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In a perfect world, no wild animal would be in any form of captivity. Sadly, wildlife is still seen by many as a form of entertainment, resulting in animal cruelty ranging from restricting their movement to horrific confinement in tiny cages, beatings, drugging and near starvation in filthy and inhumane conditions.
Four Paws is an international animal welfare organization that works tirelessly to uncover abuse, provide education and promote humanity towards animals. Their Big Cat project rescues animals from all over the world and relocates them to Lionsrock where they can live out their days in peace, with dignity.
Lionsrock is situated about three hours from Johannesburg, close the town of Bethlehem in the Free State. The three-star lodge can accommodate up to 55 people in a variety of standard and luxury rooms and self- catering units. The Lodge sits up against an impressive mountain with sweeping views of the Koppie, plains and lake.
The two-hour guided game drive is the highlight of a visit to Lionsrock. It is where you connect with their vision, see the passion of the staff and hear the stories of the animals. The rescue animals can only be seen on a guided drive, as a self-drive in the 60 hectares that house the enclosures is not permitted.
On the game drive you hear the stories of each animal, as well as interesting facts about the species.
The first stop is at the smallest enclosures where the newest residents are placed. Dian, our guide explains the process. Having spent most of their lives in a tiny enclosure, many of the animals are intimidated by vast open spaces, some have never walked on grass before, and they need a safe space to adapt to their new surroundings.
Each enclosure is grassed, has shade and a felled log or somewhere for the animal to lie in the sun, or hide under. Same species are put in adjoining enclosures to promote socialization, if they want it. This method has worked well with the lions, and it facilitates forming a small pride, or pairs of animals that can be homed together in the large seven hectare enclosures when they are ready.
Bakari, a leopard from a zoo in Germany had the job of posing with clients at a Christmas party, after that he was not wanted. We see Andi, a lioness who was a mascot for selfies on a beach in Romania.
We fall in love with Laziz, a tiger rescued from a zoo in the Gaza strip. Laziz was thrilled to be at Lionsrock, until the first thunderstorm of the season. The poor creature associated the sound of thunder with bomb attacks. With lots of patience, caring and love, Laziz is settling in. His biggest problem now are the cheeky ground squirrels who pop up out of the ground next to him, wanting to be chased.
The large enclosures are adapted to the species, some including rocks or trees to climb, tall grasses or clusters of trees to hide or find shade and strive to emulate the natural habitat as closely as possible.
Some of the animals do not wish to be seen, and Dian does not force it. He reiterates that Lionsrock is about the animals, not the humans.
Each animal has a unique and heartbreaking story, but the overall experience is one of hope and joy. Although all animals are sterilized, they are well cared for and allowed and encouraged to act according to their instincts. They are closely monitored, and any medical or social issues are addressed immediately, ensuring they are pain free and happy.
The animals include lion, tiger, leopard, caracal and black spotted hyena.
This experience is an excellent form of education on the impact of human interaction or domination of wildlife and the stress and suffering it causes. It is suitable for all ages.
Self-drive or walk.
On the rest of the 1 200 hectare park zebra, springbok, lechwe, impala, fallow deer, gemsbok, blesbok and waterbuck roam free. The bird life is abundant, and horses hang out under the tree at the lake.
We wandered down to the lake and sat enjoying a sunset, laughing at the horses who stood chest high in the water in an attempt to cool down.
There are two rough hiking trails that lead to a large viewing deck, well worth the effort, but not suitable for young kids or anyone a bit unsteady on their feet. A sunset drive to a viewing point is an option for those not keen to walk.
When the sun goes down it is pitch black. Fall asleep listening to the roars of the lions as they rumble and shout at one another and into the vastness of the African night. It is a thrilling sound.
A snuffling noise awoke me, and I went outside for some air and to take a look. There not a meter from my front door was a pair of impala snacking on the lawn. A few hours later the zebra paid a visit.
Relax and enjoy.
The restaurant and bar serve breakfast, lunch and dinner which can be enjoyed inside or out. The pool area has views for days, a kiddie’s pool and overlooks the children’s play area.
Picnics are provided on request and there are plenty of great spots to enjoy them next to a river, lake, up the mountain or at the mouth of a cave.
I think the term “big sky” was coined here. The vast, remote landscape is dramatic, yet calming. It allows you to breathe. We sat and watched as the clouds gathered, the sky went dark and the rains pelleted a welcoming earth. Lightning flashed, thunder crashed, and nature showed who was boss. An hour later the sky was clear, and we were swimming in the pool. Sunrise and sunset at worth making time for, the light here is a photographer’s dream.
Good to know.
Day visitors are welcome and there is no entrance fee. Pets are also welcome and can be accommodated while you do your game drive. Game drives last about two hours and are R200 per person with discounts for pensioners and children.
What to do in the area.
If you are spending a few nights speak to reception to arrange a day trip. Clarens is not far and has a brewery, art galleries and restaurants to explore. For adrenalin junkies Clarence extreme offers white water rafting which I can personally highly recommend, ziplining, quad biking or abseiling.
The Golden Gate National Park and Basuto Cultural Village are also worth visiting.
All proceeds at Lionsrock Sanctuary and Lodge go directly towards the benefit of the rescued animals. Visitors and guests to Lions Rock make a significant contribution to the welfare of the big cats
END THE BIG CAT SCAM!
Lions in captivity are used as tourist attraction, for hunting or they are killed and processed for traditional medicine. Please take the Four Paws oath and make a serious promise to help end this industry:
What does it mean if I sign my pledge?
By signing the Four Paws Lion Longevity Oath, you vow to:
· Never pet lion cubs or walk with lions (no interaction with any captive big cat)
· Never take part in trophy hunting
· Never support captive lion and other big cat breeders in any way
· Oppose cruel keeping conditions
· Only visit ethical and true sanctuaries
· Only visit national parks, where lions can remain in the wild
· Never use any lion or tiger products
· Support FOUR PAWS in raising the profile of lions
True sanctuaries is a work in progress aiming to define and set best industry practices and to grow the number of true sanctuaries.
A True Sanctuary puts the welfare of the animals ahead of everything else. They exist to provide a forever home for wildlife that can not be released back into the wild. They adhere to strict ethical guidelines and provide dedicated enclosures specific to the needs of the species. They continuously monitor the well-being of each individual animal.
They do not breed or trade the animals in their care or offer any form of interaction with them.
They strongly oppose any exploitative wildlife activities and attractions and they encourage all visitors to South Africa to respect our natural heritage.
Presently there are five #TrueSanctuaries in South Africa, hopefully their numbers will grow.
For more information on ethical animal sanctuaries and wildlife in South Africa, visit greengirlsinafrica.com