Travel in Zimbabwe: Lion Conservation at Antelope Park

Antelope Park is a 3,000-acre game park in Gweru, Zimbabwe, which provides a variety of wildlife encounters and luxury accommodation for visitors.

DSC_0390On a much larger scale; however, the park is also a leading force in the conservation of African lions and their habitat.DSC_0307 - Edited

Basics About Lion Conservation at Antelope Park

Essentially, over the past twenty years, the lion population has declined an estimated 43%. This makes lion repopulation and conservation education incredibly crucial. To combat this problem, Antelope Park has been involved with the ALERT and their African Lion Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild program. This ALERT program has three distinct phases:

Rehabilitation Phase:  Cubs are born to captive-bred parents. They are hand raised and taken on human-led walks, which enables them to develop their natural instincts.DSC_0290 - Edited (1)Release Phase:  After 18 months, the lions are released into managed reserves where they function as a wild pride. They also give birth to cubs that are raised naturally, without human interference.DSC_0303 - EditedReintroduction Phase:  When old enough, the naturally-raised cubs are transferred into national parks, in order to restore the declining lion population.

The first group of third generation naturally-raised lions are set to be released in the coming year. It’s a highly anticipated event, which has gained them worldwide recognition, and is set to be featured on a BBC.DSC_0361Now because humans are responsible to much of the population decline, either from habitat destruction or human-conflict, the park aims to educate locals about the importance of this species. One of the major problems is lions eating local livestock, and historically the villagers solved this by poising the lions. To cut down on this negative human-lion interaction, the park has been working to create fences with flashing lights, which deters the lions from entering the villager’s farms and killing their cows.

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flashing light fences to deter lions (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

Now, along with educating locals about wildlife conservation, they also aim to educate visitors. They have a wide range of reasonably priced activities, where people can learn more about their lion program while getting up close and personal with these incredible creatures. 😀DSC_0287 - EditedFor example, I decided to attend a morning walk with three of the park’s lion youth: Tonga, Tomuka, and Ruva. These 14-month old animals are currently in the rehabilitation phase at the park.DSC_0291 - EditedLion Walk at Antelope Park 

Our visiting group of 10 gathered at 6:15 a.m. to meet our guide, Iri, and discuss safety prior to our walk.DSC_0280The rules for the walk are as follows:DSC_0279Although these lions are accustomed to humans, they still maintain some animal instincts. If they see something running, they will chase after it. Perfect example, this cat there had the urge to chase down this scurrying mouse and carry it around.DSC_0281 - Edited (1) Obviously a lion’s grasp is much more tight! The park even has shirts that say, “If you run, you die.” 😮

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walk slowly and carry a big stick 😛

After our talk, everyone got a big stick to carry with them. We were told if a lion was acting up, we should point the stick at them and say, “No!” in firm voice. This is a command they are taught when they’re young cubs. 🦁DSC_0316 - Edited (1)We met the three young lions at their enclosure before they released them for their walk. I had built up anxiety and excitement as I saw the lions behind a cage, knowing that their door would soon be open and they’d be free. 😮DSC_0283Surprisingly, the lions dashed out of their cage right past us. They weren’t too phased by our presence.DSC_0304 - Edited They went running off to play with each other. They seemed more than eager to roam free through the open plains. ❤

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visitors from Kansas on our walk

The lions all looked so happy and peaceful here. Here are Tonga and Tamuka grooming each other. 😀
DSC_0359DSC_0360My favorite part was when they’d nuzzle up against our legs with their head, and especially when one went right through my legs like a house cat. ❤DSC_0313 - Edited (1)Here’s my foot compared to Tamuka’s paw. 🙂20170224_085722The three lions all had very unique personalities, which seemed to suit their names just perfectly.DSC_0371 Tonga, in the local Shona language means ‘to rule’, and this male lion looked like he would be a great leader one day.DSC_0322 - EditedOn the other hand, Ruva means ‘flower’, and this delicate female went prancing off on her own to frolic in the fields. 🌼DSC_0299Lastly, Tamuka, means ‘to wake up or be alert’, and she was noted to be the best hunter. She even caught wind of a Hartebeest, and decided to run off to chase it.

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Tamuka onto the scent of a Hartebeest
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Hartebeest spotted by Tamuka

The other two decided to hide behind a staircase. 😛DSC_0366We also found our guide to have quite the goofy personality, and he really made us laugh during out group photo. 😀DSC_0349 - EditedWe ended up walking with the lions for around two-hours before the they got tired and started to lay down. DSC_0355Overall, the walk was fun for the animals, and an incredible experience for us visitors. DSC_0337 - Edited (1)It’s definitely a must-do if you visit Antelope Park!dsc_0294

Cost: 85 USD

Aside from the lion walk, other optional activities included horseback safaris, elephant encounters, and lion feedings.

