picture shows two people walking with a lion

Zambia 2011

The answer to your first question is no, I wasn’t ever frightened. Cautious, yes. Somewhat intimidated, sure. Adrenaline pumping, you bet. But scared? Never.

Our lion encounter began with a lecture about lion conservation and preservation. We learned our lions, acquired when they were orphaned and were now two years old, would be under the guards’ supervision until they were three. At that point they would be taken to a larger facility where they would fend for themselves and learn how to be lions—but with no competition or other predators. At five, they would be released into the wild.

We were given hiking sticks and told that should our lions look directly at us, we should move the sticks on the ground to distract them and redirect their attention to the direction we were moving.

Moving. Oh, my. Our lions (2) were summoned, and we were off strolling. You cannot imagine how fast a lion strolls. We trotted to keep up, and to keep our hands on the back of the beautiful creature. There were four in our group, and we took turns touching the lion. (Well, three of us did. One woman was terrified and sensibly kept the rest of us between her and Really Big Teeth.) And after maybe 20 full minutes, we came, huffing and puffing humans and leisurely strolling animals, to water’s edge. There the lions went for a swim and a romp on the shore, while we were treated to another lecture on lion’s value to the country and how well-treated these animals were. The lions took another route home, and we could walk at human pace.

Hand-to-back contact stirred a tornado of emotions. I was touching one of earth’s most feared predators. He was not a house cat. I should have been afraid, but all I could think of was to try to move faster to keep up. The fur was bristly and rather slippery. I could feel—or maybe just sense—massive tight muscles shifting constantly. And yet, this was a warm, living being obviously enjoying stretching his legs. And OMG, the huge paws and claws on him. We were all constantly vigilant and aware of his potential power and suddenness.

But afraid? Not on your life.

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