This blogpost appeared originally on my Finding Frohsinn photography blog. The visit to this place made such an impression on me, that I wanted to share it with my readers on this blog too.
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We visited the Drakenstein Lion Park – a sanctuary for lions bred in captivity and rescued from sometimes appalling conditions – near Klapmuts on Sunday morning. It was a pleasantly cool day, with clouds scudding across a blue sky. By midday, low clouds were blanketing the Mother City and completely hiding the mountains from view.
The lions (and the tigers) who live here in these spacious enclosures are well looked after, and are clearly loved and treated with respect by the enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff. The grounds and walkways are clean and well maintained, and there are benches and picnic tables with shady umbrellas dotted about, inviting visitors to sit and linger, and to soak up the atmosphere of this place, rather than rushing from one enclosure to the next.
Each of these beautiful creatures has a unique story to tell – have a look at the videos – and some of those stories will break your heart. Don’t expect a traditional zoo experience, with animals prowling restlessly around cages – which is what I remember from childhood. Thank God, this place is not like that!
Perhaps because it wasn’t anywhere near feeding time (around 4pm), the lions were all dozing in the shade, or lying on their back to soak up the sun. We didn’t manage to spot the two elusive Bengal tigers, who were rehomed from the Tygerberg Zoo when it closed down a year or two ago. Lions in captivity live longer than they do out in the wild; when they come to the sanctuary, they are assured of having a home there until they die – a long-term commitment.
Despite the peace and tranquility of this place, we felt a bit depressed by it all. The fact that such a place as this lion sanctuary exists – and needs to exist – is a sad indictment of how we, as supposedly intelligent human beings, have messed with the natural world to such an extent that there is no longer a place in the wild and open spaces for these truly magnificent kings and queens of the plains to roam free, without being hunted themselves for sport or trophies.
When I read those old accounts of the brave explorers of the African wilderness, and their evident pride and self-congratulation when hunting and shooting a particularly magnificent lion, my stomach turns. As courageous as those men were, their ruthless and cavalier attitude towards the extraordinary wildlife of this continent continues to echo down the centuries and into the present day. Too many of us still feel that the natural world is there to be dominated, controlled, colonised and ‘improved’ to suit our short-sighted purposes and to fill our pockets. It’s not.
I find it sickening that so-called canned lion hunting is not only still permitted in this country, but even tacitly supported by those in power, most likely because of the millions of rands of revenue it generates. How can we tolerate such exploitation and such cruelty towards sentient beings, who have just as much right to exist and to live in peace on this earth as we do?