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gorgeous horses at Antelope Park
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elephants at Antelope Park (photo courtesy of their webpage)
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Here is a gruesome shot of the lion feeding taken by a guy on our tour. Yikes! 😮

Personally, I just enjoyed walking through the facility with the other girls, spotting monkeys and beautiful flowers along our route. DSC_0381DSC_0385

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monkey in a tree

Others enjoyed lounging in hammocks to read, canoeing along the river, or even playing on the swings. 😛DSC_0389DSC_0395DSC_0382Now I found the facilities at Antelope Park a taste of African luxury. They have river lodges and tents, which span across a green marshland overlooking the water. 20170226_065511They also have a bar, restaurant, coffee-house and gift shop. This seemed appropriate. 😉
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coffee-shop seating
giftshop
gift shop with souvenirs

The only downside is the price tag. For example, internet costs 35 USD per GB. Yikes! 😮

Luckily, we had our budget campsite with meals included. On our first night we prepared steak, veggie burgers and potatoes. On the second night we had a chicken curry with vegetables and rice.

Here’s more information about Antelope Park and the ALERT lion release and rehabilitation program. Click here to find out more. 🙂

http://antelopepark.co.zw/

https://lionalert.org/alert/project-detail/african-lion-rehabilitation–release-into-the-wild-program

Getting There:

To get to Zimbabwe from Malawi, we endured multiple 8-hour drive days through both Zambia and Zimbabwe. imageedit_3_9302626352We have also been through quite a few experiences, which I have separated into three categories: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Hah! 😛

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getting comfy for the long drive

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly:

The Good: Accommodation and Food 🙂

We had an incredible campsite at Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe, with stunning views of the lake, where elephants, zebra and hippos were seen running through the marsh.IMG_20170220_182307_010

We’ve also been grocery shopping in three different countries, and the selection has been very interesting. For example, corn/maize meal is a staple in Zimbabwe. It can be rolled into balls called, sadza, then dipped into sauces and stews. Corn meal can also be found in many of their drinks.

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fruit chutney flavored potato chips; corn meal drink in a variety of flavors (orange, buttercream, chocolate, strawberry)

I also thought I’d mentioned a bad situation that turned out OK, since it may be useful for anyone traveling to Africa in the future.

Essentially, after a month of travel, I developed a bad reaction to my Doxycycline antimalarial medication. As a side effect of the medication, my skin became incredibly sensitive to the sun, to the point where I had severe burns on my hands and needed to wear gloves. 😮

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hiding from the sun

Luckily, someone on my tour had extra Malarone, a different type of antimalarial, and I was able to change meds. Luckily, since changing to Malarone, hiding from the sun, and applying heaps of healing cream, my hands are looking great again! Although my reaction was quite uncommon, it’s important to keep side effects in mind when choosing a long-term medication.

The Bad: Rainy Weather and Wet Passports :/

February appears to be the rainy season in both Zimbabwe and Zambia. We have seen quite a few torrential downpours in the past week. The tents themselves are waterproof, but it’s near impossible to set them up during a storm. Fortunately, we also have the option of upgrading from a tent to a cabin. We did this is Zambia when we arrived at 8 p.m. during a storm. The bungalow we had was quite adorable, and I found it a real treat to watch actual television. 😀picmonkey_image

Cost: 10 USD/ night

Now damaged passports are incredibly inconvenient when overlanding, considering that we’re traveling across 10 different countries. Sadly, when we were staying in Malawi, a British girl on our tour soaked her passport during one of the storms. Luckily, we were staying near a British Embassy, and she was able to receive a temporary passport that she could use all the way down to Cape Town.

The Ugly: Getting the Boot 😮

Lastly, a young couple on our tour is being asked to leave the truck. After multiple complaints for their demeaning and argumentative behavior, the company has decided that they should get the boot. Honestly, every day with them has felt like a reality show, with multiple fights that were never solved. Truthfully, the whole group is quite relieved by this decision. We are hoping the truck will be drama-free from here on out. 😀

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Overall, all of these experiences have taught me something. Travel really is the best education. 😀

Anyway, we are reaching day 47 on the tour, with only 26 days to go. The next few weeks will be filled with incredibly epic adventures as we approach Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Stay tuned to hear all about it. Until then. 😀

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8 thoughts on “Travel in Zimbabwe: Lion Conservation at Antelope Park

  1. 😲 OH MY GOSH Megan, you are so brave! I don’t think I would have been able to walk with the lions! But what an incredible experience! Once you return home, the experiences here will definitely be anticlimactic. Thanks again for sharing your adventures. Sometimes ( not with the lions😳)I feel like I’m walking right beside you experiencing some the same emotions… your blogs are wonderful! Thanks again! Can’t wait for the next blog.
    Take care and as always continued safe travels!
    Kim

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kim! I’m so happy you enjoyed the post. I was so happy to support this lion conservation program. I’ll admit though that even I hesitated when I reached down to pet them. Luckily, they all turned out to be very sweet and relaxed. 🙂 Hope you guys are doing well! Take care and talk soon! ❤
      Megan

      Like

    1. That’s exactly what I asked when I first arrived. Apparently, when they first purchased the property, it was called Antelope Park. After they developed the lion program, they decided to keep the original name. Thanks for checking out the post. Take care. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Looks great! I worked on a cheetah programme one time and remember meeting lions one day. They really are amazing and so strong. Must be a bit of a challenege to work with!

    Liked by 1 person

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