Something I never thought I would say in my life is that I would be lucky enough to walk with and cuddle fully grown adult lions.
Lions are incredibly impressive animals and it’s impossible not to be completely in awe of them. When we spotted the two black maned lions on our Safari trip with Rovos Rail, my heart was in my mouth and I could barely breathe. Needless to say, seeing two fully grown lions running towards me, basic instinct told me to run in the opposite direction, but the instruction we had received from the keepers at Casela, was to stand still. All I could do was let let the huge creatures bound past me.
The giant paws padded across the ground in front of me, almost too graceful for their own size and, before we knew it, we were walking next to them. The keepers demonstrated the lions’ vast muscles and full size by placing a bit of raw meat on top of a branch. Without even trying, one of the lions rocked back on his hind legs and stretched up towards the branch, a rough pink tongue scratching across the bark and stealing the meat.
The lions are introduced to humans from birth to get them accustomed to human interaction, they aren’t drugged or trained, they just have a great relationship with their keepers and trust in the humans that care for them.
Before we knew it, we were off trotting behind the lions trying to keep up with their elegant bounds as they easily navigated the rough terrain and fallen branches. Their paws pressed into the dried mud creating prints wider than my own foot print pushing us to understand the magnificence of these creatures. We stopped every so often along the track; us to get our breathe back and the lions to sniff the base of trees and foliage beside the path.
Every five minutes, someone was called up to the front of the group to walk right beside the lions. My turn, I was strangely calm as I approached the them. They glanced back as I took my place between them and brushed against me. I could feel their warm bodies and rough fur through my light linen trousers. Placed one hand, firmly, on each of their backs giving them both a solid pat. We were instructed to never stroke the lions or tickle them as it’s just irritating for them (and they may take a swipe at you). You’re supposed to touch them exactly as you would a horse, firm and confident so they know exactly what you’re doing. Expecting their fur to be quite soft, I was surprised that it’s slightly oily and rougher than expected.
We got a chance to stop midway through the walk and get up close to have a few pictures with the lions which really was the most amazing experience. One jumped up onto a log and was coaxed to
stay there for a little bit by one of the handlers with a bit of fresh meat rubbed onto the end of the log. The giant was even gentle enough to lick the meat juices from the handlers outstretched hand without even looking like he would make a questioning move.
These creatures could easily kill me with one swipe of their paws, but the fact that they chose not to and are used to and content with humans makes you realise the power they hold. It sounds strange, but as we formed our own stride, I could feel the connection to the wild. The fear that I thought I had for them, turned out to be sheer respect. After all, they are the King of the Jungle.
The whole experience at Casela walking with these incredible big cats is one that I know I will never forget. I feel so privileged to have been able to meet them without barriers and even more privileged to have such a close counter with them.
I am fully aware of experiences like this usually attracting negative attention due to Canned Hunting, but we were assured that this is something Casela are completely against and do not condone. They only let the adolescent lions do the walks, but when they reach their adult years and their testosterone is at it’s peak, they are paired off to breed and either sent off to reserves or retire in the zoo where they will remain to continue the population for many years to come.
After our amazing walk with the lions, Kenny (our guide for the day, and a digital marketing intern at Casela) suggested that it was time for lunch. He took us to his favourite restaurant, with views over the island of Mauritius and serving more traditional Mauritian food. Once more, we were surrounded by local wildlife as birds attempted to join us at our table to eat. Stealing pieces of rice that fell from our forks. The food was incredible and fairly quiet which was a lovely change for a tourist attraction.
We didn’t want to spend too long sitting at lunch as we had yet another incredible experience to look forward to when we’d finished eating.
We had booked in to do a horseback safari. Ben had never ridden a horse so I was fully expecting to die from hysterics and watch him clinging on to dear life dangling by one foot from the stirrups, but I was proved wrong when he jumped up onto the saddle and soon got the hang of the reins and controlling the beautiful horse.
I’ve always loved horses and hadn’t ridden for years so it was such a treat. Our guides were on foot and pointed out various species of deer to us, as well as zebra, ostrich and giant tortoises. In
comparison to our car safari in South Africa, a safari on horseback was much more engaging and felt more natural. I’m not sure how well we would fair on horseback against rhinos or lions, but with the deer and ostrich, we could go where we wanted and didn’t have to stick to the path. Even if my horse was terrified of the giant tortoises!
For me, Casela was the one highlight of our trip to Mauritius. For an island that I probably wouldn’t choose to go back to, I would recommend if anyone does, to visit this incredible place and when you do, say hi to the lions for me!