursery and their pen. Remember in Australia where I turned poo picking into an Easter egg hunt, well I am doing it again in South Africa but this time it is litter. Cig butts, lolly sticks, flip tops, bits of paper and candy stuff and the odd chicken bone were all going into my bucket.
At one point, Angie came out and said that the terrible two were coming out. Sure enough, in fits and starts, two cubs and three volunteers rounded the corner. Mostly the cubs went in the wrong direction and kept getting side tracked at trees and under benches. After about 5 minutes, they were safely ensconced in their outside playground. While Zara and Angie spent time with them and gave them cub enrichment time (soccer ball), Amanda and I tackled the Easter egg hunt in the picnic/playground area just behind our tend enclosure. There had been two busloads of school kids there the day before, we did not really find that much trash. Just as we were heading back to the nursery for spring-cleaning, two more busloads arrived.
Spring cleaning consisted of power washing the four pens, even with the three wild cubs, defrosting and deblooding the meat freezer, pulling out most of the counters and appliances and cleaning behind them, removing and replacing the spiral sticky fly traps and organizing the shelves. There was insufficient equipment for all of us to do the tasks and the supervisor did not communicate the entirety of the project so that we could be effective in different areas. We finally hit our groove with the freezer, but unfortunately, got a little carried away with the power washer and ended up chipping up the paint from the floor and splattering it on the walls. It took us 2.5 hours, and I must say, it was probably the most work I have done since I have been here. Princess was very pleased when it was done, and I think she feels more at home in her new location and has a handle on where everything is. As we began the work, I noticed that she had a large tear in her shirt on the back and I asked if it was new or old. She said that Ohno had tried to bite her right breast during the am transfer, so she was wearing her shirt back to front.
We decided to buy lunch instead of making our own as a treat, so I ordered savory mince sandwiches, chips and salad and mango juice. After I had ordered, I went back to the tent for more money and to hang out the laundry that Amanda and I had done this am.
Our afternoon was spent in the cub world area where there was not a lot to do as the men were still working at the fence near the giraffe feeding station. I began to rake all the recently mowed grass in the alleyway surrounding the cub enclosures, Zara and Angie went in to help tourists touch the cubs. Soon, the giraffe’s appeared so Angie went to the feeding station. No celebrities today. When I finished my cleaning, I joined Amanda and Angie at giraffes and found that today only Gambit was at the platform. I could see Purdy but even when I went to see her with pellets, she preferred to prickly acacia trees. On the way back to the enclosure, I went past a clutch of ostrich eggs. Amanda said that they were aware of them and that the female abandoned them a while back. They staff just hasn’t been by to pick them up.
During our giraffe afternoon, we helped a couple of Japanese tourists, the lady who was fainting and a group of Chinese tourists who were a stitch when it came to feeding the giraffes. Poor Amanda has been suffering with what she thinks in an ingrown toenail. I told her I would look at it tonight and suggested Epson salts baths.
We ended up in the cub enclosure and assisted people with photographs. One man with lots of things hanging around his neck turns out to the face on Animal Planet who does all the wildlife segments. He is coming back tomorrow to get some photos.
While we were in with the bunch of 6, Princess, Ohno and another staff member where having their twice-daily procedure to get Ohno from one cage to the other. At least they had the purple harness on him this time, which is tighter and allows for better control. There were lots of people around who so much wanted to get close, but Zara kept telling them that they had to stay back for everyone’s safety.
We had done a little list of what we would eat until the next shopping day on Monday and tonight would be tuna pasta stuff. As we arrived back at our tents to begin dinner, it was found that in the other tent, two cell phones that had been buried in luggage had been lifted. In that tent, the cell phone that had been on the bed in the open was not taken. They tent was padlocked, but we found out that each of our tents also has a back zipper entrance which had not been locked. Add on top of that, the entire zipper mechanism for both the inner bug netting and the external canvas are only attached to the tent by Velcro. One hard pull and the entire panel comes away rendering the padlock useless. The entrance to this tent faces the pasture and is therefore is less obvious if there is someone lurking. My tent backs up to this tent and an alleyway in between. Our tent faces the kitchen. In the next tent are some contract workers who have been tiling the bbq area and the new handicapped bathroom up near the nursery. Amanda had her cell phone taken from that tent earlier in her stay when the tent was not locked and the phone was in plain sight.
During our discussion with Ian, he had said that we should use their safe for our valuables. When we finally met the woman who could help us with that, she indicated that her safe was not accessible during the weekends and she sent us to the lady who runs the curio shop. Angie had hoped to store her extra money and documents. The lady said she would only take passports and paperwork. At this point, there was no location for most of us to store anything. I have been locking my computer, passport, money, wallet, plane tickets and ipod up daily in my luggage, as well as the front part of our tent being locked up with one of my padlocks.
NOTE TO TRAVELERS – Suggestion to carry at least one additional padlock when you travel. You never know when you might buy an additional piece of luggage that needs to be secured.
As I exited the shower tonight, the group was heading up to see Given, to alert him to the problem and to see about going to the police tomorrow. Amanda’s toe does not look good, so she will approach Ian tomorrow about seeing the local doctor. Hopefully, it will respond to medication and possibly a procedure that won’t lay her too low.
Friday, November 10
Small contingents of us was going to the police department and then taking Amanda to the Dr. (I nearly said Vet), therefore, we were with reduced resources this am.
Zara and I began to clean the touch-a-cub pen and we knew to expect that the cubs would be interested in our tools. Luckily, Angie joined us for a time that helped and we had managed to poop scoop and rake and get the pool drained before things disintegrated.
Princess brought Ohno by and he promptly leapt into the alleyway between the tourist walkway and the pen. This got our pen going. Princess got him out and he did it again, further down the line. By this time, our guys we shooting past us and running back and forth. At one point, I was being circled and pursued, so I gave the cub two sharp raps on the nose. At this point, the vibes said get out of the pen before I get more frightened. I told my team that I was leaving and they also came out with me. At this point, there was no reason to stay in the pen. We knew that they would settle when their breakfast arrived and at this point, Angie had to join the group going to the police so Zara and I did the outside raking. They had settled, but we waited until the food arrived to finish the pool and do the final perimeter check.
Once that was finished, we opened the giraffe feeding. Today we were hosting a corporation sponsoring teams in a “great race” competition, so we had about 7 teams of people doing several events at the Lion Park. As they approached the giraffe’s, they wanted a group photo and several teams also wanted individual shots with the giraffe. Gambit was the celebrity of the day. Some of the teams had money with them and bought a bag of pellets. Other teams just had their photo and quickly moved to the next station.
Nick approached Ian about the thefts yesterday and he was a little stroppy about having told us not the have any valuables in the tents. We explained that when we had inquired about the safe options, they did appear viable as one would not accept our money and the other option was not available to us over the weekend. What the other tent has opted to do is to carry small backpacks with them all day, which is a bother because you cannot safely leave them unattended and are constantly worried about where they are.
Today was also the day that the Wart Hogs were going to be film stars. We did not feed them in the am as they were supposed to be moved. We switched to the nursery at 1pm. In the pm, the crew arrived to pick up the hogs. It was determined that their pen did not have a proper gate and therefore, they had to destroy part of the fence. Next, they had to construct an alley for the hogs to move from the pen. At one point, I looked over and there were at least 10 people around the pen. We kept hearing things dropping and the saw people running. At one point, there were several pig squeals. After 2.5 hours, the pigs were finally loaded.
I did a few hours in the touch-a-cub when they were rather sedate and sleepy. Another hot day with clouds gathering for an afternoon storm.
After lunch, we had nursery duty, but there was nothing to be done until 4pm. For short time, Zara and I and finally Angie played the three tinies in their inside pen. It had begun to rain and Princess moved them indoors. Immediately, Nia showed us that she had a runny tummy and Princess said that the vet was already on the way. After about an hour, we were a little tired of deflecting little claws and mouths and the vet arrived so we left.
In the afternoon, Angie and Casey had a meeting with Ian about their missing items. It sounded like they felt the contract laborers were to blame and when the staff approached their foreman to discuss it with them, he said he would not as it would cause too much trouble. They had cleared off by 2pm, with most but not all the work done and we are not sure if they will come back. Interesting fact is that the theft also occurred on the day that Ornica, the staff member who supervised the tent village, was off. Hummmmm?
Kiango and Kumara had been moved into the outside pen next to touch-a-cub, where they will be this weekend. Next week, the wild guys move to the pen we cleaned the other day, the big 6 move into a different pen and Kiango and Kumara become the touch-a-cub stars. That should be easier for all of us, with fewer animals and smaller ones as well.
I took an hour off and went to tent and then we joined up in the nursery. We made bottles for the little guys, got the pens ready for the outside cubs to come back and then went and got K and K back into the nursery. They were tired from their afternoon in the sun and were stars and made a beeline for the inside pen.
We had several rain showers today and by the end of the workday, the clouds were rolling and lots of thunder could be heard. Most of the crew went off for walks and the sat on the back porch and watched the herd’s move, the wild dogs play and the rainbow form. It was lovely
Nick made a fabulous dinner of a wraps with curried chicken, honey mustard chicken, grilled veggies, salad and tortillas. The best meal we have had so far.
Saturday, November 1
VERY HOT TODAY and LOTS OF SUN!
Our first weekend and we had been warned that there would be bigger crowds. Touch-a-cub was the main draw and the giraffe’s accepted some of our pellets, but many of the kids did not get to see them up close.
Bottle-fed the babies briefly – Quite a thrill. Hopefully the other team will also be able to bottle-feed later today.
Montecasino for dinner – Think of a film set with fake facades and when you look past the upper story you see the lights and the black ceiling. Dinner was good and we were hungry. The table separated into three different discussions. We did a little wander through the shops and Angie found a wonderful story called RailWoods, where all the items were made out of recycled railway wood. Lovely. I would have indulged but I wanted things that were huge and very heavy. Maybe next trip. I did find a great baboon book at the bookstore, which is now in my possession. We separated and a few of us came home at 11. The rest arrived back at 4am.